The SportsTalk Shop: HS Football Poll – Week 6

Without question, it’s been one of the wildest high school football seasons in recent memory, and our poll experts have had a heck of a time trying to give us perspective on which have been the top teams each week.  Heck, we pretty much went the last two years with Parkland being the definitive top team in the Lehigh Valley region.

Undaunted, we’ll proceed in unveiling this week’s listing of the best teams in the RCN coverage area for District XI.

But first, a quick recap of how we put our polls together and arrive at our conclusions for our bi-weekly  results.

Unlike polls that consist of a couple representatives within the same organization, our poll is much more varied with input from many different people over a wider scope.  Our voting panel consists of local media members from different outlets, along with local coaches and athletic directors from across the entire district.  The voters are not identified (unless they appear on our “SportsTalk” TV show and podcast and chose to reveal themselves) so they can give their honest impressions without any worry of outside pressures or “bulletin board” material, and we rotate different pollsters from different schools each year, including guests from our biggest to our smallest schools.

Despite this fall’s change in the PIAA classification, our poll remains with the standard, tried-and-true format that we have utilized for many seasons.  We will take the 400-male enrollment number as the cutoff for schools within the District XI/RCN footprint.  All schools above that number qualify as “big schools” in our poll. These schools consist of Parkland, Liberty, Allen, Easton, Emmaus, Liberty, Dieruff, Freedom, Stroudsburg, Pleasant Valley, Northampton, Nazareth, East Stroudsburg-South, Whitehall, Southern Lehigh and Bangor.

“Small schools” (below 400-male enrollment) consist of Saucon Valley, Central Catholic, Bethlehem Catholic, Northwestern, Wilson, Palisades, Palmerton, Salisbury, Notre Dame, Pen Argyl, Northern Lehigh and Catasauqua.  Each pollster will identify their top five teams in each group—the top school gets five points, the second team gets four points and so on, with an average score determining the order of teams in the poll.

Now, here are this week’s poll results…

“ BIG” SCHOOL FB Poll (10 pollsters)
1. Emmaus – 50 total points (ten – 1st place votes
2. Parkland – 40
3. Whitehall – 19
4. Liberty – 16
5. Freedom – 14
Note: Pleasant Valley and Stroudsburg also received at least one vote.

“Small SCHOOL” FB Poll (9 pollsters)
1. Becahi – 44 total points  (eight – 1st place votes)
2. Central Catholic – 34  (one -1st place vote)
3. Notre Dame – 26
4-tie  Northwestern – 15
Saucon Valley — 15
Other schools receiving at least one vote: Pen Argyl

Disagree with someone’s placement?  Should one team be ranked higher than another?  Feel free to email us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com or call us during our live show this Thursday to voice your opinion and talk football with us.  Joining Keith Groller and me will be Philadelphia Eagles Beat Writer Nick Fierro to preview the Birds game against Detroit this weekend (Nick also has some interesting thoughts on HS football as well).  We’ll also have Bill Ladson (mlb.com writer) on this week’s show to talk about the MLB playoff races.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Football Poll – Week 2

First of all, a big “thank-you” to all the people who sent me positive feedback following our unprecedented THREE HOURS of high school football primer talk (which you can catch through RCN On-Demand or at rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk).  We had some wonderful insights on the local teams and players in the RCN viewing area, along with predictions, identified athletes-to-watch, “must see” match-ups, and, of course, our RCN pre-season football poll.  We hope you check it out if you missed it!

Speaking of polls….

It seems bizarre that it’s already time for our “Week Two” high school football polls for teams and only now have we celebrated Labor Day. (I joke when people mention this holiday as I, along with nearly every coach, player, administrator and media member rarely can have a Labor Day Monday in which you’re not doing something football related, or else you find yourself massively behind in the preparation department for this week’s chores).

It’s the same thing for our high school football poll panelists, who were hard at work over the last 24 hours reviewing last weekend’s gridiron activities, comparing notes and sizing up the competition around the Lehigh Valley, in order to submit their picks for our bi-weekly poll.

