The rest of the state’s best? Let the debate continue.

THE BIGGEST CONTROVERSY in the history of the Union Leader Power Poll? That’s easy.

It was the final poll of the 2012 season when rivals Exeter and Winnacunnet finished No. 1 and No. 2 respectively.

Exeter won the Division I championship that year, and completed its season with an 11-1 record. Winnacunnet was the Division II champion in 2012, and also finished with an 11-1 record.

The Winnacunnet faithful cried foul, however, since Exeter’s only loss came against Winnacunnet (27-24) in the one non-league game each team played that year. Exeter was awarded the top spot presumably because of its superior strength of schedule and the fact that Winnacunnet’s setback came against a Keene team that completed its season with three losses.

There was no such controversy this year. The voters made Bedford the unanimous No. 1 choice after the Bulldogs put a bow on a 12-0 season by beating Pinkerton 28-14 in the Division I championship game Saturday night at UNH.

Pinkerton ended as the No. 2 team in the Power Poll. It was the ninth time since the poll began in 2008 that No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the poll met in the Division I championship game.

The Bulldogs outscored their opponents 525-114 this season. No NHIAA team scored more points than Bedford, which was an obvious choice at the top spot.

That doesn’t mean this year’s poll doesn’t have controversy, however. Among the topics up for discussion:

Should Plymouth, the Division II champion, have been ranked higher than No. 3? Or was the No. 3 ranking too high?

Should the voters have put Monadnock Regional, the unbeaten Division III champion, in the top 10?

Should Alvirne, the Division II runner-up, have been included in the top 10? Alvirne and Monadnock tied for the No. 9 spot.

“I’ve ranked Plymouth No. 2 the past few weeks and, to me, the Bobcats’ body of work throughout this season proves they are the second-best team in the state,” Union Leader sports writer Alex Hall said. “Everyone knows what Plymouth is going to do each and every week and yet for two straight years no team could stop it.

“I don’t tend to rank Division III teams in the poll, but I made an exception for Monadnock a few times this year, including for this final poll. The Huskies could hang with many Division II teams and had a heckuva talented group this season.

“Division II runner-up Alvirne was my most difficult team to rank for the final poll. The Broncos had Plymouth on the ropes for a bit in the championship and put together arguably their best season ever, but I’m not sure how they would fare against some of the other teams in this poll, which is why I placed them closer to the bottom than top.”

Another voter, Union Leader sports writer Joe Duball, had this to say about the final Power Poll:

“I considered Plymouth at No. 2 over Pinkerton, but couldn’t justify it. The Bobcats’ offense is good, but I’m not so sure it would flourish against a Brian O’Reilly defense that I believe would read and adapt faster than any opponent Plymouth saw this season. Plymouth’s shaky defense in the first half of its championship game is another reason to pump the brakes.

“As far as Monadnock goes, I put the Huskies in based on body of work prior to the championship. I chalked up Saturday’s scare against Campbell (a 15-12 Monadnock victory) to bad blocking on the Huskies’ offensive line. Had blocks been held better, I think we see a very different game considering what (Chandler) Matson, (Tim) Hart and (Tim) Santaw can do once they find a hole or get space. The trio showed as much on Monadnock’s game-winning drive.”

The feeling here is that Plymouth (12-0) should have been ranked below more Division I teams. At the very least below Londonderry.

The Bobcats own a 27-game winning streak, but how would they have fared had they played in the South/East half of Division I? That regular-season schedule would have included games against Londonderry, Salem, Pinkerton, Winnacunnet, Windham and Exeter. The Blue Hawks, even in a down year, are a handful.

This voter rarely puts a team outside of Division I or Division II in the poll, but began to make an exception for Monadnock toward the end of the regular season. The Huskies have good size and played the physical style that would be required to beat larger schools (Monadnock beat Division I Keene last year, and will play the Blackbirds on Thanksgiving again this year).

Just because the Huskies competed in Division III doesn’t mean they don’t belong in the top 10. Monadnock would have dominated most opponents had it competed in Division II.

Alvirne was the toughest call here. The Broncos won two games in Division I last year before they dropped to Division II in the offseason. Was Alvirne that much better this year or did the team’s 9-3 record reflect the difference between the level of football in Division I and Division II?

Although the Broncos turned in an impressive season — they were certainly impressive in Saturday’s 29-18 loss to Plymouth — they were the only team that landed in the top 10 that was left off this voter’s ballot.

Pinkerton, Londonderry, Salem, Merrimack, Nashua North and Winnacunnet all belonged in the top 10 and were put there by the voters. You can quibble among yourselves about which team belongs where.

Another item we can debate is whether or not a 6-3 Windham team should have been ranked. The Jaguars didn’t qualify for the playoffs, but played in the state’s toughest division (Division I South). Road victories over No. 2 Pinkerton (35-21) and No. 5 Salem (31-28) were among Windham’s six wins.

This much we know for sure: There were not 10 teams in the state better than the Jaguars.

No. 1 in the Power Poll

2008: Nashua South

2009: Bishop Guertin

2010: Pinkerton

2011: Exeter

2012: Exeter

2013: Concord

2014: Pinkerton

2015: Goffstown

2016: Bedford

2017: Winnacunnet

2018: Bedford

rbrown@unionleader.com