Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough football eyes same success in Division III with new cast

  • Stevens defeated Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough, 46-20, during the Division III championship game at the University of New Hampshire’s Wildcat Stadium in Durham on Nov. 19. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

  • The Stevens defense takes down Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough’s Andrew Brothers (34), who will return this season, during the Division III championship game at the University of New Hampshire’s Wildcat Stadium in Durham last fall. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

  • Stevens’ Nick LaCaillade (21) breaks up a pass intended for Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough’s Jayden Lara (81) during the D-III title game at the UNH’s Wildcat Stadium in Durham last November. The Lakers are trying to punch a ticket to Durham for the third consecutive year. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 9/2/2017 12:25:07 AM

Their first attempt ended at the hands of Noah Wade and the Newport Tigers in 2015. They tried again last year, licking their chops in a matchup against a Stevens team they defeated by 45 points during the regular season. And again, they came up short.

For the last two seasons, the Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough Lakers have been one victory away from their first state title since 2011, but the story every time has been disappointment at Durham.

“The approach really never changes,” said Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough Coach Jon Francis, who welcomes in a new core this season after the departures of key seniors like quarterback Ryan Kelly and big-bodied pass catcher Zach Swanson.

“We’re always going to work hard, we’re always going to be disciplined and we’re always going to be in shape and focused. So those sort of things never change,” Francis said. “Our offense isn’t as colorful as it was last year, but it’s definitely a very solid offense and I’m pleased with it, at least where it’s right now, and I think it’s only going to grow and get better.”

The biggest change over in Meredith will be at quarterback, where the senior who orchestrated an offense that averaged 38 points per game is out, and sophomore Noah Robinson is in.

Robinson was part of last year’s 8-3 team and even played as a freshman in the team’s regular-season finale against Kearsarge. And while he plays with a different style than Kelly, Francis seems confident in his young signal-caller.

“He’s probably the best scrambling quarterback that we’ve had Inter-Lakes,” Francis said. “His arm is pretty good and he’s only getting better but he can really scramble and move out of the pocket really well. ... Noah isn’t just going to walk in and completely negate the fact that Ryan’s not there anymore. But he’s the best you could possibly ask for. Just to step in and take over, he already knows the system and has already got some varsity experience. … He’s going to do just fine.”

It helps having a back like Andrew Brothers behind him. The bruising runner who ran for 943 yards and 15 touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime against Bishop Brady in the semifinals, returns for his senior season, giving the Lakers a reliable weapon behind Robinson.

But the Lakers like to run it with multiple backs, evident by their split of carries last season, and without fullback Thomas Robinson, more opportunities should open up for guys like Deante Miller, Blake Dunlap and Deandre Miller. The same goes for the wide receivers, where the losses of Swanson and Collin Sheehan create targets for new faces.

“We have some guys that are stepping up big time and we’re starting to really shine and fill in for those older guys that graduated and it’s really good to see as a coach,” Francis said. “I’m real proud of them and those younger guys are only going to keep growing and keep getting better. And they’re going to get a lot of varsity experience this year because most of them are starting.”

The Lakers will be tested early with games against Newport, Campbell and Monadnock in the month of September. Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough will also get its rematch with Stevens on the road on Oct. 13. But before all that, the only focus for the Lakers is Fall Mountain on Saturday.

“They are a good, solid team and you never know what exactly they have going on,” Francis said. “They are the type of team who’s either going to show up and really put a hurting on you, or they show up and make some mistakes. So hopefully we can stay ahead of them and finish it out with a win on Saturday.”

DIVISION III NORTH Newfound

In March of 2016, Pete Koffran was in desperate need of stability for the football program over in Bristol. The Newfound Regional High School athletic director had seen a revolving door of coaches over the years and was in search for a candidate who would stick around long term and help the Bears claw out of the basement in Division III.

Enter: Ray Kershaw.

