The Sports Talk Shop: Chris’s “ALL-UNDERRATED” Football Edition (Part 1)

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

Last year, I did a blog entry here at “The Shop” reflecting back on the past basketball season that was well-received and seemed to generate some very positive comments.

The idea for that blog was not to single out the best players, teams and individual plays, but to spotlight student-athletes and coaches who did something great but perhaps didn’t get the attention he or she deserved.

As with the “All-Underrated Team” I did last spring, it’s completely arbitrary and was based solely on the games that I witnessed in person—either as a broadcaster or as a spectator. It did NOT include any games or videos I watched through RCN On-Demand, HUDL or any videos I saw on social media.

With that in mind, I wanted to single out some individuals who fit that same criteria during this past District XI high school football season.

The awards go to…

MOST UNDERRATED KICKER

Whitehall’s Alex Khouri.

The Zephyrs had a rare poor season and was one of the few Lehigh Valley teams that did not qualify for the playoffs this year.  However, Khouri was one of the most consistent extra point kickers in the area and had a strong leg on kickoffs in the few times we got an opportunity to see Whitehall this past season.

MOST UNDERRATED DEFENSIVE PLAYER IN A GAME

Southern Lehigh Linebacker LB Asher Smith. In a game I witnessed as a fan, the junior really stood out in a much-needed win over Palmerton after the Spartans were upset against Saucon Valley to open the season. Smith had a team-high nine solo tackles (10 total), five pass breakups and one pick-six….he also played well, was all over the place the previous week in keeping his team in the close game in the Panthers loss and also ended up with several returned kickoffs as one of the “up men.”

MOST UNDERRATED DEFENSIVE PLAYER/SEASON

Bethlehem Catholic’s Tavion Banks and Paul Carreras

Banks was one of the preseason “running backs to watch” in both local papers, however, he impressed me even more with his defense this past fall.  Banks is one of the top cover men in league—I kept reading in the high school football capsules each week that Becahi’s secondary was a weakness and that teams will look to exploit the Hawks’ ability to give up big plays.  However, the Hawks’ passing yardage was right in line with their opponents (153 yards per game vs. 158 at the end of the regular season).  I thought Banks did a great job keying on other teams’ top receivers and Becahi had just as many big players (if not more) than many other LV teams.

Carreras deserves extra mention because he was not only a standout linebacker all year long, but he was impressive offense (and both a running and a blocking back) and even excelled in the thankless role of a punter (averaging over 37 yards per punt during the regular season—one of the top marks in the area) and filled in kicker when Penn State-bound Anthony DeSilva went down with an injury (and did an admirable job in that role, too.)  All he did on defense was lead his team in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks (77, 22 and 8, respectively, using his final regular season numbers).  Not too bad anchoring a defense that—for the third straight year—many people called the best “Front 6” in the entire Lehigh Valley.

MOST UNDERRATED IMPACT (IN THE LEAST AMOUNT OF TIME)
 
Parkland Running Back Isiah Rico.  Before last season started, I heard great things about Rico’s potential as a quality back in the Lehigh Valley.  When senior starter Joseph Guida went down with a major injury, the sophomore Rico had to step into the spotlight in what may have been the team’s biggest regular season game against Bethlehem Catholic—only to sustain several serious injuries himself in that contest.

But what impressed me the most about Rico’s season was not the numbers he posted during his brief varsity experience this fall, but rather the conversation I had with him the week after suffering the injury.  When I talked with him the before the Liberty game, he was very positive about the team’s ability to overcome losing its two top running backs (at a time when there was still much indecision about the Trojans’ quarterbacks as well).  He also was in great spirits and refused to say anything negative about the situation surrounding the injury (on a controversial hit) and really gave some great responses in what could have been a very tough situation for him.

I am sure he will go on to post great numbers in his junior and senior seasons, but I instantly became a fan of Rico going forward based on the maturity he displayed in an off-the-field conversation.
 
