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Roger Brown's First and 10: Merrimack Valley in unchartered waters

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 24. 2013 9:02PM
Pelham's Chris Medeiros is tackled by Eppng's Joe Leclerc during an Oct. 11 game in Epping. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
Roger Brown's Grid Picks
Manchester Central 28, Salem 21
Exeter 24, Timberlane 7
Bishop Guertin 28, Nashua North 13
Londonderry 35, Man. Memorial 20
Bedford 36, Merrimack 12
Pinkerton 42, Goffstown 14
Winnacunnet 26, Dover 20
Nashua South 20, Keene 14
Concord 41, Manchester West 6
Spaulding 27, Alvirne 13

Hollis/Brookline 28, Con-Val 7
Laconia 14, Kennett 13
Lebanon 20, John Stark 14
Monadnock 36, Kearsarge 6
Plymouth 42, Hanover 13
Souhegan 21, Milford 20
St. Thomas 28, Merrimack Valley 27
Trinity 26, Windham 14
Sanborn 27, Kingswood 7
Portsmouth 35, Pembroke 13

Bp. Brady 28, Epping-Newmrkt. 12
Bow 14, Somersworth 7
Pelham 21, Campbell 19
Raymond 20, Farmington-Nute 14
Gilford 28, Franklin 6
Winnisquam 35, IL/M'borough 14
Mascoma Valley 34, Newfound 20
Stevens 26, Newport 20

Record last week: 22-5
Record this season: 148-43

Merrimack Valley of Penacook has experienced unprecedented success this season.

The Pride posted victory No. 6 last weekend. Until this year, no Merrimack Valley team had won more than five games since the school first fielded a team in 2002.

Nevertheless, the program's first postseason appearance is anything but a sure thing. Despite its 6-1 record, Merrimack Valley will likely have to beat St. Thomas of Dover on the road Saturday (1 p.m.) to make the Division II playoffs.

"The kids read all the stuff," Merrimack Valley coach Dave Jackson said. "They know it's win and in. Lose and there's probably no chance of the playoffs unless something crazy happens."

St. Thomas will also enter Saturday's game with a 6-1 record. Merrimack Valley, St. Thomas and Portsmouth are in a three-way tie at the top of the Division II East standings, but only two of the three will make the playoffs. Portsmouth, the No. 6 team in this week's Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll, has already beaten the Saints and the Pride.

The winner of Saturday's matchup will be in great shape to qualify for postseason play. The loser won't be mathematically eliminated, but will be the longest of longshots to extend its season.

Each team will conclude its regular-season schedule with a difficult road game next weekend. Merrimack Valley will play at Plymouth (6-1), and St. Thomas will finish at Trinity of Manchester (6-1).

"We told our kids that in essence the playoffs start this week," St. Thomas coach Eric Cumba said. "We don't have an easy game from here on. A loss would make next week a must win, and then we'd still need to get some help."

The biggest question entering this contest is the status of St. Thomas running back Jake Geppert, who didn't play against Kingswood last weekend after suffering a concussion the week before against Portsmouth. Geppert leads the Saints in rushing with 570 yards. He's scored nine rushing touchdowns, three receiving TDs, returned a kick for a score and also has a defensive touchdown.

"He's questionable at this point," Cumba said.

If Geppert doesn't play, the Saints will rely more on sophomore quarterback Trevor Martin, who has completed 69 of 132 passes for 1,025 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He has been intercepted twice.

Merrimack Valley isn't lacking offensive weapons. Cole Martin has a school-record eight TD catches, and running back Tucker Burt is 120 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. Junior quarterback Ivan Niyomugabo is the player who will present the most problems for the St. Thomas defense, however. Niyomugabo has passed for 1,148 yards and 12 touchdowns, and has rushed for 459 yards and seven TDs.

"Everything starts with their quarterback," Cumba said. "He's tall, athletic and he has a big arm. He does a lot for that team."

Jackson is in his third season as Merrimack Valley's head coach. The Pride went 1-9 in 2011 and 0-9 last season.

"I think (St. Thomas) is better built to handle the pressure," Jackson said. "They've been in big games before.

"Our leadership has been fantastic this year. There's a buzz around here. It's going to be fun."

- - - - - - - -

MANCHESTER CENTRAL has won five in a row since an 0-2 start, and may have to extend its winning streak to six games to keep its Division I playoff hopes alive.

If Central can win at Salem (2-5) tonight, next week's game between Central and No. 3 Bedford (6-1) will determine the second playoff team from Division I North. Top-ranked Concord (7-0) will be the other playoff representative from that conference.

A Central loss coupled with a Bedford win over Merrimack (3-4) tonight would eliminate the Little Green.

Salem has won two of its last three games.

