The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 26, 2012

Harold Raker's column on high school football: Making some sense of playoffs


Daily Item

---- — Everyone had their predictions before the season on which teams would get to the playoffs, and even which ones would win the titles in Class AAA, AA and A in District 4.

Now, with two weeks left in the regular season, it's time once again to handicap the playoff picture, now that we have something with which to base those projections.

Unlike the last couple of years, we already know most of the participants. Where they will land in the seedings and, thus, where they will play in the preliminary round, remains rather cloudy.

There are of course no guarantees that what is written here will make it any clearer, but, let's give it a try.

Class AAA

Barring an upset win by East Juniata, the four teams are set. Moreover, we can also pencil in (or type into your computer) Selinsgrove as the No. 1 seed, even if it loses its final two games. Losses by the Seals to Mount Carmel this week and Danville next week would still have the Seals with somewhere around 800 points. A battle looms behind them for the remaining three seeds, and home-field advantage in the first round.

Shikellamy gets the No. 2 seed with wins over Shamokin this week and then Milton. Milton should nail down at least the No. 3 seed, but would get a home game in the first round with Shikellamy by beating the Braves next week. Either way, the Black Panthers and Braves will play in back-to-back weeks.

The only other team with a shot to make the field is East Juniata, but the one-win Tigers face Tri-Valley League foes Millersburg and unbeaten Williams Valley to finish out.

Class AA

A year ago at this time, and at least for the last two seasons, this field had some 12 teams battling for its eight playoff berths. Looking at the points now, while a lot can change in the next two weeks, it appears that the top eight teams in the current standings will not drop out of the tournament. But what an exciting battle looms for those eight.

Central Columbia and Danville have been Nos. 1 and 2, although not always in that order, all season, but neither has a clear path to remain there. Central faces rival and unbeaten Class A state power Southern Columbia tonight, then an even bigger rival, pass-happy Bloomsburg in the finale.

Danville faces the aforementioned Panthers tonight and finishes with Class AAA Selinsgrove for the Heartland Athletic Conference Division I championship.

If both teams split (Danville beating Selinsgrove and Central topping Bloomsburg), the Ironmen could get back to No. 1. But Northern Tier League team Athens is also in the mix for the No. 2 spot, if the Wildcats defeat Central Mountain this week and next-door (literally; they can walk there) Sayre in week 10.

Lewisburg has a tough out in Loyalsock this week and then takes on rival Mifflinburg. The Green Dragons could actually win both and fall into fifth and a road trip in the first round. That is because Mount Carmel, the team that seemed out of it in mid-season, and is now the team no one wants to face in the first round, is barking at the heels of the Green Dragons, a team Mount Carmel defeated in week two.

The Red Tornadoes have a pair of potential toughies, but, if they win, the points would come raining down. It starts tonight at Selinsgrove and finishes up with the annual Coal Bucket Trophy game with rival Shamokin.

Battling for the position in the final four spots, all opening with road games, are Montoursville, Troy and Loyalsock. Troy seems to have a slight edge to nail down No. 5 followed by Montoursville and Loyalsock. But, a Lancers' win over Lewisburg at home tonight would change all that, and, if that isn't enough, Loyalsock visits neighboring Montoursville on the final night.

Class A

Things are more congested than usual in this class, which has produced some outstanding playoff teams over the years, most notably the 600-pound gorilla in the room, six-time state champion Southern Columbia.

The Tigers would need a collapse of epic proportions for any of the other contenders to even get a whiff of the No. 1 seed.

But a real donnybrook exists for the No. 2 spot as well as the all-important No. 4 seed (the rest of the teams are left out).

South Williamsport moved into the No. 2 spot last week with its big win over Muncy, easing past Line Mountain, despite the Eagles' easy win over Pine Grove.

If both teams win out, the Eagles should nudge the Mountaineers out of the No. 2 spot and force the Lycoming County team to travel to Mandata in two weeks. But South Williamsport has a slightly easier path: at Cowanesque Valley and at Montgomery. The Eagles host rival Upper Dauphin and then travel to once-beaten and state-ranked Tri-Valley.

Bloomsburg, Sayre and Muncy are banging on the door like Fred Flintstone to try to get the final playoff spot. And, the most talented of the three, Bloomsburg, may have some trouble getting there.

The Panthers must play rivals Danville and Central Columbia, both 7-1 at the moment. Losing both of those games would make things tenuous. If that happens and Muncy wins out, the Indians will get the spot. Sayre is possibly in more trouble to hang on, as the Redskins take on Muncy and Athens.

For those who don't make it to the big show, several Valley teams remain among the leaders to participate in the next best thing: the Eastern Conference playoffs. In Division I (Class A), Muncy, Bucktail, Upper Dauphin and Halifax are in the running for a berth, although Upper Dauphin remains alive for a spot in the District 3 tournament. In Division III (Class AAA), Milton and Shikellamy are in the mix, but will probably not need to go that route; and, in Division II (Class AA), North Penn-Blossburg remains alive as does North Schuylkill from District 11.

Hopefully those who stuck with this to the end have managed to avoid the need for some Ibuprofen.

n Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.com.