Hungry I-L/MA desires return trip to UNH

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough senior quarterback Ryan Kelly returns to the key position for the Lakers this fall, and he'll look to guide the defending NHIAA Division III state runner-ups back to UNH come November. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
August 29, 2016
MEREDITH It was a season to remember for the Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough football program in 2015. The Lakers, buoyed by a dynamic rushing attack and suffocating defensive unit, marched all the way to the NHIAA Division III state championship game, ultimately falling shy of the crown in a loss to Newport at UNH's Cowell Stadium.

The state championship appearance was made possible thanks to a huge victory in the semifinals, as the Lakers went on the road and knocked off undefeated Winnisquam. All told, I-L/MA finished 9-2 overall, placing second in the North Conference during the regular season. The nine wins were the most for the program since 2011, and it put the program at an all-time record of 51-28 in eight seasons of varsity action.

Things will look a bit different for I-L/MA this fall, as the 2016 season opens up Sept. 2 under the lights at Fall Mountain (7 p.m.). Fourth-year head coach Jon Francis, who enters the season with a 20-18 career mark, graduated some heavy skill position talent, including 1,000-yard rusher Nick Brothers. But the Lakers are hungry, and losing at UNH a year ago will undoubtedly serve as motivation this time around.

"I think last year was a big proving year for us and the small schools in Division III that you can make it down to UNH," said Francis. "It was definitely a year for our kids to build on that and show that we can do this, hard work does pay off. That's what we're building on with this crew."

Who's in: Perhaps the biggest (literally) addition to the lineup comes in the form of freshman Max Taylor. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound rookie will be thrust right into the starting lineup as the team's left tackle, charged with protecting quarterback Ryan Kelly's blind side.

"We have absolute confidence in putting him there," said Francis of Taylor. "We works so hard with such enthusiasm so the decision to put him there was fairly easy. We've tested him in scrimmages and in practice to see if he's ready for that varsity play and everything we've thrown at him, he's responded and asked for more."

Who's out: The biggest losses for the Lakers come in the backfield, as the three-headed rushing monster of Nick Brothers, Malik Carter and Evan Candage all graduated. Brothers, who took his talents to D-II Saint Anselm College this fall, was a First Team All-State selection a year ago, and he also played in the Shrine Game last month. The 1,000-yard rusher was a mainstay offensively for the Lakers, and his presence on both sides of the ball will be missed.

Carter and Candage made for a diverse backfield, as the pair complemented Brothers quite well with each offering different skills when running the ball.

Who to watch: Kelly returns to the starting QB spot after a solid year under center, and the senior will look to run the show from the very first snap of the season.

"Being a junior last year, Ryan learned a lot of things and he showed a lot of character," lauded Francis. "He looks good throwing the ball and he's 100 percent capable back there. He's also one of the more technical guys we've had at QB; his mechanics are excellent. And he knows what every single person is supposed to be doing on the field so he's done his homework and is ready to go."

Kelly will have some big targets to throw to over the middle, as senior Zach Swanson and junior Jayden Lara will serve as the team's tight ends. Senior wide receiver Collin Sheehan is another big play option on the outside.

"Jayden and Zach are both very big and great targets to hit so Ryan has those guys as targets," said Francis.

Junior tailback Andrew Brothers returns as a dynamic option in the backfield after seeing time in the position both his freshman and sophomore seasons. Senior Thomas Robinson will serve as the starting fullback and will also get his share of carries.

"It certainly hurts not having guys like (Nick Brothers, Malik Carter) around, but we're fortunate to have guys who are really talented and eager to step up in Andrew and Thomas," Francis said. "They've stepped it up."

The offensive line is plenty experienced around Taylor, as senior center Justin Tinker returns, as does sophomore right guard Ryan Caswell. Senior Noah Sullivan is back at right tackle, while junior Drew Schriewer will grab the start at left guard.

The defense, which played its best down the stretch a year ago, will see many of the same faces.

Outlook: Losing dynamic rushers and skill position threats won't be easy, but the Lakers do return plenty of experience, including a steady and reliable offensive line to build around. With Kelly back under center and veteran options in Swanson, Lara, Sheehan, Brothers and Robinson, there's no reason I-L/MA can't threaten and push for another UNH visit come November.

"We feel we have as good of a shot as anyone with our talent and work ethic," Francis offered. "Our goal is to make that Final Four run and then the end all goal is to get back to UNH again and finish it the right way this year. These guys know what's at stake; they've been down there already. I think if we can get there again, they know what to expect and what to do."

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