Photos‎ > ‎News‎ > ‎

Division III Football: Another year, more change

posted Aug 31, 2012, 3:56 AM by Milford Spartans   [ updated Aug 31, 2012, 3:59 AM ]
The 2011 season was a year of change for Division III high school football in New Hampshire.

Two perennial playoff teams – Souhegan and Milford – didn’t make it. Goffstown was the division’s No. 1 seed. Hollis Brookline went undefeated at home. Bedford, which moved up to Division II for 2012, made its first playoff appearance, losing in the championship game.

And then there was Portsmouth. After losing the three previous championship games to Souhegan, the Clippers finally came through and won their first title since 1981. Portsmouth also became the first four seed to win the D-III title since Laconia did the same in 1999.

So what will 2012 bring? More change.

Gone are Bedford and Pelham, which dropped back down to Division V. Alvirne moves down from D-II while Merrimack Valley moves back up from Division IV, where the Pride went prior to the 2008 season.

But one thing remains the same – Portsmouth is still the favorite.

“They’re the defending champs and they’ve got a lot back,” HB coach Milt Robinson said. “I think it’s pretty wide open (after that).”

Robinson’s Cavaliers (7-3 in 2011) could be in the hunt for a third straight playoff berth, despite losing 10 seniors, all of whom were starters. While HB will have to replace those players, many of the ones stepping in got a lot of experience last season.

“At the end of last year, some of these younger guys had to step in because some of those starters got injured,” Robinson said. “A lot of them have varsity experience, whether it was the last three games of the season, or from games where we may have been in the lead.”

Offensively, the Cavs will lean on quarterback Max Friedman, who started for the junior varsity team the las two years, and running backs Nick Noval and Jonah Chazin, both of whom were starters on defense, but played behind Nate Ferenczhalmy and Colin Pellerin last year.

Milford (4-6) is in a similar situation, with a lot of young players who gained experience in 2011 back. But for the first time since the Spartans moved up to Division III in 2004, they failed to qualify for the playoffs.

“I don’t know what they learned other than its tough to lose,” Milford coach Keith Jones said. “They got a taste and a glimpse of what they can accomplish. (Missing the playoffs) hurt badly. I don’t know how much experience, but everybody got time last year. Tons of kids got tons of playing time.”

Two starters returning for Milford will be senior running backs Connor Borne and Joe Albina, and they’ll be joined in the backfield by junior quarterback Harrison Urda, who started on defense a year ago.

After losing four of its first five games in 2011, Souhegan (7-4) finished strong by winning its final six games, but just missed out on the playoffs. The Sabers return just a handful of starters, including two-way lineman Jake Kennedy and receiver-turned-quarterback Tyler Ford, but a change in defensively philosophy has coach Mike Beliveau excited.

“We’re going to play smaller and we’re going to play faster,” the coach said. “We’re selling it as flying around and whooping it up. It’s riskier, but you’ve got to trust your athletes who play behind your front.”

On offense, the Sabers enter the year with depth in the backfield, with running backs Seth Learned, Drew Prescott and Jacques Elias. Beliveau feels he could even use slot receivers Dimitri Elias and Denny Dessureault in the backfield, and the athletic Ford is threat both with his legs and his arm.

Beliveau will miss his team’s first game of the year, a crossover contest with Winnacunnet of Hampton, after the coach violated an NHIAA restricting teams from scouting and/or filming another team’s early scrimmages. Beliveau will be back on the sideline when Souhegan hosts Portsmouth on Sept. 7.

Meanwhile, Alvirne coach Bob Nimblett feels the move to D-III, for at least this year, was warranted. He had one of his best athletic classes a couple of years ago and the best the Broncos could do was go 4-4 in D-II.

“It was best for our program, best for our kids,” Nimblett said. “We’re excited but nervous at the same time.”

That’s because Nimblett knows there are quality programs he’ll still have to deal with. Alvirne (4-6) has 19 seniors this year whom Nimblett expects to carry a bit of the load. There’s a combined 12 starters back when looking at both sides of the ball.

One of those is returning quarterback Josh Cohen, who Nimblett says has improved.

“He went to a couple of football camps and he’s throwing the ball better,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to throw the football.”

Watch out again for junior running back Brandon Rule, who had a solid season as a sophomore and could be even better. He’ll probably catch a couple of Cohen passes, along with senior Ben McCarthy and sophomore Andrew Stevens. Alvirne has at least three starting offensive lineman back, the line being in Nimblett’s words “small but stocky.”

Defensively, keep an eye on Bob Banister, a 6-4, 295 senior. Nimblett feels the defense has some catching up to do, but there’s still a handful of starters back, led by McCarthy and Ryan Donovan at linebacker.

“It’ll all depend on how quickly we can get ourselves going,” Nimblett said.

Staff writer Tom King contributed to this story.

Thursday, August 30, 2012