- - - - - - - -

THIS WEEKEND'S marquee game in Division III is tonight's matchup between Pelham (6-0) and Campbell of Litchfield (5-1).

Both teams are in Division III South, a conference that also includes Bow (5-1) and Somersworth (3-3). Pelham is the only unbeaten team in Division III. Campbell, which will be at home tonight, will play at Bow next weekend in a game that will have playoff implications for both teams.

If Campbell finishes the regular season with a 7-1 record, it will be at home for the Division I South championship game. Pelham can secure the No. 1 seed for the championship game with a victory tonight.

- - - - - - - -

Pinkerton Academy of Derry will recognize all veterans during tonight's game against Goffstown in Derry. Veterans will be admitted for free.

Roger Brown covers high school football for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @603sportsmedia.
NH High School Football Grid Chart
TeamOAPFPAThis WeekLast Yr.
Exeter4-3178137At Timberlane, Friday, 6:30DNP
Spaulding4-3162162Alvirne, Friday, 7DNP
Winnacunnet4-3181182Dover, Friday, 731-24
Dover2-5154249At Winnacunnet, Friday, 724-31
Timberlane1-6117198Exeter, Friday, 6:30DNP
Concord7-0309108At West, Friday, 7DNP
Bedford6-124660At Merrimack, Friday, 733-7
Man. Central5-2221182At Salem, Friday, 750-6
Man. Memorial1-6156305Londonderry, Friday, 733-25
Man. West0-750337Concord, Friday, 7DNP
Pinkerton5-2249104Goffstown, Friday, 7DNP
Londonderry3-4186201At Memorial, Friday, 725-33
Merrimack3-4210273Bedford, Friday, 77-33
Goffstown3-4165177At Pinkerton, Friday, 7DNP
Salem2-5132177Central, Friday, 76-50
Nashua South7-0247106At Keene, Friday. 7DNP
Bishop Guertin5-2172144Nashua North, Friday, 7DNP
Keene5-218172Nashua South, Friday, 7DNP
Nashua North2-5120185At Bishop Guertin, Friday, 7DNP
Alvirne1-6135212At Spaulding, Friday, 7DNP
TeamOAPFPAThis WeekLast Yr.
Portsmouth6-1290157At Pembroke, Saturday, 1:3024-8
St. Thomas6-1251103Merrimack Valley, Saturday, 1DNP
Merrimack Valley6-1208123At St. Thomas, Sat., 1DNP
Pembroke3-4176192Portsmouth, Saturday, 1:308-24
Kingswood1-6137233At Sanborn, Saturday, 1:30DNP
Plymouth6-127588At Hanover, Friday, 734-7
Kennett3-4108170Laconia, Friday, 76-21
Laconia3-4140266At Kennett, Friday, 721-6
Lebanon2-5116176John Stark, Friday, 739-16
Hanover1-6103170Plymouth, Friday, 77-34
Trinity6-1250117At Windham, Saturday, 1:3042-7
Windham6-1200131Trinity, Saturday, 1:307-42
Milford4-3230144Souhegan, Friday, 712-21
Souhegan2-5164181At Milford, Friday, 721-12
John Stark1-653264At Lebanon, Friday, 716-39
Monadnock7-0284117Kearsarge, Friday, 77-21
Sanborn4-3183139Kingswood, Saturday, 1:30DNP
Kearsarge2-547166At Monadnock, Friday., 6:3021-7
H/Brookline1-6111155At ConVal, Friday., 77-24
ConVal0-721255Hollis/Brookline, Friday., 724-7
TeamOAPFPAThis WeekLast Yr.
Bishop Brady3-3186167Epping-New., Friday, 7DNP
Epping-Nwmrkt.2-4100153At Bishop Brady, Friday, 7DNP
Farm.-Nute0-639206At Raymond, Friday, 77-43
Raymond0-6112235Farm.-Nute, Friday, 743-7
Gilford5-2201182At Franklin, Sat, 1:306-42
Int.-Lakes-Moult.3-3110154At Winnisquam, Sat., 1:30DNP
Winnisquam3-3134131Int.Lakes-Moult., Sat., 1:30DNP
Newfound2-4158181Mascoma, Saturday, 17-43
Franklin0-655237Gilford, Saturday, 1:3042-6
Pelham6-018933At Campbell, Friday, 7DNP
Bow5-119551At Somersworth, Friday., 77-33
Campbell5-1224119Pelham, Friday, 7DNP
Somersworth3-3182157Bow, Friday, 733-7
Newport5-1224112Stevens, Sat. 1:30DNP
Stevens4-2191114At Newport, Sat., 1:30DNP
Mascoma Valley4-2224162At St. Thomas, Saturday, 143-7
Fall Mountain2-5106198IdleDNP

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