The Sports Talk Shop: Summer Hoops: Final Report

We hope you enjoyed our coverage here at the “SportsTalk Shop” and on our TV show over the last several weeks of summer basketball action in the Eastern Pennsylvania and Washington, DC regions.

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Here are some of my final thoughts along with observations and predictions involving the teams and athletes in our coverage area, along with pictures of local competitions.

  • The Catty basketball team was one of the smallest schools—in terms of both school enrollment and height—last season. But this summer the returning players are all getting bigger and stronger. Isaiah Graves is among the players who has an increased wing span and looked solid on the court the last few weeks. The word is the Bangor will once again be the team to beat in the Colonial League, but the Rough Riders, who just missed the league playoffs a year ago, look like they will definitely be in post-season contention for the upcoming scholastic year

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  • I was very encouraged by what I saw and heard from the Dieruff players. They seem very mature regarding what they need to do, and are very enthusiastic about making a name for themselves, and putting the Huskies back in the competitive field. Fortunately, a number of their players (as of now) are back in the fold and seem genuinely excited to prove people wrong during the scholastic season. I believe they certainly can hang with some of the top teams in the area and I’m excited to see if the Huskies can achieve some of the lofty goals that they have set for themselves.

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  • It was great to see some former high school standouts return for the summer league action—among them Matt and David Kachelries (from Emmaus) and Northampton’s Aja Blount. Those players got quite a bit of publicity (and rightly so) during their high school playing days and to see them back and supporting their former schools, along with local Lehigh Valley sports, speaks volumes about how many quality people we had the pleasure to experience the last few years.

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Don’t forget to catch the final game of the Catasauqua “Tournament of Champions” event to be seen on RCN-TV. This year’s “TOC” finale will be played at the Catty Playground near the Catasauqua Middle School next Thursday. Check back to the RCN-TV website for more details on air dates and times.

Behind the Mic: Feel-Good Stories

After spending around ten hours on the road this past weekend driving to Worcester, Massachusetts, and watching Lafayette get beaten badly by Holy Cross 42-0, I was not in a very good mood as I sat down to write this week’s blog.  After all, the Leopards, who have been completely decimated by injuries this season have been outscored by 122-7 the past three weeks and have not scored a point in the last ten quarters.  I spend quite a bit of time with the players and the coaches each week and feel their pain and sense of frustration.  It certainly weighs on all of them and I, too, by virtue of my relationships with them, feel equally “down”.

Suffice it to say, I sat at the keyboard on Monday morning and I needed a lift – a feel-good story.  But, I did not find one – I found THREE!  I don’t know whether you need to read these stories as much as I needed to write them.

Let me start with a former Easton High defensive football player named Chevy Graham.  You may not remember the name.  He was part of Easton’s two District Championship teams in 2009 and 2010 and started in the secondary the next two years and played in the McDonald’s All-Star Football Classic.  He was not offered any Division I scholarships and only one Division II offer (East Stroudsburg University) came his way.  But, he always felt he could play at a higher level.  When his father moved to Wichita, Kansas, Chevy decided to apply to Kansas University and play football.  He decided that; Kansas University still needed to be convinced.

So, his first semester, he sat in the stands for every game.  The following January, he went to a tryout for the KU team.  And just like he had predicted, he made the team!  The first year, he played on special teams.  This season, he is now a starter in the secondary as a cornerback and living his dream to play Division I football.

And lest you think Chevron (his real name) is just going to school for football, he is a chemical engineering student who is a member of the Academic Big 12 team, and is an Honor Roll student.  Just like his major, he was able to formulate a plan to enjoy a game he loves and play it at the highest level.  Read more about Chevy in Jesse Newell’s post:

http://cjonline.com/sports/hawkzone/2015-10-15/stands-starter-kus-chevy-graham-rewarded-leap-faith

The next two “feel-good” stories center around two of our Lehigh Valley teams – the Allen Canaries and the Dieruff Huskies.  This past weekend both of them won!  If you do not think that’s a big deal, the last time the two Allentown schools won on the same weekend was November 8, 2002, 13 years ago!

Dieruff beat Pocono Mountain West 33-20.  Now Dieruff has won other games this year (over ES North and Pocono Mountain East) and they did win four games last year, so their plight has not been quite as desperate as the Allen Canaries.

