The SportsTalk Shop: Playoff Football Primers

The state high school football playoff season is officially underway in Pennsylvania (it actually started last week for Lehigh Valley teams due to the expanded playoff format, but we’ve talked about that in great detail before…)

There are several big matchups coming up this weekend.  Here are some insights on each of the games which feature teams in the RCN viewing area.

CLASS 6A
EASTON AT PARKLAND
Parkland is getting key people healthy—especially at running back—at just the right time.  During his tenure at Liberty, Head Coach Tim Moncman has often shown his desire to grind out long scoring drives if he has the horses available, and the improving health of Nick Suriel has allowed his Trojans to do that last week in their win over Nazareth.

This sets up an interesting issue:  Easton has had much more success stopping (or at least containing) the run against almost every team they’ve faced this year.  Even through injuries, the Red Rovers were the second best 6A team in points allowed this year during the regular season (Parkland was first), and they, too, are getting guys healthy—especially lineman—heading into the post-season.

This figures to be a low-scoring game.  Time of possession, turnovers and the ability to pick and choose your spots to throw deep will be keys and should make for one of the more entertaining games on Friday night.

FREEDOM AT EMMAUS
I’m really surprised it took a gutsy coaching decision by Emmaus Head Coach Harold Fairclough to put away his Hornets’ first round win over Liberty.  Both teams were missing key personnel and Liberty did a nice job containing Emmaus’ running attack.

In the first meeting between these two, the Hornets proved to be one of the few teams that found a way to pressure Freedom QB Joe Young and made him rush his passes.  If the Patriots’ offensive line can buy him more time—and I’m sure Head Coach Jason Roeder and his staff will also be making adjustments—Freedom could have much more success offensively this time around.

Emmaus’ Josh Artis helped to stretch the defense in the second half of the regular season matchup, which led to a Hornets victory.   As long as Freedom doesn’t hurt themselves with penalties/turnovers, a Patriot win wouldn’t surprise me at all.

CLASS 5A
Southern Lehigh vs. Whitehall
This is the matchup that surprised no one once the new classifications were laid out and both of these teams, along with East Stroudsburg North and South, were guaranteed playoff spots.

This is the game RCN will broadcast Friday.  We’ll be talking about this contest in much more detail on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show, when I’ll be joined by The Morning Call high school football scribes Keith Groller and Steve Miller for insights, analysis and predictions.

CLASS 4A
Saucon Valley vs. Bethlehem Catholic
In my opinion, this championship game is the most intriguing playoff contest this weekend.

Becahi steamrolled through most of the top teams in the EPC and featured the best run defense in the area before hitting an injury wall in the last quarter of the regular season.  They had to bounce back from a Central Catholic beating the week prior to avenge the Vikings’ defeat in the playoffs (see video above).  They also accomplished last week’s victory without some of their top players due to injuries.

Furthermore, Becahi—a team last year predicted to go deep in the state playoffs—is looking to get revenge on Saucon Valley—the team that knocked them out of the post-season last fall in the district semi-final.  Both teams have had great success defensively this year and also feature solid players on special teams.  I think you would have to give the Hawks the advantage offensively, but the same was said last season and that didn’t stop the Panthers from using its underdog status to fuel a hard fought win.

CLASS 3A
Pen Argyl at Palisades
The Green Knights have been a tough team to figure out this year.  Pen Argyl was one of our top four Colonial League teams in our pre-season and scored some impressive wins.  They’ve also lost a couple games that surprised some of our football experts here at RCN-TV.  Palisades has really been playing well under Kevin Ronalds and looked strong last week in their win over Northern Lehigh.

I’d give the advantage to Pen Argyl given Logan Sterner’s running ability and the Knights having a more battle-tested group, but this should be another interesting match-up this weekend.

North Schuylkill at Notre Dame

Notre Dame took a while to get its motor running versus Lehighton last weekend, but once they did, it turned into the blowout that I had predicted it would on last week’s show.

The Crusaders clearly have the most offensive weapons of any in this classification and have been doing a better job defending the run over the last several weeks, which traditionally has been North Schuylkill’s bread-and-butter.

I haven’t seen North Schuylkill in person this season as they play outside our coverage area but already have some calls in and am waiting for more information and details on this year’s squad as this week’s blog goes to press.  Again, I’ll have to use the “tease” button here and invite you to watch this Thursday’s show (or hear the podcast at rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk) for more on this playoff game.

Don’t forget to bookmark and check out RCN’s broadcast schedule here on the website and check back throughout our local team’s playoff run for more details on our featured games.