MOST UNDERRATED UPSET

The then-winless Zephyrs. They defeated a Central Catholic team that had won two of its first three games, including an impressive victory over a Nazareth team that was also feeling good about themselves following terrific performances the first few weeks of the season. Whitehall not only pulled the upset but did it by scoring 75 points (and several Vikings fans admitted they probably could have scored more than night if they wanted to).

Both Central Catholic and Nazareth proved to be playoff teams again this year, which further showed what a big win it was for the Zephs.  (Did I mention that I was the only Lehigh Valley football media member who had predicted that Whitehall would win that game in advance?  I won’t mention I also predicted their other upset win over another playoff team in Northampton.)

MOST UNDERRATED COMEBACK STORY

The Northern Lehigh football team. Not only did Head Coach Joe Tout and his coaching staff turned around last year’s dismal season by posting five wins, but would have easily qualified for the playoffs had the powers-that-be not reduced the 3A classification qualifiers from eight to four teams.

A playoff appearance for the always hard-working Bulldogs would have been the perfect cherry to top the dramatic turnaround, but this year’s team certainly laid the groundwork for what will probably be an even more impressive football squad for the 2019 campaign.

MOST UNDERRATED FAN BASE

Palisades. One of District XI’s smallest schools features one of the most passionate and classy fans—from students, players, parents and coaches.

We talked at length about how well this group handled the controversial situation involving the previous year’s state playoff game loss to Conwell Egan.  This year, the team was in the hunt for another Colonial League championship—yet had the dubious distinction of being in the 3A classification (which switched from eight playoff qualifying spots to just four) and faced a nearly impossible road to a potential post-season berth once the team picked up its first loss.

This group remained loyal when the team was struggling to get enough players on the field to play a few years back and have handled being one of the league’s elite teams the past few years with respect towards other schools.  It was very enjoyable to travel outside our coverage area to Kintnersville again this year to see the stadium (how can you go wrong with a pirates ship on the field?), to experience the warm hospitality I experienced and receive the nice comments they passed along to me regarding reading my blog.

More “awards” coming, next week….

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Football: Week 6 Preview

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

 

While Emmaus has been a perennial title holder for girls’ field hockey in Eastern Pennsylvania, the Easton squad finds itself undefeated through the first month of their scholastic schedule.   We preview this Friday’s big Eastern Pennsylvania Conference showdown between the Rovers and the Green Hornets on “RCN SportsTalk.”

You can see highlights and more field hockey interviews by watching “SportsTalk” this Thursday at 7pm live on RCN-TV or through RCN On-Demand.

Turning our attention to the high school gridiron, we had three football games last weekend on RCN…

It’s time for this week’s edition of our high school football polls for teams in the District XI region…

“Big” Schools Poll

1) Freedom
2) Emmaus
3) Easton
4) Parkland
5) Northampton

“Small” School Poll

1) Bethlehem Catholic
2) Saucon Valley
3) Palisades
4) Northwestern

Our poll remains with the same structure that we’ve utilized for many seasons.  We take the 400-male enrollment number as the cutoff for schools within the District XI/RCN-TV broadcast area.  All of the schools above that number qualify as “big schools” in our poll. These schools consist of Parkland, Liberty, Allen, Easton, Emmaus, Liberty, Dieruff, Pocono Mountain West, Freedom, Stroudsburg, Pleasant Valley, Northampton, Nazareth, Whitehall, Southern Lehigh, East Stroudsburg-South, and Pocono Mountain East.  The five schools receiving the most votes are listed above.

“Small schools” (below 400-male enrollment) consist of both Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and Colonial League teams — Bangor, Saucon Valley, Central Catholic, Bethlehem Catholic, Northwestern, Wilson, Palisades, Palmerton, Salisbury, Notre Dame, Pen Argyl, Northern Lehigh and Catasauqua.  The top four vote-getters are named.

