New coach our to coax same, old results

A new era in Bedford High football begins on Friday night (7 p.m.) when the Bulldogs open defense of their Division I state title by hosting Windham High School.

Coach Zach Matthews takes the helm from Derek Stank, who moved out to California, and coincidentally, it’s a battle of two new coaches in the opener. Jack Byrne takes over at Windham for the only coach that Jaguar program has known, Bill Raycraft.

Matthews has made the change on the fly at Bedford, something he needed the players in the program to buy in on.

“I think the guys have done a great job adjusting. We have installed a new offense and communication system. It will take a bit of time for things to ‘click’ the way the players and coaches want it,” said Matthews, who comes to Bedford from Kearsarge Regional. “We have discussed how important each day of practice is in this process. We can’t waste a single practice. I think we have already made it through the toughest part of the adjustment period.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the focus and the belief in the program.

“I have tried to focus on the word, tradition. Our players and coaches expect to practice and play at a high level as the groups before them have,” said Matthews. “There have been many talented groups that have come through BHS and paved the way. Our players need to understand that the tradition of Bedford football is based on hard work, grit, determination and playing for each other. If we understand those core values, the wins will take care of themselves.”

So far, so good, for what it’s worth.

A highly-touted Salem squad hooked up with Bedford in the Queen City Jamboree over the Labor Day weekend. The result was a 7-7 stalemate.

“We were encouraged by what we saw but not satisfied. We have a long way to go in this process. I think that we showed some flashes of what we are capable of,” the coach said. “After the initial Salem drive, I thought we settled in and played some good defensive football. Offensively we moved the ball well but had way too many mental mistakes and penalties to finish our drives.”

Bedford spotted Salem a 7-0 lead then answered with a Menderson Elie 48-yard punt return for a score.

Elie, a junior, is in the mix at running back, where the Bulldogs were decimated by the graduation of Ryan Toscano, the state player of the year, and Harrison LeGoullon, among others. Receiver Solomon Sanchez could be a dangerous outside threat,while Michael Akstin showed plenty of flash before an injury late in the year.

The quarterback situation, replacing Thomas Morgan, is still undecided between Joe Mikol and Aaron Skaling.

“Both QBs did some really nice things in the scrimmage. I am looking for consistent decisions and execution from that position,” said Matthews. “The guys will continue to compete throughout the week before we make a decision about Friday. Aaron and Joe bring a different skill set to the table. As a coaching staff, we are still trying to figure out which skill set is best for our offense.”

One place the Bulldogs should be a step ahead of the game is in the trenches, where three offensive starters and two defensive starters return.

Torey Helton, Charlie Kneissl-Williams and Drew Allard are Bulldog big boys to watch.

Overall, Bedford returns four starters on offense and four on defense, with Tim Greene (WR/LB), Jack Grogan (RB/LB), Ethan van Heerden (DB/TE) and Jack Jones (WR/FS) all players to keep an eye on early.

“It is no secret that the strength of our team is our offensive and defensive lines. We need those guys to lead on both sides of the ball while our inexperienced players develop,” said Matthews. “They have done a great job with that in the preseason. High school football games are won by establishing the run and your ability to stop it. Our success will be established by that same formula.”

SOCCER STATE CHAMPS SHARP

The defending Division I state champs from Bedford High opened the 2019 season the way it ended the 2018 campaign, with a tidy victory.

Vitor Rodrigues scored twice and Matt Flanagan added a goal in a 3-1 opening day win over Winnacunnet.

Coach Stuart Pepper’s crew could again be a team to beat this year as Bedford guns for its third boys soccer state title in history.

The Bedford girls also got off on strong footing, dousing the Warriors from Hampton Beach, 5-0.

Paige Muir, Olivia Toolin, MacKenzi MacEachern, Ava Simunovic and Gabby DeAngelis had the goals, while Toolin and Abby Forrester pitched in a pair of assists each.

Zoe Santos and Grace O’Dell split the shutout in goal for coach Michelle Winning’s club.

BURNHAM’S BULLDOGS OFF AND RUNNING

The Bedford High girls cross country team, seventh in Division I a year ago, got off to a rock-solid start in 2019 by sweeping a tri-meet with Bishop Guertin and Nashua North.

Bedford won with 27 points on the course at Saint Anselm, while Guertin was second with 32 and North scored 72.

Captains Kaitlyn Boles, Brianna Rainey and Roisi Russell will lead the way for Bedford, which added 20 new runners to the group, including 11 freshmen.

Other key contributors will be Carly Rinko, Alexis Mahoney, Emma Chisholm, Avery Houghton, Sydney Santiago and Lily Mooney.

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