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Roger Brown's First and 10: Pinkerton seniors relish one last title shot

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 22. 2013 6:24PM
Pinkerton Academy seniors pose with head coach Brian O'Reilly during their last practice before today's NHIAA Division I championship game against Concord. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
Championship Saturday at a glance
Pinkerton (9-2) at Concord (11-0), 1 p.m.

Third-seeded Pinkerton Academy of Derry is in the Class L/Division I championship game for the ninth time in the last 10 years, and the 15th time overall. Pinkerton is 10-4 in those games, but lost the last two title contests to Exeter. … Top-seeded Concord is seeking its first state championship since 2000, when it beat Manchester Central 38-0 in the championship game. … Running back Manny Latimore is Pinkerton's marquee player on offense. Latimore has rushed for 1,496 yards and 16 touchdowns on 165 carries this season. He's complimented by fullback Matt Madden, who is also one of the top defensive players in the state. … It's pick your poison when you line up against the Concord offense. The Crimson Tide can strike through the air or on the ground. Quarterback Rob Law has completed 92 of 138 passes for 1,404 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Seimou Smith is the team's leading receiver with 32 receptions for 620 yards and seven TDs. Walters Ndi has carried the ball 121 times for a team-high 1,095 yards, and running back/slot receiver Marc Gaudet has scored 19 TDs (16 rushing, three receiving). … Concord won the regular-season meeting 21-14 in overtime, but Pinkerton led 14-6 with less than a minute to play in that contest. The Crimson Tide scored on a Law-to-Jacob Szulc 12-yard pass with 51 seconds to play, and added the two-point conversion to force overtime. Ndi scored the game-winning TD in OT, and finished with 160 yards on 26 carries. Latimore led Pinkerton with 173 yards on 22 carries. … Concord's starting defense has allowed 14 TDs in 11 games. ... Pinkerton sacked Law four times in the second half of the regular-season meeting.

Roger Brown's pick: Concord 14, Pinkerton 10

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Portsmouth (10-1) at Plymouth (10-1), 1 p.m.

This is the end of the line for Plymouth Regional coach Chuck Lenahan, who will retire after this contest. Lenahan has a 355-70-1 record in 43 seasons as Plymouth's head coach. He has guided the Bobcats to 19 state championships and 13 unbeaten seasons. … Second-seeded Portsmouth enters this game on a 10-game winning streak and is the only team that beat top-seeded Plymouth this season. The Clippers posted a 27-22 victory in Plymouth on Oct. 19. Portsmouth trailed 22-7 in the fourth quarter of that contest before rallying. … This game features the program that won last year's Division III championship (Portsmouth) against the program that won last year's Division IV title (Plymouth). … Portsmouth has reached the championship game in its division in each of the last six years. … Plymouth will look to run the ball out of its wing-T with Jared Kuehl and John Thomas, both of whom have gained more than 1,000 yards on the ground this season. Thomas has run for 1,011 yards on 149 carries and has scored 12 touchdowns (11 rushing). Kuehl has gained 1,021 yards on 119 carries with 21 TDs (17 rushing, three receiving, one interception return). Plymouth quarterback Collin Sullivan has completed 47 of 73 passes for 842 yards and nine TDs. He's also run for seven touchdowns. Kyle Reisert has a team-high 22 receptions for 602 yards and five touchdowns. … Senior quarterback Donovan Phanor is the player who makes Portsmouth's four-wide, no-huddle offense go. Phanor has completed 89 of 166 passes for 1,478 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. He's been intercepted six times. Phanor has also run for 719 yards and 11 TDs on 114 carries. … Fullback Mikel Toar is Portsmouth's leading rusher (110-748).… This is the fourth meeting between these programs. Plymouth has a 3-1 record in those games, which includes a 35-20 triumph in the 2006 Division III championship game.

Roger Brown's pick: Plymouth 20, Portsmouth 14

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Stevens (8-2) at Bow (9-1), 1 p.m.

