When New Hampshire Valley students attended classes Thursday, three schools from the area football bubble, had some student athletes dreaming of a football state championship. Gridders in Newport were considered favorites in Division IV, despite the fact, they were scheduled for a 1 p.m. title game kick-off on the road at Somersworth. The athletes in Lebanon were only preparing for a semi-final game at home versus Plymouth, but, they believed they had what it takes to compete for the Division II title. Then, Stevens, who gained a forfeit victory last week to advance to the Division III championship game, knew they were the underdog, but, still were daring to think the football gods will somehow blow the winds their way on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Pelham, where a solid football team awaits.
One set of those dreams has already been crushed. The Lebanon Raiders, the best team on the field in that Valley Football Bubble, is presently in quarantine and has had to forfeit the big game with Plymouth. A Bow player they competed against last week has tested positive for COVID-19 sending Chris Childs’ team to the sidelines. Lebanon won the game 30-6, but, now they won’t move on.
Childs told us Friday afternoon, “I never thought another team would stop us from playing football. It is not what I expected for sure. The players are now quarantined. I met with them at the start of our scheduled practice yesterday afternoon and told them the situation. There were still hopes of playing at that time, but I told them, it doesn’t look good.”
The coach told us this was a group of players he will never forget and since the Raiders only lose five seniors, they should be good next fall. He remembers fondly how, “when it was approved in June that we could get together and we brought the weights outside and did everything the way we were allowed to do. There were never any complaints, they have continually busted their butts, working hard and really maturing. The guys just get after it.” Ironically, this is the second time a Plymouth-Lebanon game had been postponed this fall. They were scheduled to meet earlier and during that week, both schools reported cases of Covid 19.
Newport will be chasing the schools’ tenth football title in the game at Somersworth Saturday. The most recent one came in 2015, when the Tigers defeated Interlakes 48-14. The bus will pull out of Newport High School at 9:15 headed for their destination assignment. Usually New Hampshire plays championship encounters on neutral fields, but, in pandemic times, when college campuses are off limits and communities prefer not to see foreigners coming their way, the New Hampshire Football Committee came up with protocols, which seemed to fit on paper, but, at least in the case of Division IV, is not so sensical in logic. Homefield goes to the team with the highest winning percentage and in this case Somersworth’s one regular season game (1-0) trumps Newport’s seven (6-1). This couldn’t possibly be the scenario the committee had in mind.
Regardless of where the game is played, Tiger Coach John Proper feels his team will be fine if, “we aren’t affected by the long bus ride and come out flat. I think defensively we are as good as anyone in Division III or IV and many in II, but if we come out flat, that will be a concern.”
Proper doesn’t expect the weather to be a factor, but, he really would “prefer the warm weather we had last week. I think the sun should be out some so it shouldn’t be too bad.” Of course, the only blemish on Newport’s record was a nail biting 7-6 loss to Lebanon back at the beginning of the season. Proper felt horrible about the Lebanon forfeit and said, “the AD’s in both (Division) 3 and 4 are doing everything they can to prevent something like that from happening. The Lebanon situation isn’t the same because it’s a semi-final, but with only two teams left in our divisions, we would hope to postpone to some day during the week or next weekend if there should be a positive test before the game is played.”
Stevens has their bus leaving this morning at 9:30. Coach Paul Silva already has one of Stevens three football championships on his resume and he also is a coach, who is known for preparing his team well and pulling off their share of upsets when the underdog tag is on their backs. Silva told us, “They are very disciplined, very well coached and very experienced. They execute their game plan on both sides of the ball. We had a good week of practice and the kids are ready for the game.”
Stevens can play ball control football and that helps in a contest like this, but, Silva reminded us, “Owen (Taylor) can throw the ball too. He has thrown for over 500 yards and five touchdowns.” Silva’s teams have only met Pelham once previously, a 20-7 loss way back in 2012 and he never remembers the two schools clashing in a post season encounter.
Two keys to look for if the Cardinals are to give the Pythons a run for the money. The coach says, “we cannot turn the ball over and have to limit mistakes positionally.” That is especially true on defense in stopping the home team’s attack. Concerning that side of the ball, Cardinal Pascal Lemieux had been nursing an injury but Silva is now hopeful, he will be able to go.