The “PICK 4” Northampton vs. E. S’burg South Palisades vs. Notre Dame *on RCN-TV Dieruff vs. S’burg North Nazareth vs. Parkland
Gary Laubach Northampton Palisades Dieruff Parkland
Tony Cocca
 
Northampton Palisades Dieruff Parkland
Keith Groller
 
Northampton Notre Dame Dieruff Parkland
Chris Michael
 
Northampton Palisades Dieruff Parkland

Check back next week here at “The Shop” for more high school football notes, polls, video highlights and predictions.

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 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: First Impressions

The high school football season has arrived with an earlier-than-normal start to the season (the PIAA eliminated the second scrimmage week so that the season will start a week earlier and allow for an additional week of playoffs).

We have an unprecedented amount of local high school football coverage, both on RCN On-Demand and on our podcasts here at the RCN TV website.  Despite a busy week of transitioning to the football season, preparing for several “SportsTalk” programs as well as this weekend’s games and also conducting shows from the Allentown Fair this week, I was able to take a moment to reflect on the opening weekend of high school football action.

I’ve compiled a few “first impressions” after the first round of high school football games in the Lehigh Valley:

  • I stirred up some controversy on our “primer shows #1 & #2” by making some lofty predictions about Dez Boykin, Zach Gilbert and the Whitehall Zephyrs (which you can hear for yourself at rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk). After the first weekend of games, I saw nothing that would cause me to back off those statements.
  •  There’s no question PARKLAND is the top team in the Lehigh Valley. They had their way with Allen in their season opener—and it won’t be the last time the Trojans put a licking on a local team this fall.  Without DeVante Cross and some other talented, graduated seniors, it won’t be easy for Parkland to equal its 2015 season, which culminated in a trip to Hershey for the PIAA title. Still, anything less than a couple wins in the state playoffs will be a surprise to me, and if you watched “SportsTalk” recently, you know other panelists have made even loftier predictions for the Trojans.
  • I’ve been saying for over a year now that FREEDOM has perhaps the most underrated sports programs in the entire Lehigh Valley, especially now that Bangor has collected some well- deserved recognition after capturing several championships over the last few months.  There might not be a more under-covered football sports story than that of the Patriots’ football program, that has one of the most miraculous turnarounds in recent memory—and to do it in one of the most competitive football leagues in the state!  Furthermore, Head Coach Jason Roeder’s team proved not to be just a once-and-done story, with a dramatic turnaround following a 2-8 season in 2013, but sustaining the success with back-to-back playoff trips the last two seasons.

Still, when I ask people for their impressions of the top EPC teams this fall, the initial responses from most people are always Parkland, without any hesitation.  Freedom does have a very competitive start to their season, with games against Easton, Parkland and Emmaus all in September.  You could also argue that the Patriots had the most challenging week one opponent of anyone in the EPC-South Division.  However, I would be surprised if the Patriots aren’t once again one of the top two teams in their classification this fall.

Do you think Freedom gets the respect?  We’ll talk with Coach Roeder and some of his players on the September 8th edition of “RCN SportsTalk,” and, if you think they should get more publicity, I hope you’ll make your voices known on that particular show.

  • There’s no question NOTRE DAME lost some talented personnel from last year’s record-setting team, but with Phil Stambaugh back operating the offense, I’m not expecting much of a letdown for the Crusaders this season. I fully expect Cole DeFranco, a sophomore quarterback, to thrive given the teachings of new Head Coach Phil Stambaugh.  The players who do return, headed up by Mitch Daniel and others, might make Notre Dame into the new, consistent power team that the Colonial League has featured in the past, like Saucon Valley, Catty, Pen Argyl, Northern Lehigh and Wilson before them.

Also, we’ll have Coach Stambaugh and several of his players on a “SportsTalk” show this September as well.

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 on this week’s “SportsTalk” program and also, don’t forget to watch this week’s show, in person, at the Farmerama Stage Area at this year’s Great Allentown Fair.

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!

Behind the Mic: Football is Here!

