Offense or defense, Londonderry has the weapons.
AMONG the chatter in the Londonderry High School press box Saturday was some riveting opinions about whether or not the Lancers should take the ball or defer if they won the coin toss. There was also this discussion: Is the Londonderry offense better than the Londonderry defense, or is it the other way around?
You can certainly make a strong case for either side of that argument. The Londonderry offense has scored 510 points in 11 games, and has put at least 35 points on the scoreboard in each of those 11 contests. The Londonderry defense has allowed 112 points this season, including 17 in two playoff games. The Lancers limited their opponent to seven points or fewer in seven games.
So Exeter (10-1) will certainly have its hands full and will have to be at its best when it faces Londonderry (11-0) in next Sunday’s Division I championship game (6 p.m.) at the University of New Hampshire’s Wildcat Stadium.
“I think what’s impressive is the balance that they have, right?” Salem coach Rob Pike said after Londonderry beat his team 35-14 in Saturday’s semifinals. “They’re good up front, they have two great wideouts, they have a great tailback. The quarterback ran all over us. He’s an awesome athlete ... run and throw.
“You gotta stop their option, but you can’t sell out to do it. It’s a matter of playing good, sound team defense. We did it at times, but not nearly enough. They have too many weapons.
“Defensively they fly to the ball. They’re aggressive. They’re well-coached. I think the impressive thing is how well balanced they are. They’re good everywhere.”
The Lancers are blessed with exceptional receivers in Alex Tsetsilas and Cole Keegan; the line is anchored by Cooper Bartlett, a three-year starter, and 6-foot-3, 285-pound right tackle Blaine Hopkins; tailback Jeff Wiedenfield is another three-year starter who holds the unofficial state record for most broken tackles in a season; and who knew Londonderry coach Jimmy Lauzon had the high school version of Kurt Warner stashed away behind starting QB Evan Cormier last season?
Senior quarterback Jake McEachern is a run/pass threat who makes it all work. McEachern has thrown 23 TD passes this season (three interceptions) and has also run for eight TDs.
“We knew Jake was good enough to play on almost every team in the state last year,” Lauzon said. “We just happened to have Evan, who was awesome as well. Jake didn’t complain or pout. He just competed with Evan every day, and I think that made Jake a much better player. He’s a dual-threat guy, and our offense is built for that.”
The Londonderry defense is good at all three levels. Middle linebacker Will Reyes and defensive end Cam Babine are among the players who stand out on that side of the ball. Babine is a two-year starter, and Lauzon said Reyes has grown into the leader of the defensive huddle.
Like a knife grinding against a stone, the Londonderry defense has remained sharp by rubbing up against the potent Londonderry offense in practice every day.
“They’re always in the right spot defensively, but the biggest thing is effort,” Pike said. “They fly to the football. They play hard, they play aggressive. That’s good team defense. They have fast kids who play really hard. Their defense is great.”
All of this isn’t meant to suggest that Londonderry will breeze to victory Sunday. No. no no. If you think that then you probably don’t know much about Exeter football.
The Blue Hawks are a clock-killing machine on offense (they had a 20-play, 14-minute drive in Saturday’s semifinal victory over Merrimack) and you won’t find a sounder team on defense. They are not going to gamble and give up big plays.
Make even the smallest mistake on defense and Exeter will take full advantage. And what will make things extra-tough on Londonderry’s defense is the fact that this Exeter team — unlike many past Exeter teams — can and will throw the football.
The Blue Hawks are among the most physical teams in the state every year, and they rarely — RARELY — beat themselves with penalties or turnovers.
In fact, ask Siri what kind of team it will take to beat Londonderry on Sunday and she’ll direct you to a photo of Exeter coach Bill Ball and his Blue Hawks.
So, what’s better, the Londonderry offense or the Londonderry defense? Sunday’s matchup with Exeter will likely provide the answer.