The 2012 Coach of the Year took over for Newfound football last season and got the ball rolling on setting the Bears up for future success. The result was a 2-6 campaign, a boost to the numbers on the roster and hope for a program that had run through five coaches since the end of 2012.

Now in his second year, his work is far from over.

“We’re still in the rebuilding phase,” said Kershaw, whose Bears kick the season off at home on Saturday against Monadnock. “We have good potential in the youth of this team with a strong freshman class and we have strong upperclassmen leadership.”

Newfound won consecutive games – wins over Fall Mountain and Mascoma – last season for the first time since 2013. And with the return of both quarterback Cody McGee and running back Tiellar Mitchell, as well as five other returning starters, the Bears are in good shape to continue trending in the right direction.

Kearsarge

Despite failing to qualify for the playoffs last season, there was plenty to like about a Kearsarge team that finished 5-3 and wrapped up the regular season with a 23-point victory over two-time Division III runner-up Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough.

“We grew tremendously as a team last fall,” Kearsarge Coach Zach Matthews said. “Many of those players return this fall to attempt to get the Cougars back in the playoffs.”

To do so, Kearsarge will have to find a way to overcome the loss of running back Justin Norris while it adjusts to life in Division III for the second season. Norris at times last year was a man among boys, rushing for 2,123 yards and 32 touchdowns on 121 carries. His loss will no doubt be felt, but there are others ready to step in.

“Replacing the production of 2,000-yard rusher Justin Norris will be difficult,” Matthews said. “But many talented players are fighting for carries in the backfield.”

DIVISION III SOUTH Franklin

Jeff Davis remembers the days when Franklin football was a perennial playoff team. The program finished as runner-up in Division V in both 2005 and 2006, and Davis was in his first year with the Golden Tornadoes as a volunteer assistant when they won it all in 2008, and then again in 2012.

Now in his first season as head coach, Davis wants to restore that winning tradition to a Franklin team that’s gone 10-22 over the last four years.

“In prior years there really wasn’t goals set, it was more show up and come play football,” Davis said. “If you look at Franklin football in the past, they were a playoff team every single year with every kid scrapping to be better and better every day.

“We’ve already started getting after it with the guys and a lot of their focus is on winning one game, and then another, and then another. So it’s a lot more focused, a lot more determination and a lot more discipline going on in the program.”

When Franklin opens the season Saturday at Epping-Newmarket, it will have to do so without last year’s starting quarterback Taryn Laramie, who will miss the entire year with an injury. In his place, the Golden Tornadoes will turn to Caleb Vigue, a lineman turned signal-caller who has the respect of the locker room.

“Right now we’re kind of leaning towards him,” Davis said. “He’s been doing a good job … and he’s a really good role model for the kids and they respond to him well.”

The team could also mix in freshman Zach Girtman and Harrison Clark, the latter an athletic body that “could go into any position at anytime,” according to Davis.

The strength for the Golden Tornadoes lies within both the offensive and defensive lines where they return four starters from last season’s 3-5 team, including seniors Kyle Lavoy, Braiden Gutkowski, Aidan Colprit and junior Nick Francson.

Travis Perry and Kainan Clark are also names to watch in the backfield as Franklin replaces two senior running backs.

“We went to the Lakes Region Jamboree over at Laconia and a lot of these younger kids that are coming in really got, not necessarily shell-shocked, but they came to the realization of how quick the game really is once you get on that varsity football field,” Davis said.

Bishop Brady

When the Green Giants fielded a roster with just 21 players last season, they weren’t expected to compete with the top teams inside the division. Not only did Brady prove everyone wrong by firing off an 8-2 season, but it came one overtime play away from a trip to the Division III championship game.

Now with a similar-sized roster and the loss of 11 seniors, the question is can the Green Giants do it again?

“Numbers (on the roster) have always kind of been an issue for us, but it seems to be a trend throughout New Hampshire,” Brady Coach Matt Shaw said. “We’ve got a good group of seniors and older kids with five returning seniors and our three captains have really stepped up and helped out.”

