Andrew Serrano and the Winnisquam football team will look to make a return to the postseason this fall after returning a strong core from last year's squad. The Bears open the season on Saturday at home against Raymond (1:30 p.m.). File Photo. (click for larger version)
September 08, 2014TILTON – The signs are there for a successful season on Route 132.
Despite losing some key pieces on the offensive line – including Shrine Game selection Dakota VanTassel, who became the second player in program history to be selected for the annual event (Austin Hunt, 2013) – the Winnisquam Regional High School football team has lofty expectations this fall. The Bears will look to improve upon last year's 4-4 season that saw them lose out on a tiebreaker to get into the North Conference championship game.
"I'm hoping we can climb back up to the playoffs," offered Winnisquam head coach Pat Riberdy, who enters his seventh season at the helm with a 33-25 career record. "I think this team is very hungry. This group of kids, they're a fun group, they're focused – they're buying into what we're telling them. You can't just show up and win though. The kids that are older understand now after last year's kind of heartbreaker not to make the playoffs, they don't want to sit at home again and wait scores for come in to decide whether we're playing next week."
The landscape around the Bears has changed significantly this season, as Winnisquam has moved to the Division III South Conference, with the division going from four conferences to two, eight-team ones. That means the regular season schedule will feature plenty of new teams. Winnisquam's one crossover game with the North is against Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough (Sept. 20), but the yearly rivalry contest with Franklin was one casualty of the realignment.
"That's one of the biggest drawbacks is we don't have the Franklin game," admitted Riberdy. "It's just one of those things where they decided to split the teams into two conferences. One team was going to have to make a move and because of our location, they figured it was the easiest thing to do. I'm alright with it though. I think it's kind of exciting to play some new teams."
The South Conference will feature games against Raymond (Sept. 13), Farmington-Nute (Sept. 26), Campbell (Oct. 4), Somersworth (Oct. 11), Epping-Newmarket (Oct. 18), Bow (Oct. 25) and Bishop Brady (Oct. 31). Raymond, Farmington-Nute, Somersworth and Bow will be played at the Route 132 Field in Tilton.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bears return some very talented skill position players. That unit is led by the running back tandem of Christian and Andrew Serrano, who return after strong seasons the past few years. Riberdy knows that his speedy backs will be keyed in on by opposing defenses however.
"We've kind of adapted our offense a bit, we know that's going to happen," explained Riberdy of defensive game plans focusing on the brothers Serrano. "We're looking to spread the field a bit more with them, get them running outside more."
Winnisquam will likely take to the air a bit more as a result, and senior incumbent Greg Hunt and junior Charlie Taylor will vie for the starting quarterback job. Tim Harmon and Matt McHugh both return as dangerous pass catching weapons, while senior Cody Rubel has gotten a lot of looks at slot back for the Bears. Jake Snow and Dom Lamanuzzi will also be in the tailback mix.
"We did some good things last year throwing the ball and I think you'll see more of that out of us this year," offered Riberdy. "A kid like Timmy Harmon is about 6-foot-4 now and he has great hands. Matty has fantastic hands and is very athletic. He caught a touchdown in our jamboree up at Inter-Lakes."
While the Bears took some tough losses along the offensive line with the graduation of VanTassel, Pat Boyle and Jacob Gove, there are still some veteran big boys to block for the speedy tailbacks up front. Junior Michael Lewis returns at center, as does All-Conference performer Richie Mills. Billy Chavanelle and Richie Scacheri are also experienced, while Christian Duquette and Tyler Moran will certainly be in the mix.
On the defensive side of the ball, Mills will anchor a linebacking core that is loaded with talent. Andrew Serrano will be right next to him as an inside backer while McHugh will join them on the outside.
"We're very athletic on that side of the ball and I think very few teams can match our overall speed," said Riberdy.
The defensive backfield has plenty of talent, with Christian Serrano, Hunt, Harmon, Joey Correia, Logan Patten and Cody Ross all pushing for playing time in a deep position. The defensive line will feature both Tyler and Trevor Moran.
Riberdy hopes that consistency can become a part of the Winnisquam repertoire this fall, as a common problem in the past few years has been keeping momentum going after big games.
"That's been our thing the last couple of years, we'd have some lulls every other week it seemed like," admitted Riberdy. "We haven't been to the playoffs since 2010 and we're looking to be able to get back there with consistent play week in and week out."
That march towards a potential postseason berth kicks off on Saturday, when the Bears welcome Raymond to Route 132 Field for a 1:30 p.m. contest to open the regular season.