HANNOVER – The most anticipated men’s football game in the Upper Valley every fall isn’t even a game.
It’s a pre-season scrimmage between Hanover High and Lebanon, the region’s two top programs and ones so mixed that their clash is more of a fierce friendly match than a clash with outsiders.
The teams last saw each other Nov. 5 at Stellos Stadium in Nashua, where Lebanon won their first NHIAA Division II title in 30 years and Hanover dropped the Division I championship to Nashua South in a penalty shootout. aim.
“I think Hannover and Lebanese football have been leaders in defusing the enmity between the two schools,” said Hannover coach Rob Grabill. “They can play hard and laugh afterwards and wish each other good luck. Last season we were there, watching each other in the spotlight in the last game of the season. Here we are tonight, starting another season.
“I love the arc of this, the way it connects our programs.”
Hanover prevailed, 3-0, on Thursday night at Merriman-Branch Field, scoring once when the teams’ front row players were in competition and twice more when the reserves were on the field.
Duncan Green, one of Lebanon’s centre-backs, said his side held up well against the Bears’ direct attack but struggled once they started moving the ball from side to side. ‘other. The hosts’ second goal came on such a play, when Lebanon’s back line found itself overstretched.
Andrew McGuire crossed a gap and on a nice diagonal pass before beating goalkeeper Zach Aldrich low and inside the right post. The count put Hannover in the lead, 2-0, early in the second half.
“We also have to work offensively, own the ball and get it in front,” Green said. “Every time we watch a tape, it’s the same thing. We always have more time on the ball than we think, so we have to own and find the open man. Right now, too often, we don’t give it to anyone.
Lebanon only had a handful of chances to score, none of them really threatening. It was a change from last season, when the Raiders pinned a 2-0 loss to their rivals, boosted by the sudden appearance of Latvian exchange student and top-notch striker Krists Putans, who scored both goals.
With Putans starting a postgraduate year at Kimball Union Academy and attacking midfielder Ryan Oliveira now a freshman playing at Ithaca (NY) College, Lebanon’s offense is undergoing a restart. Sophomore Nico Pentella replaces Putans, alongside returning junior Nick Brill, and sophomore Otto Bourne slips in for Oliveira.
“Playing at Hannover is a tough night offensively and defensively, that’s exactly why to do it,” said Lebanese coach Rob Johnstone. “Hanover has a kid who can keep the ball in every position, so it requires our discipline at all times to be in the game.”
As previously agreed, the teams made wholesale changes in the middle of each half. It was then that the depth and skill of Hannover’s program became truly evident. The Bears feature four teams (varsity, JV, reserve, freshmen) and Lebanon’s second group isn’t quite the same stuff as their rivals.
The Bears went up, 1-0, a few minutes before halftime and on a Ben Woods corner. The perfectly placed offering descended to the top of the penalty area and Sam Calderwood, one of several unmarked Bears, delivered a ferocious volley off the hand of keeper Easton Wykes and under the crossbar.
When the whistle sounded for intermission, Johnstone’s first move was to gather his second-string group into a huddle and explain the tactics and combat needed to compete in restarts.
“It’s half a step and half a second, but that’s what makes the difference, in the end,” Johnstone said.
Hanover’s last goal was credited to Gavin Munson, who kicked the ball in after Aldrich dove to the side to stop a cross but couldn’t hold it off once it hit the turf.
Johnstone said he thinks they’ve been Hannover’s best team in recent years, based in part on sightings of various bears while training at the Granite State Games this summer and during camp. local Touchline football from last week.
“Ryder Hayes and Zach Tracy are very complete, two-way players in midfield,” Johnstone said. “The Guerin twins (Will and Carter)… you almost don’t want them to return the ball, because if they do, these guys are going after you. There’s not a split second of hesitation, and they’re working to win him back.
Those four players are all juniors for a team that returns five starters and a dozen newcomers made their college debuts Thursday. Gone is State Player of the Year Eric Ringer, now an engineering student at the University of Colorado. As usual, however, the Bears have a wealth of talent ready to shine.
“I think Ryder Hayes is not just the best player in the state, I think he’s the best player in New England,” Grabill said of the returning junior who often teams up with Zach. Tracy in midfield. “The Guérins are so dangerous because they work very hard and they are so technical and they want to get to the goal.
“Jack Gardner at the top is a classic three-sport athlete and a bull in a china shop, but he’s added dimensions to his game.”
Other players worth mentioning include McGuire, who returned from injury last year, and senior goaltender Ty Nolon, who broke his arm two months ago. The backstop is expected to return by September 1, and Grabill said he still hopes to earn a chance to play Division I college football.
Hannover is widely seen as a title favorite this fall. Lebanon will need to merge and perhaps surpass to have any real chance of winning back-to-back championships. A place on the back line remains to be won and the Raiders must generate attack. Still, Grabill thinks the nearby crowd should be watched.
“Don’t sleep on Lebanon,” Grabill warned. “They have a lot of guys who were good players last year but are going to be the best players this season. They are still difficult because of their organisation, their defense and their coaching.
Remarks: Six players from Hannover and six players from Lebanon competed for what was considered the Monadnock area team in Granite State games this summer. The team, coached by Grabill and Johnstone, lost the title on penalties. … Merriman-Branch Field’s electronic scoreboard is out of breath, and athletic director Megan Sobel said a replacement would cost about $40,000. … Grabill said he switched to a plant-based diet and lost 40 pounds. … Hanover’s starting goaltender on Thursday was Jackson McBride, who recently returned from a summer playing baseball in Georgia. … Lebanon return with four starters after graduating 11 seniors. Also gone are current senior Birhanu Harriman, who is focused on cross-country, and classmate Will McGee, who ditched his final seasons of high school football and hockey to play year-round club hockey. with a team in Hooksett, NH … Hanover was 15-2-1 last season, while Lebanon was 15-2-2.
Tris Wykes can be reached at [email protected]