Allen had not won a football game since 2009 – they had lost 28 in a row.  Last year, they were outscored 403-71 and ended the season by being shut out by Dieruff 35-0.  This season, prior to their 28-27 win over East Stroudsburg South, they had been outscored 296-57.

As a former player and coach, I have the utmost respect for kids and coaches who continue week after week to go out and compete knowing the outcome will not be favorable.  These same kids still hit the weight room, still practice five days a week, still take the field on Friday night, still attend classes, still remain academically eligible, and still hope.  It is so easy to just walk away from this commitment especially when it is rare to reap the rewards with victories.

High praise belongs to the head coaches – Kyle Beller of Dieruff and George Clay of Allen, who, also, persevere and, every now and then, they get rewarded for their efforts, maybe not in wins, but in the gratification of working with his players.  This weekend, however, both were rewarded with wins!

That’s what happened this weekend, so congratulations to Chevy, to Dieruff, and to Allen.  And now, I “feel-good”.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Mets or Royals? Royals really have good hitters up and down the lineup.  I like the Mets’ pitching.  The Mets are destined to win the World Series.
  2. Watching the Eagles on Sunday, who do you blame for the losses? The receivers drop too many passes; Sam Bradford throws too many interceptions; they cannot run the ball; and the hurry-up has little or no effect on the opponent.  And they still could win the NFC East.
  3. If you are looking for the perfect college football atmosphere this coming Saturday, watch undefeated #21 Temple take on #9 Notre Dame at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. This could be the best Temple team ever and the campus and Philadelphia area are ready to explode.  Notre Dame, with a national rabid following, will be out in full force.  The atmosphere will be electric!
  4. It’s a typical year in the EPC South – Liberty beats Parkland; Parkland beats Easton; Easton beats Liberty; with Central also beating Easton and Nazareth also beating Liberty, Parkland is looking like the champion. Freedom still has an outside shot.
  5. Freedom (7-1; 5-1) tries to rebound from their first loss of the season when they host Easton (7-1; 4-2). You can watch the game LIVE on RCN-TV.  At 10:00, the Colonial League championship should be decided when undefeated Notre Dame takes on undefeated Saucon Valley.  Saturday, Lafayette takes on Bucknell and Liberty plays Central.

Gary's Picks

NFL PICKS LAST WEEK – 7-7; OVERALL 68-37 (65%)
NFL PICKS (WEEK EIGHT)
 

NEW ENGLAND
KANSAS CITY
ATLANTA
ARIZONA
GIANTS
MINNESOTA
SAN DIEGO
CINCINNATI
TENNESSEE
JETS
SEATTLE
GREEN BAY
CAROLINA
ST LOUIS

The SportsTalk Shop: Four Teams to Watch: EPC

The high school football season is nearly upon us! Before it kicks into high gear (our first two RCN broadcasts will be this Friday and Saturday nights), I wanted to take a look at four East Penn Conference teams that have some interesting storylines for the upcoming season. Please note, these are NOT the teams that I think will necessarily be the top four teams in the league but rather schools that may not be on your radar and/or squads that have some unique issues. We’ll also take a look at key Colonial League teams to keep an eye on in the very near future.

EASTON
Local football fans may not have noticed (and critics probably don’t want to), but Easton football has changed over the last several seasons, with Head Coach Steve Shiffert opening up the playbook and including more passing plays than previous years. They look to continue that more open style in 2014, but will have some incredibly tough graduated pieces to fill, especially on the offensive line—a strength from a season ago. They will, however, feature arguably the best offensive weapon in the area in Shane Simpson and have a number of strong defenders returning. They are one of the few schools in the area that have two quality quarterback candidates (E.J. Roeder and Trey Durrah). The Rovers will again incorporate a number of two-way players, something that may work against them playing a team like Parkland. Seeing the “new guys” adjusting to their role and keeping an eye on the Rovers’ depth will be two more things to watch as the season unfolds, and could tell how much success the team will have in the playoffs.

WHITEHALL
I have not seen them during the double sessions this month (I try to get to as many different schools as I can at this time of year, but since I’ve seen them the last two “Augusts” and in trying to be fair to other schools…).

I did, however, see a couple of their football players at this summer’s basketball league games, and also several of their linemen…and they are MUCH bigger than they were a year ago. Mind you, their offensive and defensive lines were fantastic last season. In fact, quite a number of coaches and football experts all marveled at how fundamentally-sound the Zephyrs’ linemen were. If the Zephyrs bring that same mentality with the added size, they have the offensive capabilities led once again by running back Sa’quon (don’t call me “Say Say”) Barkley and this year at quarterback by Gianni Sinatore—a very talented multi-sport athlete. That combined with several solid defenders returning will allow Whitehall to challenge Parkland and Easton through a district playoff run.