Over the past three seasons, Brady’s roster size has shrunk from 28, to 25, to 21 before settling on 22 this year. The obvious problem becomes keeping guys healthy, conditioned and on the field – things Shaw has already stressed to this year’s group.

“Some of these guys aren’t coming off the field and that’s a reality so we’ve got to be in shape,” Shaw said. “We can’t afford to have guys tapping on their helmets needing a break because it’s not going to happen.”

Brady only returns half of its dynamic duo of quarterback Joe Bernard and wide receiver Rich Sullivan. The pair connected for 18 touchdowns last season – five alone in the team’s quarterfinal win over Newport – but Bernard graduated and the Green Giants will move to sophomores Patrick Brust and A.J. Cipriano under center this season while riding the legs of senior running back Colby Morris.

“It’s definitely nice to have (Sullivan) back,” Shaw said. “He definitely has a lot of explosive ability where every time he touches the ball, he’s got a chance to make a play.”

Despite the youth and inexperience at the quarterback position, the Green Giants do have a safety blanket in the trenches where they return seniors Matt Mills (guard, defensive tackle), Chase Buckman (defensive end, center) and Thomas Scott (tackle).

“What I like so far is the offensive line seems to be gelling together, which is obviously very important. That’s No. 1. You can’t do anything without the guys up front,” Shaw said. “Defensively we seem pretty strong up front. … Those two guys (Mills and Scott) anchoring at tackles have both played off and on since they were sophomores so they’ve really got the experience of in game. I’m looking for them to have a big year.”

Brady gets things going at home on Saturday against Farmington-Nute.

Winnisquam Regional

Before the first week of the regular season had even arrived last fall, the Winnisquam Regional football team was already down three starters. Still, the Bears pieced together a third-place finish in the division and scrapped its way to the first round of the playoffs.

Coach Pat Riberdy seems to have learned a lesson from all that this preseason.

“I kind of knew and planned ahead this year and I didn’t want to put ourselves in position where we had a lot of scrimmages before the season started due to depth issues,” said Riberdy, who’s entering his 10th year at the helm for the Bears. “It kind of really hurt us losing three starters in one jamboree, so we dialed it back a little bit (this year).”

While the Bears are still young and lacking in depth, the most important factor heading into Saturday’s opener against Somersworth is that the team is healthy.

“We don’t have much depth. Anybody with any experience or any age on them is probably in the starting group,” Riberdy said. “After that, you’re looking at some newer kids, freshmen, so my fear is if we have to go through what we did last year, we would be a hurting team.”

Winnisquam figures to be young at the skilled positions, with freshman Philip Nichols running the show at quarterback, a host of new faces stepping into the secondary and new corps of pass catchers. The backfield will feature Alex Mango, a talented senior returning from a collarbone injury, as well as senior Bryce Corey and juniors Xoren Powell and Kobe Briand.

“We’ll lean on (Corey) kind of heavily on both sides of the ball and he’s going to do some running,” Riberdy said. “Briand, who’s a junior, we’re looking for him to get us to the next level. He got some playing time last year with the varsity, kind of a swing player, but I think he’s ready to kind of blossom into a solid player for us.”

There would be more reason to worry about the youth at key positions if Winnisquam wasn’t so solid up front. The Bears return almost their entire offensive and defensive lines, including three-year starter TJ Robinson, as well as upperclassmen Avery Hutchinson, Jacob Newell, Colin Catty, Caden Remilard and Devon Glover.

“It sort of gives you that security blanket and this group is a good bunch of kids,” Ribery said. “We kind of made it clear to them that those big guys are going to have to carry the team as far as experience goes and making sure that the younger guys have that extra protection back there.”

Winnisquam certainly won’t have to wait long to see what its made of, facing three playoff teams from last season – Somersworth, Bishop Brady and Newport – in its first four games.




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