Friday, August 26, at 7:00pm, the high school football season begins!  I know it seems early.  That’s because it is.  To accommodate the addition of two more classifications (AAAAAA and AAAAA), and the PIAA state championship finals, the season begins a week earlier than in the past.  Remember when no games were played until after Labor Day – this year, two will be played BEFORE Labor Day!  That’s the earliest start ever for Pennsylvania.  And the earliest finish to the regular season if your team does not have a Thanksgiving Day game – October 28-29.  Good or bad, that’s the way it is.

If you want to look ahead already to Districts, here are the Lehigh Valley teams and their classes:

AAAAAA – Allen, Dieruff, Easton, Emmaus, Freedom, Liberty, Nazareth, Northampton, and Parkland.
AAAAA – Southern Lehigh, Whitehall (both are guaranteed a spot in Districts with only four teams)
AAAA – Central Catholic, Bangor, Bethlehem Catholic, Northern Lehigh, Saucon Valley
AAA – Northern Lehigh, Notre Dame, Palisades, Pen Argyl, Salisbury, Wilson
AA – Catasauqua
A – No Lehigh Valley schools

Five new coaches will lead their schools in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and the Colonial League.

In the EPC, Harold Fairclough replaces Randy Cuthbert at Emmaus.  Harold coached six years at Central and took the team to a state title in 2010.  Tim Moncman takes over the Parkland program replacing Jim Morgans, who won over 250 games with the Trojans.  Moncman coached 10 years at Liberty and took them to a state title in 2008.

Chris Labatch will start his first head coaching job at Wilson, replacing Matt Senneca.  He recently was the defensive coordinator for Saucon Valley, which is coming off a record-setting year.  Wilson was 1-9 last year.  Phil Sams is the new Saucon Valley coach.  He has the toughest act to follow as the Panthers went 14-1 last year under Matt Evancho.  Like Labatch, Sams was an assistant last year at Saucon.  Finally Phil Stambaugh will be the new head coach at Notre Dame – Green Pond.  Former head coach Chuck Muller has moved to Saucon as a defensive coordinator.  Stambaugh led Pius X to a 43-19 record before the school closed.

It appears that the EPC will be extremely competitive with Parkland coming back slightly to the pack.  I still think the Trojans will win the South, but Freedom, Easton, and Whitehall all could sneak in; Central will win the North. Saucon Valley will repeat as the champion of the Colonial League, but Notre Dame could surprise everyone.

I will be at Frank Banko Field on Friday night for the Central Catholic – Freedom game.  If you see me, say hello.  I will be wearing an RCN shirt and have a big smile on my face because FOOTBALL IS HERE!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

I need to preface my musings this week because they are about the Olympics and I watched the competitions on a big screen at poolside aboard the Anthem of the Seas while on a cruise.  I was amongst people from all over the world which made for an interesting perspective.  I recommend this viewing spot to anyone.

  1. Did you know there were lifeguards on duty at the swimming venue? The world’s greatest swimmers need a lifeguard?
  2. Fiji won their first gold medal ever when they beat Great Britain 43-7 in rugby.
  3. Simone Biles is “unworldly”. Four golds and a bronze and the best smile at the Games.
  4. Did you notice the difference in women’s beach volleyball uniforms when Egypt participated – skimpy bikinis covering little, on one side, and a hijab, covering everything but face, hands, and feet on the other.
  5. Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky performed as expected and that is not always easy to do.
  6. Ryan Lochte embarrassed himself, his fellow team members, and the US with his college drunken weekend escapade. There were few black marks at this Olympics, but this was one of them.

The SportsTalk Shop: Football Poll Preview 2016

With an earlier than normal start to the scholastic football season, the time to unveil the first “RCN SportsTalk” High School Football Poll for the Lehigh Valley is almost upon us!

I’ve remarked in previous years how comprehensive and diverse our poll is compared to other publications and media outlets, and we are using the same formula for the fall 2016 season.

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.