EMMAUS
The Hornets are a team I may have “snake-bit” a year ago, in anointing them as my “surprise” team of 2013. Emmaus got off to a slow start, which precluded them from making a run at the top teams in the district. However, I was extremely impressed with Randy Cuthbert, who was hired very late in the offseason a year ago, and his team when I saw them later in the season, and they have a number of quality players returning (among them QB Logan Kober, RB Wyl Miller, LB Kyle Boney and DL Eric Miller). They’ll need to make some adjustments defensively (former defensive coordinator Sam Senneca joined his son coaching at Wilson), but I think they have a favorable early season schedule—save the week two matchup against Easton—which should keep them near the top of the standings. Their other tougher matchups (Parkland, Whitehall) close out their regular season schedule, but if the team can continue to improve the way it did in 2013, those two games against the Trojans and the Zephyrs should be great battles to watch and very meaningful games in terms of the postseason positioning.

DIERUFF
There is no question in my mind that Bethlehem Catholic is the best of the “Mountain” football teams in the new EPC. In fact, a silver lining for the Golden Hawks getting “bumped” to the other division is that they will have no problem whatsoever in making the district playoffs, and should easily qualify for the number-one seed and home-field advantage in districts—something they did not have a year ago. But one of the key teams to watch among the “northern” teams are the Huskies, who are coming off a resurgent 2013 campaign. After some outsiders thought the program should be disbanded, Head Coach Kyle Beller and his squad have done a remarkable job of rebuilding the program. Not only did they win five games one year ago, but had legitimate chances to win at least two more games and qualify for the post-season—a thought no one outside of East Allentown would have thought possible last August. Because of the new league, they will face some much tougher competition (Parkland this Friday, Becahi on 9/26, Freedom on 10/3), and even if they equal the win total this year, one could argue the team is still moving in the right direction. But with two of the most talented (and definitely two of the most underrated) skill-position players in the league in Shakur Lester and Chris Marks, it is entirely possible the Huskies once again exceed fans’ expectations this fall. (FYI: for Husky fans, Dieruff Athletic Director Melvin Riddick will be one of our guests on our Sept. 11th “SportsTalk” show).

For the record, I do believe that Parkland is the best EPC team on paper, and have heavy odds on winning another District XI title this year. Last August, a very knowledgeable football guru told me that if QB DeVante Cross would develop his passing abilities, that the Trojans offense would be deadly. Cross has not only has improved ALL facets of his game, but the team added a quality football mind in Jim Terwilliger as a quarterbacks coach, to its already super-qualified staff. Even their kicking game is far above average, probably closer to the “superior” category, with perhaps the best leg in the area in Jake Bissell. I’m hard pressed to find anyone who can point out glaring weaknesses on this team, and see only two or three Lehigh Valley squads on their regular season schedule that will be able to challenge Parkland this fall. How far can they go this season? Keep watching “RCN SportsTalk” and our local football coverage to find out!

How do you feel about the new East Penn Conference? Which EPC teams do you feel will be the most interesting teams to watch this season, or give us your first impressions ahead of our “Colonial League” blog entry. Send us an email at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com, and join us for our “High School Football Preview Show” broadcasting this Thursday from 6-7pm from the Great Allentown Fair.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Anti-Poll Halftime Standings

 

“Anti-Poll Halftime Standings”

Hard to believe, but we’ve already reached the midway point in the high school football regular season. It’s time for our mid-term grades for the RCN Football “Anti-Poll.”

Before I give you my observations, we’ll first take a look back at some of the teams we’ve featured this fall on RCN Sports Talk, and let the coaches and players give you their insights on their respective teams.

Now, here’s my take on the teams in the RCN Eastern Pennsylvania coverage area I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in person, plus some views uncovered from my contacts throughout the region.