With that said, here’s a look at our first “in-season” ranking of the teams in the RCN/Lehigh Valley footprint after two solid weeks of high school gridiron action:

BIG SCHOOL FB Poll (10 pollsters)
1) Parkland (5-1st place votes)
2) Freedom (4-1st place votes)
3) Liberty
4) Emmaus (1)
5) Easton
Other schools receiving more than one vote: Southern Lehigh, Whitehall

SMALL SCHOOLS FB Poll (9 pollsters)
1) Saucon Valley (5 – 1st place votes)
2) Becahi (4 – 1st place votes)
3) Central Catholic
4) Notre Dame
5) Northwestern
Other schools receiving more than one vote: Pen Argyl, Salisbury

Unlike polls that consist of a couple representatives within the same organization, our poll is much more varied with input from many different people over a wider scope.  Our voting panel consists of local media members from different outlets, along with local coaches and athletic directors from across the entire district.  The voters are not identified (unless they appear on our “SportsTalk” TV show and podcast and chose to reveal themselves) so they can give their honest impressions without any worry of outside pressures or “bulletin board” material, and we rotate different pollsters from different schools each year, including guests from our biggest to our smallest schools.

Despite this fall’s change in the PIAA classification, our poll remains with the standard, tried-and-true format that we have utilized for many seasons.  We will take the 400-male enrollment number as the cutoff for schools within the District XI/RCN footprint.  All schools above that number qualify as “big schools” in our poll. These schools consist of Parkland, Liberty, Allen, Easton, Emmaus, Liberty, Dieruff, Freedom, Stroudsburg, Pleasant Valley, Northampton, Nazareth, E. Stroudsburg-South, Whitehall, Southern Lehigh and Bangor.

“Small schools” (below 400-male enrollment) consist of Saucon Valley, Central Catholic, Bethlehem Catholic, Northwestern, Wilson, Palisades, Palmerton, Salisbury, Notre Dame, Pen Argyl, Northern Lehigh and Catasauqua.  Each pollster will identify their top five teams in each group—the top school gets five points, the second team gets four points and so on, with an average score determining the order of teams in the poll.

For the RCN viewers watching us in the Washington, DC region, we are once again featuring your high school football teams with highlights and news on the different programs on our Thursday show.

Feel free to send us your opinions on our poll to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we might read your emails live on the air on upcoming programs.  You can comment directions on this week’s “RCN SportsTalk” program this Thursday and our podcast of the show available on our website.

Also, don’t forget to check back to the “SportsTalk Shop” for more on high school football and fall sports teams in the RCN viewing area over the coming weeks for more interviews, video highlights and insights!

The SportsTalk Shop: “Final” HS Football Poll 2015

Our “SportsTalk” pollsters did it again!

As we approach the final week of the high school football regular season, a quick glance back to our pre-season predictions reveal that our pollsters correctly identified all of the teams in our “small school” poll.  In our “big schools,” four of the top five teams were correctly predicted—in order– back in mid-August (our “fifth” team did receive votes).  Moreover, our pollsters’ final results are very much in-line with the District XI power point system—which officially ranks the team at the end of the regular season and determines the playoff positioning.

As I mentioned before the first summer scrimmage, we have been incredibly fortunate over the years to have some wonderful and insightful people participate in our District XI football poll.  My thanks to all of the coaches, athletic directors and media members for their participation in the most comprehensive poll in the region.

And now, the final results…

Big Schools (11 pollsters)

    1. Parkland—55 points (11 first-place votes)
    2. Freedom — 43
    3. Easton — 34
    4. Liberty – 22
    5. Stroudsburg – 6

Other schools receiving votes: Emmaus, Nazareth

Small Schools (10 pollsters)

      1. Becahi – 47 points (7 first-place votes)
      2. Saucon Valley – 43 (3 first-place votes)
      3. Notre Dame-GP – 30
      4. Northwestern – 16
      5. Central Catholic/Salisbury — 5

Looking back, easily the two best games of the regular season (to date) had to be the Easton/Freedom and Notre Dame/Saucon Valley games.

All four of these teams had some great wins this season, and their contests against each other made for some thrilling high school football action.

Looking ahead, there are some interesting match-ups in the regular season finale, as teams jockey for spots in the District XI and the Eastern Conference playoffs.  In 4A, Freedom and Liberty, who play Saturday (RCN-TV, 7pm) have both clinched districts, along with Parkland and Wyoming Valley West.  Easton needs to beat Nazareth to make the playoffs and the Blue Eagles with a loss and a Pleasant Valley victory.