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Football Polls – Week 10

We’ve talked quite a bit this fall about how the early start to the high school football season has made the season go faster than normal.  That fact has almost been lost as a few of the winter sports coaches whose school will now probably not make the playoffs.  In talking with several of them over the last few days, they’ve suddenly realized that their athletes, as of October 29, may be turning their attention to basketball, wrestling, swimming and rifling.

As we head into the final week of the regular season for District XI teams, it’s time we once again look at this week’s “RCN SportsTalk” football poll for the teams in our coverage area.

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

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, 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.

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.

Now, here are this week’s poll results…

(Note/for the record: one of our voters was “MIA” for this week’s poll).

“ BIG” SCHOOL Football Poll (10 pollsters)
1) Emmaus – 48 (eight – 1st place votes)
2) Parkland – 42 (two – 1st place votes)
3) Freedom — 17
4) Pleasant Valley – 16
5-tied) Nazareth/Whitehall – 13
Other schools receiving more than one vote:  Stroudsburg

 “Small SCHOOL” Football Poll (8 pollsters)
1) Becahi – 41 (six – 1st place votes)
2) Central Catholic – 35 (three -1st place vote)
3) Saucon Valley – 29
4) Notre Dame – 16
5) Palisades – 10

Other schools receiving more than one vote:  Pen Argyl

Coming up on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show (7pm LIVE, RCN-TV), we have a jammed-packed show with different sports topics.  Keith Groller and I will break down all the various playoff scenarios heading into the final week of the high school football regular season.  Georgetown University Head Football Coach Rob Sgarlata will talk about his team’s impressive performance against Fordham last week and give his thoughts on this weekend’s game against Lafayette.  Plus, Phillies beat writer Stephen Gross will talk about the World Series and the Phillies off-season agenda.  Gross also covers the Phantoms and will talk about the Flyers upcoming season as well as top prospects to keep an eye on.

Email me at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and tune in for this week’s “SportsTalk” show and podcast for more

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Football – One MonthIn

Since we started the high school football season, I guess it shouldn’t be hard to believe that we are already halfway through the regular season (although with the expanded playoffs, we still have over two months to go).

With that said, I wanted to recap some of the major high school sports stories in the Lehigh Valley from this past weekend, along with highlights of our RCN-TV productions through the season’s first four weeks.

  • There have been very few head coaches I’ve talked with who did not say that Bethlehem Catholic had the best front six defenders in the entire Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. But they showed their balance last weekend against Liberty on Saturday. Their speedy, but at some spots, inexperienced secondary came through and equaled the effort of the players up front. On offense, they continued to grind out a solid running attack, led by Day-Day Rhodes and Randy Terry, and newly named (after week two) full-time quarterback Javon Clements, who led a balanced attack with a very solid passing game and excellent decision-making. The Golden Hawks wanted to send a message that they belong in the EPC South Division, and delivered their first statement win against a traditional power.
  • We mentioned on our high school football preview shows in August that Emmaus’s Josh Artis belongs on a short list of the most talented wide receivers in the region. He’s continued to have proven us correct in recent weeks. At 6’5 and with great leaping ability, he’s very hard to cover for most corners in the league in single coverage. The only way to slow him down seems to be pressuring the quarterback–although that’s not a given with the Hornets solid offensive line.  Also, with Artis running the inside slant, it’s not an easy task for most opposing teams’ defenses to cover. Look for Artis to continue to be a m ajor playmaker this weekend versus Freedom and going forward this fall.
  • Saucon Valley handled Southern Lehigh last Friday and Notre Dame also defeated the Spartans a couple weeks ago. This, in probability, should set up a rematch of what was last year’s Colonial League game of the year, when the Panthers will take on the Crusaders in week nine. Both teams lost some talented seniors to graduation, but have removed any doubt of their ability to reload and, barring a major upset, and will once again play for the top spot in the league.

Speaking of Notre Dame, we will find out firsthand more about this team, including how good they think they can be this year, along with insights on their success so far and their upcoming schedule.  Head coach Phil Stambaugh and his players will be our in-studio guests on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk presented by The Morning Call” show, live at 7 p.m. on RCN TV.

Now, here are video highlights of all of our HS football productions, thus far…

Don’t forget to send us your sports comments and questions at any time via email (rcnsportstalk@rcn.com) and to tune in on Thursdays, when I’m joined by new co-host/Morning Call Senior Sports Writer Keith Groller on each show.