The SportsTalk Shop: 4A Playoff Primer

The high school football playoff season is upon us with interesting matchups in the PIAA District 2/4/11 sub-regionals.

First, a quick plug.  For the next two weeks, we’ll be spending most of our “RCN SportsTalk” programs (Thursdays, live, 7-8pm), breaking down ALL of the football sub-regional playoff games, along with thoughts on the Eastern Conference post-season as well.  Feel free to contact us before/during the show to weigh in with your thoughts and questions about the playoffs.

Now, some observations and details on the 4A contests involving District XI teams (we’ll look at the 2A/3A playoff teams in our next blog entry).

Easton/Freedom
If this was almost any other year, I would say the Red Rovers have the advantage—if for no other reason than Freedom already defeated Easton once this year…and Easton RARELY loses to the same team twice in one season.  In fact, even though I thought Freedom was the favorite heading into the first game between these two schools, I might have given the Rovers the nod.  But that was before last weekend.

(BTW:  Freedom was our pre-season #2 team in our “SportsTalk” poll, ranked just ahead of Easton).

I was very impressed with the way Freedom played last Saturday against their traditional rivals, the Liberty Hurricanes.  Andres Santos, who came into the season as the number-two back, finished the regular season with 136 carries, 625 rushing yards, 12-touchdowns and a 5-yards per carry average.  He took on a Liberty defense that was determined to try to stop him, and responded with a 200-yard rushing day (a personal best—his previous high was 117) and two scores.

Furthermore, the senior leaders—Brennan Reinert, Cordell Cotto, Alkiohn Dunkins, Joeshua Ortiz—to name just a few, have been outstanding and have made key contributions on both sides of the ball.  Teamed with junior Brady Hornbaker and sophomore Alec Huertas, I really believe this team is special.  The Patriots have already won a share of their first league/division title, but I believe they have the potential for even greater heights this post-season.

Nasir Minney-Gratz had another awesome performance last week against Nazareth, and before that game I thought that Easton might have had the best, all-around defense in the EPC-South.  I’m no longer sure of that opinion, but I do feel it will be a great game (Friday, live, 7pm on RCN-TV).

Del Val/Parkland
When District XI puts the schedule together before the season starts, they should probably just schedule these two teams to play each other, as these schools have run into each other—at least once—for several years in a row.

Del Val boasts senior running back Austin Cernek (156 carries, 920 yards, 9-TDs) and sophomore wide receiver Dylan Kelly (13 catches, 271, 4-TDs).  Junior QB Matt Cavallero 68-128 passing, 975 yards, 8-TDs, 12-INTs) does a good job orchestrating the offense.  However, I don’t think the Warriors are as strong as some of the previous years’ DV-teams that Parkland has faced.

The Trojans themselves are an interesting team.  The one time I’ve seen them in person (against Freedom), they looked flat-out phenomenal.   They have, in my opinion, the best athlete in the area (QB Devante Cross) and are loaded with depth at nearly every position, along with players (Kenny Yeboah, Eric Digirolamo and others) who have appeared quite a bit on the “SportsTalk” highlight reels this fall.

I’ve talked to some of my colleagues who’ve seen them more often and they opined that the team sometimes plays to the level of their competition and/or lacks emotion.  I feel that will not be the case now that the post-season is here, and I’d say that Parkland heads into the playoffs as the favorite in this game…if not the entire sub-regional tournament.

The Parkland/Del Val game will be broadcast on RCN-TV, tape-delayed, Friday at 9:30 pm.

Stroudsburg/Liberty
The Hurricanes may have the best quarterback (Doug Erney) in the area.  They have, in my opinion, one of the best junior running backs (Gunner Anglovich) in the region.  They have an outstanding offensive live and a great collection of receivers.  On paper, they have the advantage in every offensive aspect of the game.

However…

Over the last two weeks, the Liberty defense has surrendered a whopping 89 points.  They’ve had issues with tackling and have committed untimely penalties at times throughout the season.  They feature some great individual performers, but the team overall has lacked consistency.  If Liberty plays to its potential on Saturday night (live, 7pm, RCN-TV), the game could be a blow-out.  But I don’t see the Mountaineers going away quietly.  If the Canes take Stroudsburg lightly, look ahead to a possible second-round contest against Parkland, or if they lack consistency and focus for an extended period, this game could be much tighter than people are expecting.

Wyoming Valley West/Nazareth
There are some really great athletes at Nazareth right now…perhaps, a few of their future “all-time greats.”  The Blue Eagles have to be cautious heading into their first round match-up.  It’s not uncommon for District XI teams to face a team with a great regular season record, only to mercy-rule them before halftime.  It’s doubtful this will be the case.  The Spartans have played some good teams this year, and have a number of playmakers who will have to be contained.  Junior QB Aaron Austin has passed for nearly 1,500 yards, and running back Sean Judge has rushed for over 1,100 yards.

Nazareth can build on a strong showing last week against Easton, and, regardless of this Friday’s outcome, has exceeded expectations this fall—with many of these players returning next year.  However, I believe this will be a close ball game with lots of scoring, and an all-out shootout could translate to the Eagles coming home with a round-one victory.

Feel free to email your comments on our District XI 4-A football teams to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in to this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” for your comments, along with more insights, predictions, players to watch and keys to victory on this weekend’s contests.  If you miss our live show, don’t forget to check out the program’s podcast available on Friday afternoon.