In 3A, there are plenty of spots and important ball games this weekend.  Bethlehem Catholic plays Central Catholic on Saturday.  A Golden Hawk win gives them the number-one seed and knocks the Vikings out of districts.  Undefeated Saucon Valley still has not clinched a spot, but still could get in if they lose to Palisades on Friday.

In 2A, Notre Dame and Northwestern have both clinched district spots and Salisbury would be in with a win over Southern Lehigh.  The Pirates need a win combined with a North Schuylkill loss.

Who’ll win these games this weekend and what are each teams’ keys heading into the regular season finale? Join Gary Laubach, Joe Craig and myself this Thursday live at 7pm for “RCN SportsTalk” as we break down all these games, the various post-season scenarios and the playoff system overall.  Also, our special guest will be Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver and former Liberty HS standout Devin Street, who’ll talk about his career and also preview this Sunday night’s Eagles/Cowboys game.

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Football Poll – Week 9

It’s been a wild last few weeks for high school football in the Lehigh Valley area.  There have been some very competitive games, and contests with several teams beating up on each other.  It’s made for some interesting playoff races as we head into the final two weeks of the regular season.

First, we take a look at some of the highlights of games RCN-TV has broadcast over the last few weeks.

Before we look at this week’s expert opinions on who the top teams are, here’s a quick recap of our poll structure.  Our pollsters consist of many different people over the entire Lehigh Valley region.  Our voting panel consists of local media members from different outlets, along with local coaches and athletic directors from across the entire district.  The voters are not identified so they can give their honest impressions without any worry of outside pressures or “bulletin board” material, and we rotate different pollsters from different schools each year, including guests from our biggest to our smallest schools.

As in previous years, we take the 400-male enrollment number as the cutoff for schools within the District XI/RCN footprint.  All schools above that number qualify as “big schools” in our poll. These schools consist of Parkland, Liberty, Allen, Easton, Emmaus, Liberty, Dieruff, Freedom, Stroudsburg, Pleasant Valley, Northampton, Nazareth, E. Stroudsburg-South, Whitehall, Southern Lehigh and Bangor.  “Small schools” (below 400-male enrollment) consist of Saucon Valley, Central Catholic, Bethlehem Catholic, Northwestern, Wilson, Palisades, Palmerton, Salisbury, Notre Dame, Pen Argyl, Nolehi and Catasauqua.  Each pollster will identify their top five teams in each group—the top school gets five points, the second team gets four points and so on, with an average score determining the order of teams in the poll.

Also, if you have a beef about our poll or want to talk about the District XI football season, the different playoff scenerios or any other scholastic football topic, tune in to “RCN SportsTalk” live, this Thursday from 7-8 pm.  Our guests will include local official Joe Diorio and RCN Commentator John Breidinger, as we’ll also discuss football rules, interpretations and some controversial calls made recently.

With the particulars out of the way, here’s a look at how our next-to-last set of polls shake out.

Big Schools (11 pollsters)

  1. Parkland—55 points (11 first-place votes)
  2. Easton – 42
  3. Freedom – 35
  4. Liberty – 19
  5. Nazareth – 6

Other schools receiving votes: Emmaus, Stroudsburg, Whitehall

Small Schools (10 pollsters)

  1. Becahi – 45 points (6 first-place votes)
  2. Saucon Valley – 42 (4 first-place votes)
  3. Notre Dame-GP – 31
  4. Central Catholic – 20
  5. Northwestern — 10

Other schools receiving votes: Salisbury

There were some big changes in each poll.

Among the larger schools, Freedom’s first loss of the season to Parkland puts the Trojans back to the number one position and drops the Patriots back down to third.  Easton’s clubbing of Liberty moves them back into the number two spot.  Nazareth holds on to the final spot—barely—following its loss to Whitehall last Friday and is still very much alive in the district playoff race.

In the smaller schools, Bethlehem Catholic finally reclaims the top spot it had lost following their loss to Liberty the first week of the season.  Saucon Valley (8-0) could reclaim the number one position with another solid showing against undefeated Notre Dame this Friday (on RCN-TV, tape-delayed at 10pm).

Next week here at the “Shop,” we’ll have our final installment of the “SportsTalk” football polls, along with more video highlights of local teams and players and a breakdown of playoff possibilities for local teams as they jockey for post-season positions.

