High School football preview
Thursday, September 5, 2013
What once was six is now only three. With Friday kickoffs, New Hampshire high school football will officially begin it’s new era as a multi-conference, three-division entity. Well, unless the NHIAA shifts course following the season, which many coaches expect.
“You never know, because we’re not sure if they’re going to keep this,” said first-year Hollis Brookline High School head coach Rich Bergskaug. “It could be a whole new crop of teams (next year). We’re up to any challenge.”
NHIAA Executive Director R. Patrick Corbin doesn’t see the sudden change coaches may expect.
“This final decision was based on hours and hours of discussions and meetings,” Corbin said. “This will be in place for a couple of years. How else can we evaluate the setup? It’s something that has to be looked at as it’s put into practice.”
Starting this season, the familiar six-division format has morphed into three mega divisions. For the most part Divisions I and II are now Division I, Divisions III and IV are now Division II, and Divisions V and VI make up Division III.
First-year Campbell head coach Greg Gush isn’t too concerned with re-alignment talk. He’s focused on the schedule his Cougars have, and that’s all there is to it he says.
“It’s not as big a deal to me as it may be to other coaches,” Gush said. “It’s all new to me. So I’m not witnessing changes. I’m walking into this new system and it’s not new at all – it is what it is.”
Veteran coaches like Nashua South’s Scott Knight are taking what their given and rolling with it.
“We just want to get out there and play whoever they’re going to throw at us,” said Knight, whose Panthers reached the Division I semifinals last season. “I don’t have a problem with it.”
Division I and Division II are made up of four conferences, consisting of five teams each. Division III has three conferences of four teams and one of five teams.
In Division I, Alvirne, Bishop Guertin, Nashua North and Nashua South join Keene to form the West Conference. The only other Greater Nashua program in Division I is Merrimack. The Tomahawks will face Goffstown, Londonderry, Pinkerton Academy and Salem in the South Conference.
The new alignment will prove beneficial to North, South and BG this season with a majority of their games at Stellos Stadium, the home field the trio shares.
The Titans will play five games on the familiar turf, while the Panthers and Cardinals have six dates each at Stellos.
“We got new home uniforms last year and we only got to wear them three times,” Knight said. “It seemed like we were the forgotten team. We were always on the road and wore white all season and at Stellos six out of nine games and then throw in Thanksgiving it’s seven out of 10. And if you’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs and win that number can increase. I like the fact we’re going to be right up the street.
“The three times we travel are the furthest from the Earth – at least in our league – because we have to go to Dover, Spaulding and Keene. But hey, I’ll take the six out of nine at Stellos any time, I don’t care where you want to send us.”
In Division II, Milford and Souhegan join John Stark, Trinity and Windham in the South Conference, while Hollis Brookline squares off with, Con-Val, Kearsarge, Monadnock and Sanborn Regional for the West Conference title.
In Division III, it’s Campbell versus 2012 D-V finalist Somersworth, Bow and Pelham in the South Conference.
Regular-season action will consist of one game against every team in the conference and a one game against each team in a crossover conference.
For local West Conference teams BG, North, South and Alvirne it means games against the East Conference, which is made up mainly of Seacoast teams (Dover, Exeter, Winnacunnet, Spaulding, Timberlane). Merrimack and the South Conference will crossover against the North Conference (Bedford, Concord, Manchester Central, Manchester Memorial, Manchester West).
Division II’s local teams will not meet each other in crossover games, but Milford and Souhegan will still face off with Hollis Brookline.
The playoffs will consist of eight teams per league with the top two in each conference qualifying and playing each other for the chance to move on to the final four in each division.
As far as future changes to the setup, North head coach Jason Robie thinks the playoff structure needs tweaking and the entire format is likely to evolve over the next few seasons.
“I think it’s exciting,” Robie said. “I think it provides some interesting matchups in each conference, but I also think the playoff structure hasn’t come into clear picture yet. I think that needs to be looked at. Technically, from what I understand, the two best teams in the state could be playing each other in the first round of the playoffs. For me, that really doesn’t work. ... I think it’s exciting, and provides a lot of opportunity for teams that never matched up before.
“It should provide some interest in the state, but it’s probably a work in progress. So we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”