EXETER – An audible late schedule will bring a high school playoff football game to the Seacoast this Friday night.
According to Exeter High School athletic director and head coach Bill Ball, who is also chairman of the NHIAA football committee, the state has decided to change the schedule this week to accommodate three tournament playoff games. division I.
Among these play-in games? Portsmouth’s game at Exeter this Friday night at 7 p.m.
Originally slated as the regular season finale for both teams, Friday’s game at Exeter High School will now decide who will join Dover, Winnacunnet and Spaulding in a four-team playoff group between Division I East conference teams.
Other matches this week will include Manchester Central vs. Concord in the league’s Northern Conference, and Keene vs. Bishop Guertin in the Western Conference, Ball said. Division I South will be the only conference not to host a qualifying game as Pinkerton Academy pulls out of the tournament due to their school’s COVID-19 situation.
That means the remaining Division I teams — 13 in total — will be part of the 2020 state tournament, which is scheduled to begin with the first-round regional playoffs on the weekend of Oct. 30. Qualifications include: Dover, Winnacunnet and Spaulding in the East; Bedford, Goffstown and Memorial in the North; Merrimack, Nashua North and Nashua South to the west; and Londonderry, Alvirne, Salem and Windham in the south. Each of those teams will still play games this weekend — if possible — with no impact on their playoff fate. Ball said the playoff seeding would be discussed at a meeting on Saturday.
The three play-in winners will complete a 16-team squad, which will be divided into four-team conference pods. The three play-in losers will be eliminated from the play-off competition.
Ultimately, the winner of each conference group will produce the state semifinals, which will be played on Nov. 14. The league game will follow on November 20 at the home of the top remaining seed.
Unlike other big fall team sports like field hockey, volleyball and soccer – which received their tournament assignments based on randomly generated slices, depending on region – it remains difficult to know whether regular season records will count toward a football team‘s final playoff standings. For the Eastern Conference, most assumed any qualifying game would have to include Spaulding (1-1 against league competition) and Portsmouth (0-3), based on record. This match will not take place for two reasons. First, Portsmouth and Spaulding met on October 9 – a game Spaulding won, 14-13, in Rochester. Second, it was decided at the start of the season that no school would be penalized for a schedule change relating to a COVID-19 shutdown, and Spaulding lost their Week 1 game against Dover when the school is switched to distance learning following a positive test during first-year orientation.
The decision was therefore made to have Exeter (2-2) host Portsmouth at their regular Week 5 location, under the lights of the William Ball Stadium, for a trip to the State.
“It was the right call,” Ball said Monday night.
Portsmouth are delighted with the opportunity after three painfully close defeats to Spaulding, Dover (13-7) and Winnacunnet (14-7) – all three ended in wild games in the last minute.
“Yesterday afternoon we told them,” Portsmouth manager Brian Pafford said of his players. “This is it. You can play until you lose. … This is a year where we just do what we’re told and prepare as best we can.
As for the rest of the Seacoast Five in Division I, Winnacunnet are currently due to play their 7pm home game against Spaulding this Friday. Dover – the team that will suffer the most from a randomly generated seed after beating Exeter, Winnacunnet and Portsmouth this season – were still looking for an opponent after their match with Keene was canceled due to the conference play-off Where is.
From there, coaches will take it day-to-day, which has become the norm in this crazy COVID-altered season.
“We’re just going to take this week like any other week,” Winnacunnet coach Ryan Francoeur said, “try to prepare and see what happens on Saturday.”