By Roger Brown
If we learned anything from the opening weekend of New Hampshire high school football it was this: Division II teams are capable of holding their own against Division I opponents.
Nine non-league games featuring Division I and Division II teams helped kick off the regular season. Division I won five of those nine contests, but Division II teams won both heavyweight battles. Exeter beat Nashua South 21-20, and Bishop Guertin knocked off Pinkerton Academy 10-3.
Both games featured teams that reached the championship game in their division last season. Exeter beat Bishop Guertin in the Division II title game, and Pinkerton won the Division I championship by beating Nashua South.
Dover, which beat Manchester West 29-0, and Alvirne, which topped Manchester Memorial 22-14, were the other Division II teams that opened the season by beating a Division I opponent.
The Division I victories came from Concord (35-7 over Spaulding), Londonderry (26-13 over Winnacunnet), Manchester Central (21-12 over Timberlane), Nashua North (38-10 over Merrimack) and Salem (15-14 over Keene)
"We know that BG and Exeter are quality opponents," Nashua South coach Scott Knight said. "Years ago Dover was always a great Division I team. They're a good team. I'm not sure about all of those (Division II) schools, but you know their top-tier teams can definitely hang with all of us."
Exeter trailed 20-7, but scored twice in the fourth quarter. The game's key play came late in the third, when Exeter coach Bill Ball called for a fake punt. Andrew Kukesh, the up-back, took the short snap and gained 24 yards in a fourth-and-nine situation.
"I thought we needed a jump," Ball said. "And we got it."
The Blue Hawks took advantage when halfback Robbie Kisiel capped that drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Exeter took the lead on its next possession, when Kukesh, Exeter's starting quarterback, hooked up with Jason Monroe for a 25-yard TD pass. James Holler's PAT handed the Blue Hawks a 21-20 advantage.
Nashua South running back David Robinson-Zocco missed all but one play in the second half with a cramp. Robinson-Zocco scored on a 23-yard run in the first half.
"We lost because we made a lot of mental errors and you can't do that against a good team," Knight said. "They exploited all our mistakes. We even missed an extra point.
"The fake punt was a huge turning point. We all have our reads and keys. Hey, they got us."
Pinkerton received a 142-yard rushing performance from Eric Guinto and 111 yards passing from junior quarterback Robert Simpson, but committed six turnovers (five fumbles) in its loss to BG.
"You have six turnovers, you're not going to win the football game," Pinkerton coach Brian O'Reilly told the Nashua Telegraph.
Adam Hall's 41-yard run was the game's only touchdown. Clark Preston's 23-yard field goal gave the Cardinals a 10-0 lead at halftime.
BG was without head coach Tony Johnson, who was serving a one-game suspension for criticizing the officials following last year's loss to Exeter in the Division II championship game.
The non-league games will have no playoff implications. Teams in both divisions will begin league play this week.
"It was all emotion in this game," BG quarterback Andy Vailas said. "We wanted it more than they did."