Grade: A
Imhotep, Garnet Valley, Penncrest, and Catasauqua
Footballstories Editor/Publisher Al Thompson pointed out on last week’s RCN Sports Talk that, at that time, no AAAA team in our viewing area was in the “Top 100” national polls this year. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of dominant football teams. Expect to see all of these teams in the PIAA playoffs. Imhotep fans might be inclined to go ahead and buy tickets to the state title game. In the Lehigh Valley, the Rough Riders continue to roll. Their offense seems to be able to score on anyone, at any time, and in a variety of ways. The word is that their defense must improve if they want to advance to the state finals, which would mean they’d have to find a way to stop the powerful Imhotep offense. I’ll find out for myself when I get my first look at the Rough Riders when I announce their game against Pen Argyl next Friday night, October 11, on RCN TV.

Grade: B+
Bethlehem Catholic, Easton, Emmaus, LaSalle, Parkland, Ridley, Whitehall, and Upper Darby
Emmaus and Parkland have a ton of momentum right now. They are both coming off wins against the Rovers and Zephyrs, respectively. One could argue that the Hornets had the best chance of any of these teams to be undefeated at this point. Both of their losses came late in the game due to strange plays. Parkland’s Kareem Williams might just be the most dynamic running back in the Lehigh Valley, which is saying something because I’m a big Shane Simpson fan. I was impressed how Whitehall was able to run the ball against the Trojans. The passing game looked good late, although by that point, Parkland was mostly in a “prevent” defense. They must have some other offensive weapons develop consistency to make a deep run in the postseason.

Bethlehem Catholic’s only loss was an impressive showing against the Rovers a few weeks ago. They can make a major statement with a win this Friday against Whitehall (watch this game live on RCN TV at 7:00 PM). LaSalle, Upper Darby and Ridley all suffered tough losses to very good teams early. However, they have bounced back and remain very much in the hunt for a district playoff spot.

And Easton? You can find out for yourself how they are doing by watching RCN Sports Talk this Thursday, October 3, live at 6:00 PM on RCN TV. Head Coach Steve Shiffert and his players will be my guests on the show. Feel free to email your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com now and we’ll read and respond to your messages live on the air!

Grade: B
Southern Lehigh, Saucon Valley, Pen Argyl, Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Palisades
These teams have all played well and will most likely continue to do so. It will be difficult for any of these teams to vie for the Colonial League crown if Catty doesn’t get tripped up at some point. However, any of these teams could do damage in the district playoffs, as Pen Argyl proved last year. We’ll be focusing more on these teams on RCN Sports Talk on our October 10 and October 17 shows.

Grade: C
Nazareth, Liberty, Central Catholic, Palmerton, and Pius
Liberty and Nazareth have some major questions that they have to answer in a hurry to make the district playoffs. Don’t forget, at least two teams from up north must qualify for the District 2/4/11 Sub-Regional Playoffs. With both of these teams already having at least two losses, they can’t afford another “L” with half of their schedule yet to play.

Central Catholic is coming off a victory against Northampton. They have some major challenges coming up on their schedule, and are not locks to make Districts this year. Remember that Central refused a bid to play in the Eastern Conference playoffs several years ago. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings play ANY post-season games this year after several seasons of reaching the PIAA semifinals or better.

Palmerton played well but lost an offensive struggle to Palisades last weekend. A good effort against the Tigers this weekend can push them back into the top half of the Colonial League standings. Pius is coming off a solid win over Towanda, and can move back to .500 with a win against Wyalusing Valley Friday.

Special Award
Dieruff
I said after their first win that the Huskies are already the feel-good story of this fall season. Going five years without beating anyone other than their ASD rival, Allen, had not been fun. The entire Lehigh Valley football community was genuinely happy for those kids to get that first “W” after Week Two. The fact that their success on the field has continued has proven that they have exceeded everyone’s expectations — except, perhaps, themselves. Based on what they’ve overcome, I have to give them a weighted ‘A+.’ I’m looking for even more positive news coming out of Dieruff High School going forward.

What are your thoughts and observations on the first half of the high school football season? Which teams will have the best “Second Half?” Post your comments here and tune in to talk high school sports every Thursday at 6:00 PM on RCN SportsTalk, live on RCN TV.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: High School Football “Anti-Poll” #2

 

High School Football “Anti-Poll” #2

Before we take a look at the smaller schools in our RCN viewing area, I wanted to congratulate a few of the bigger schools, in particular Emmaus, Dieruff and Bethlehem Catholic, for their efforts this past weekend. After my pre-season prediction that the Hornets would make the district playoffs, they needed a win over a very tough Central Catholic team on Saturday to get their first win and keep their post-season hopes alive. If they can build on the confidence they earned on their last minute drive and victory over the Vikings, I think they have a legitimate shot at being 2-2 and getting back into the playoff chase.