Second-seeded Stevens of Claremont will be attempting to win its first state championship in football since 1962 and the school's first state championship in any sport since 1989, when the boys' soccer team won the Class I title. … Top-seeded Bow last won a state title in 2004. … Each team has a 1,000-yard rusher. Stevens' Donald Pellerin has run for 1,377 yards and 22 touchdowns on 255 carries. Bow's Matt Ehrenberg has rushed for a school-record 1,380 yards this season. … Bow posted a 28-14 victory over Stevens in Bow during the regular season. Ehrenberg was held to 75 yards on 15 carries that day, but the Falcons scored in each quarter. Pellerin gained 70 yards on 17 carries in the loss. Stevens quarterback Ryan Tanguay completed 11 of 16 passes for 139 yards. … Bow advanced by defeating previously unbeaten Pelham 18-6 in the Division III South championship game, and then knocked off Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough of Meredith 42-0 in the semifinals. Alex Reitze, who missed the first five games of the season with appendicitis, was Bow's leading rusher against Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough with 98 yards on 14 carries. … Stevens beat Newport 34-6 in the Division III West championship game, and then eliminated Epping-Newmarket 13-0 in the semifinals. … Seven of Bow's opponents failed to score more than seven points. The Falcons have posted four shutouts. Teddy Nappen, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive tackle, is among the standouts on the Bow defense. … Stevens hasn't allowed more than six points in a game since Week 5. The Cardinals have given up 24 points in their last five games.

Roger Brown's pick: Bow 21, Stevens 20

Running back Manny Latimore has reached the Division I championship game in each of his four seasons with the Pinkerton Academy of Derry football team, but those title games have produced more pain than pleasure.

Latimore and middle linebacker Matt Madden started as freshmen on the Pinkerton team that beat Nashua North in the 2010 Division I championship game, but Exeter has been Pinkerton's Kryptonite in each of the last two seasons. The Blue Hawks upset the Astros in Derry to win the 2011 championship, and knocked off Pinkerton in Exeter to win last year's title.

"It's hurt the past couple years," Latimore said. "My sophomore team was probably the best team I've ever played on. It (the loss in the championship game) was just a huge shock to everyone. Exeter took it away again last year. Last year hurt even more."

Latimore, Madden and a bunch of Astros who have never experienced the feeling of winning a title will return to the Division I championship game today, when third-seeded Pinkerton (9-2) faces top-seeded Concord (11-0) at Concord's Memorial Field. Concord won the regular-season meeting between the teams, 21-14, in overtime.

"As I've gotten older the losses have hurt more and more — even the regular-season losses, like the loss to Concord," Latimore said. "I don't really know how I would take it if we lost this one. After the last two losses (in the title game) I just thought we'd win it the next year. Well, this is my last shot."

Saturday's game will be the ninth time Pinkerton has played in the Division I championship game in the last 10 years, and the program's 15th appearance in the Class L/Division I championship game since Pinkerton moved from Division II to Division I in 1985. The Astros are 10-4 in those title games.

Pinkerton coach Brian O'Reilly said winning the Division I championship is the goal — and a realistic one — almost every year at Pinkerton.

"It does set you up for failure sometimes," he said. "We have eight players on this team who were significant contributors last year. Winning the championship is all they talk about in practice. They are focused."

Last year's loss to Exeter was particularly frustrating for Madden, who suffered a torn ACL two weeks earlier and didn't play in either of Pinkerton's two playoff games.

"Sophomore year Exeter just outplayed us," he said. "Last year I felt helpless because I couldn't do anything. That one just stung for me."

Madden, who played linebacker and tight end for the Pinkerton team that captured the Division I title in 2010, said winning the championship as an upperclassman would have a different feel.

"This one has more value to it," Madden said. "Have to win this one. Can't go out with a loss. I know I'll be pumped up for the game."

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HERE'S how Laconia coach Craig Kozens views the matchup between top-seeded Plymouth Regional (10-1) and second-seeded Portsmouth (10-1) in today's Division II championship game: "When Plymouth has the ball they'll have to hang on to it and control the clock," Kozens said. "Defensively they'll have to step up their pass defense, because if they have a weakness it's against teams that spread the field.

"Portsmouth will have to get into space and use it. It'll be the one-on-one matchups when Portsmouth has the ball and Plymouth will have to account for Phanor (Portsmouth quarterback Donovan Phanor) on every play. Defensively, Portsmouth will have to win the battle up front.

"Plymouth is in its backyard, which is a huge advantage. It'll be an emotional place because Chuck (Plymouth coach Chuck Lenahan) is coaching in his last game, but Plymouth will have to control that emotion. I think it's a toss-up."

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THREE of the six teams that reached this year's state championship games began its season with a loss.

Bow, which will face Stevens of Claremont in today's Division III title game, opened with a 7-0 setback to Pelham; Portsmouth dropped a 58-37 decision to Trinity of Manchester; and Pinkerton fell to Bedford, 14-12.

Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @603sportsmedia.