Again, we welcome your comments and opinions on our poll and on high school football in general.  Call our show live this Thursday or email us now (rcnsportstalk@rcn.com) and tune-in to hear it read and responded to during the program.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Football “Preview” Poll

To be perfectly honest, I take great pride in an important and popular aspect of our fall football season here at RCN.

For quite some time, I was given the responsibility of putting together the District XI/RCN HS Football Poll, and I have enjoyed building this into what I believe is the most comprehensive scholastic football poll in the region.

Unlike polls that consist of a couple representatives within the same organization, our poll is much more varied with input from many different people over a wider scope.  Our voting panel consists of local media members from different outlets, along with local coaches and athletic directors from across the entire district.  The voters are not identified so they can give their honest impressions without any worry of outside pressures or “bulletin board” material, and we rotate different pollsters from different schools each year, including guests from our biggest to our smallest schools.

As in previous years, we take the 400-male enrollment number as the cutoff for schools within the District XI/RCN footprint.  All schools above that number qualify as “big schools” in our poll. The “Big Schools” consist of Parkland, Liberty, Allen, Easton, Emmaus, Liberty, Dieruff, Freedom, Stroudsburg, Pleasant Valley, Northampton, Nazareth, E. Stroudsburg-South, Whitehall, Southern Lehigh and Bangor.  The “Small Schools” (below 400-male enrollment) consist of Saucon Valley, Central Catholic, Bethlehem Catholic, Northwestern, Wilson, Palisades, Palmerton, Salisbury, Notre Dame, Pen Argyl, Northern Lehigh and Catasauqua.  Each pollster will identify their top five teams in each group—the top school gets five points, the second team gets four points and so on, with an average score determining the order of teams in the poll.

With the particulars out of the way, here’s a look at how our preseason poll shakes out…

BIG SCHOOL FB Poll (10 pollsters)
1) Parkland – 50 total votes ( 10 -1st place votes)
2—tied) Easton — 28
2—tied) Freedom — 28
4)  Liberty — 16
5)  Whitehall – 11

Other schools receiving more than one vote:  Emmaus, Stroudsburg

SMALL SCHOOLS FB Poll (9 pollsters)
1)  Bethlehem Catholic – 43 total votes (8  -1st place votes)
2)  Saucon Valley – 36 (1 – 1st place vote)
3)  Northern Lehigh — 20
4)  Central Catholic — 11
5)  Northwestern – 10

Other schools receiving more than one vote: Notre Dame, Pen Argyl, Salisbury

I have a few initial thoughts on this poll, which we’ll be addressing in much more detail on this week’s “RCN SportsTalk.”  One thought is that Emmaus looks to be flying under the radar so far this preseason.  They did not have a great 2014 season and graduated a number of skilled position players, including one of the top all-around football stars (Andrew Davidson) in the area.  However, they have added a new quarterback (who has shown great ability in the preseason workouts), they have their entire offensive line returning, and their JV team from a year ago had a TON of speed that should be showcased at the varsity level this fall.  Don’t be surprised if the Hornets move up into one of the “top five” positions at some point this season.

Some may be surprised to see Central Catholic ranked lower than they usually are in previous years.  Without asking any of the pollsters, I believe a major reason for this is the Vikings schedule.  For the second year in a row, they really get hammered out of the gate, playing several of the top five teams (all large school programs) in the first half of the season.  Central Catholic has its work cut out for them to stay even this year, and will probably have to pull off an upset or two in order to make a run at the playoffs this season.  That being said, the Vikings have some nice pieces returning from last year and still could have a better record this fall than they did a year ago.

Another team to watch out for is Salisbury.  After several years of finishing at or near the bottom of the Colonial League standings, they very quietly put together a nice 2014 campaign and bring back many talented players this fall.  They were one of the schools we interviewed over the last week and the Falcons coaches and players seem determined to continue improving, both on the field in and in our poll.

Feel free to send us your opinions on our poll to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us this Thursday, live at 7pm on RCN-TV for our “HS Football Preview Show.” We might read your emails live on the air during this program, along with our panelists’ insights and predictions on the new football campaign, plus interviews with local players and coaches.  We’ll also have a segment devoted to NFL “fantasy” football, with tips and strategies on preparing your team for the upcoming season.  And don’t forget to check back to the “SportsTalk Shop” as the high school football season unfolds for the latest results of our bi-weekly high school football poll.