I’ve remarked for years how mentally tough those Dieruff Huskies are — continuing to battle despite losing talented players to follow other opportunities. Their hard work paid off Saturday with their first victory over a team (other than rival Allen) since 2008.

Although Becahi lost on Saturday night against Easton, I am truly impressed by Head Coach Joe Henrich and his troops for a close loss to Easton — a team I believe is the most talented squad in District XI right now. With a 2-1 start and a realistic chance to beat a few more teams in the coming weeks, look for the Golden Hawks to make a run at districts. This would be a tremendous accomplishment to a team many people thought might only get a win or two this season. It’s also a testament to Henrich and his belief in his program.

Now for the AA and A “Anti-Poll”  for teams in the RCN viewing area:

CATASAUQUA – I don’t know if there’s a team that will be able to slow down this group of Rough Riders until the state playoffs get underway. Any team that wants to win a PIAA title most probably will have to face powerhouse Imhotep. Catty really has too many outstanding players — pretty much everywhere — to start naming them in a single blog post. The opposing coaches I’ve spoken with so far this year say you pretty much have to play a perfect game while hoping that Catty has an off-night just to have a chance at staying with them. Yet even when Catty makes a mistake, they have so much speed that they can usually make up for momentary errors and prevent other teams from big plays. For more on this year’s Catasauqua football team, we’ll have Athletic Director Tom Moll on RCN Sports Talk  this Thursday at 6 PM.

NOTE: Moll will be among the athletic directors, league and district officials that will be on this week’s show. If you have a question or issue about high school sports, this Thursday is the time to tune in and gets your questions answered.

SOUTHERN LEHIGH – I know the Spartans are a 3-A school, but I didn’t get to mention them in last week’s Anti-Poll as I concentrated mostly on the LVC. In RCN SportsTalk’s High School Football Premiere show which aired September 5, I said that I thought Southern Lehigh has a legitimate shot at winning a title this year. The fact that they lost to Catty in Week Two makes it much more difficult to go after the league title. However, Central Catholic is not a shoe-in to make districts this season. If Becahi doesn’t qualify (they still have Parkland, Whitehall, Liberty, Nazareth among the teams yet to play), I think the Spartans enter the AAA postseason as the favorite among the Lehigh Valley squads, although Saucon Valley could have something to say about that.

PEN ARGYL – I would not be surprised if the Green Knights make the playoffs as the #2 team among the Lehigh Valley AA teams. Players like Ryan Lobb, Nick Oyer, Michael DePaolo and Brady Mutton are smart, talented kids who can adapt to coaches’ adjustments with the best of them. Not many coaching staffs in the Colonial League have put together better schemes than the Pen Argyl coaches over the last few years. It may not happen when they play Catty during the regular season, but I would expect a fierce battle once again if Roughies and Knights face each other in the playoffs this November.

NOTRE DAME – Notre Dame is one of several “feel-good” stories in the Colonial League this year, along with fellow 2-1 teams PALISADES, SAUCON VALLEY (a 3A team this fall), PALMERTON and NORTHWESTERN. The Crusaders have a brand new attitude amongst its players – which is sometimes the most important aspect of turning a program around. Head Coach Chuck Mueller has his kids playing inspired football. They’re coming off a tough loss to Pen Argyl, but I think they can certainly make a run at a post-season berth, which would be a major step forward for this team. The booster club has offered me the red carpet treatment if I stop by their practice (although I’m not really a red carpet-type of guy). I’m hoping my schedule allows for an opportunity very soon to talk Notre Dame football. It should make for a very interesting next few weeks with many of these one-loss teams yet to play each other.

PIUS – The Royals lost a one-touchdown game to a tough Steel-High team last weekend. Pius has a solid line anchored by senior Kyle Kokawski, and most of last year’s team is back. But the Royals might have another challenge on their hands as they face Dieruff, who has to feel good following their first win of the season. It’ll be a big lift for whichever team wins that matchup on Friday night.

We’ll check back with our local high school football teams in a few weeks for our mid-regular season “Anti-Poll”. Which teams would you like me to discuss for our next poll? As always, we welcome your comments on the above teams. Feel free to email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us LIVE, Thursdays at 6 PM on RCN TV as we talk high school football this fall.