The SportsTalk Shop: District XI Football Recaps

 

District XI Football Recaps

It was our pleasure to cover the District XI football playoffs once again this fall on RCN-TV. While some games were one-sided, there were some great contests with many outstanding individual and team triumphs en route to this year’s championships.

CLASS 2A PLAYOFFS
Catasauqua accomplished what it couldn’t do a year ago–when Pen Argyl defeated the Rough Riders in the District title game.

Like many of the great head coaches in our viewing area, Tom Falzone used this experience as a life-lesson. In speaking with his players before the game, he talked about not always having a second chance in life, being appreciative when you do, and making sure you focus on your priorities when given opportunities. Several of the Catty coaches and administrators have talked about what a special, respectful and fun group of players they have had for the last two years, and it was great for their program to finally have the gold metal placed around their necks.

Palisades, Catty’s opponent in the championship, also had a great year…exceeding everyone’s expectations but their own. Head Coach Kevin Ronalds got an extra special gift this fall, as his son, serving oversees in the military, came home to see his family and got to spend a few weeks in the Lehigh Valley before returning to an “undisclosed location.” Ronalds is one of a handful of coaches in the area who have successfully rebuilt their football programs this fall. In my long-range crystal ball, I see an even more competitive 2014 season in the Colonial League. The Pirates, Southern Lehigh, Saucon Valley, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Pen Argyl, Northern Lehigh and perhaps one other team all have legitimate chances to fight for the league crown.

CLASS 3A PLAYOFFS
In the District XI semifinals, Southern Lehigh dominated in its win over Pottsville with a very balanced attack. While Bethlehem Catholic also won by a significant margin, I was impressed by Lehighton and how they battled the Golden Hawks, especially after sustaining an injury to one of their key players.

The championship was one of the most competitive games all season. Perhaps most impressive to me was the Southern Lehigh secondary. Despite giving up between 5 to 9-inches in height to a quicker group of wide receivers, the Spartans held Becahi to 7 passes for 24 yards–one of their lowest outputs of the season. Likewise, Collin Kendricks and company contain the Hawks’ ground game, but Becahi’s defense was also up to the challenge. Guys like Will Ward, Antwon Keenan, Dante Lonardo, Josh Heron, Searn Moroney, Mike McDanniel and others stepped up in key moments, enabling the Hawks to win the title in overtime:

CLASS 4A PLAYOFFS
In the first round, both Parkland and Whitehall looked solid, although Stroudsburg and Pleasant Valley both played valiantly and did not disappear after the Trojans and Zephrys took early leads. The big story for me was the development of Parkland’s DeVante Cross as a passer in this game:

For Whitehall versus Pleasant Valley—two teams that love to run a hurry-up, fast-tempo offense—it was an entertaining game, with lots of highlights on both sides of the football:

In the district semifinal, Parkland’s defense stepped up big time as I thought they would (see my blog entry from the second week of September) and held the vaunted Whitehall offense in check until the Trojans had built a solid cushion:

Easton, playing without some key players, defeated Wyoming Valley West by one point in their first round playoff game. A week later they dominated its matchup against undefeated East Stroudsburg South, setting up the championship faceoff with Parkland.

For the second straight year, it was Parkland avenging a regular season loss to Easton in the championship. Another irony, the District XI season ended almost identical to the way it began–with the Trojans dominating a team on both sides of the ball. The win over the Rovers was vastly more impressive than their week-one blowout over a rebuilding Del Val team. Easton had looked as the most well-rounded team of all the schools I visited during August double-sessions. Parkland’s offense and defense have been improving all season and was just too strong last Friday as the Trojans made the title game win look easy.

Which team do you feel had the most impressive run during the district playoffs? Which highlights do you think were the best? Send us an email with your opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us for our next live show on December 5th at 6pm. Among out topics on that program, we’ll be updating the PIAA playoff pictures and also talking Eagles and NFL news with beat writers Nick Fierro and Al Thompson.

Check back to our blog soon as we’ll be looking for your help in nominating the top teams, athletes, games and more for our sports “year-in-review” program.