Before we get to unveiling our 2016 Lehigh Valley football poll (we’re going to announce it on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show—also available here on the website via podcast on Friday), let’s take a quick look back at last year’s poll and evaluate how we did:

2015 BIG SCHOOL FB Preseason 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

ANALYSIS:
                Our panelists pretty much nailed the 2015 season before the first game was played, despite us getting some early season grief about having Freedom and Easton tied for the second spot—and not just from Red Rovers fans).

               Parkland was clearly the best team in the area, and came within a few minutes of winning a PIAA state title.  Freedom and Easton split a pair of games against each other last year and Liberty was the fourth team that advanced to a district semifinal matchup.  Whitehall—with nearly everyone returning this year—was one of several teams that finished a step below the first four, along with Emmaus and a faster-than-expected rebuilding effort from the Nazareth Blue Eagles.

 2015 SMALL SCHOOLS FB Preseason 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
ANALYSIS:
                This wasn’t our best year as far as pre-season predictions for the smaller schools, as Saucon topped Becahi in the 3A District XI title game.  Both Northern Lehigh and Central Catholic struggled, while Notre Dame had arguably its greatest season ever, and Salisbury showed strong signs of improving that will probably continue into 2016.  However, let the record show that, by the time we did our first “in-season” small school poll, the teams shook out this way (which nearly mirrors the final standings):

 2015 SMALL SCHOOLS FB Poll (10 pollsters)
1) Saucon Valley (5  -1st place votes)
2) Bethlehem Catholic (4 – 1st place votes)
3) Notre Dame (1 – 1st place vote)
4) Northwestern
5) Central Catholic/Salisbury (Tied)

How will our 2016 preseason poll look?  Find out over the next week as we will bring you an unprecedented THREE BIG HOURS of high school football previews, predictions, insights and interviews with head coaches and players themselves.  On both the “RCN SportsTalk” program and on our podcasts (rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk), we will present three, one hour-long shows featuring the Lehigh Valley media’s top football insiders breaking down the different leagues, top match-ups and players to watch.  Our first show will be broadcast live on RCN-TV this Thursday at 7pm, followed by two additional live program broadcasts from the Allentown Fair’s RCN Farmerama Stage area next Tuesday and Wednesday, 6-7 pm.

Then on Thursday at the Fair (7:30 – 8:30 pm), we’ll feature the 50th anniversary/reunion show featuring the first undefeated football team in Parkland High School history, with players from that historic team, great stories from the golden years of high school football, and those players’ thoughts on current football issues and how today’s athletes compare.

We hope you’ll join us in person for these special shows from the Fair!

Last but not least, make sure you tune in for the season premiere of high school football this Friday, featuring Central Catholic versus Freedom, live at 7 pm on RCN-TV.  Plus, check out the RCN broadcast schedule here on the website for upcoming games.

Behind the Mic: Mind-Blowing Numbers!

Nysir Minney-Gratz of Easton High School is a running back.   He wears #7 and is listed at 5’ 7” and weighs 155 pounds.   On Friday night, he rushed for 469 yards against the Nazareth Blue Eagles.  He also scored six touchdowns.  469 yards!!  That is a new Easton High school rushing record at a school where rushing the football is equivalent to Saturday following Friday.  It happens every single week of every single game during the football season.  The forward pass is an afterthought.

So, suffice it to say that Easton has had, year in and year out, exceptional running backs.  But no one has ever rushed for more than 400 yards in one game for the Rovers.  The previous record was set by Juan Gaddy in 1991 when he ran for, what now seems like a paltry 314 yards.  Minney-Gratz ran for more than that in the second half alone – 20 carries for 325 yards.  By the way, he caught one pass for 23 yards.

If you like football numbers, you know that one of the personal goals of any running back is to attain 1,000 yards rushing in a season.  Minney-Gratz ran for 875 yards the last three weeks alone – 1715 yards for the season. And to think that in the two years prior to this season, he ran for a total of 289 yards.  But, as I mentioned, there have been many, many great running backs at Easton and Minney-Gratz sat behind another Easton legend, Shane Simpson, for the past two years.

There have been seven running backs this year who have rushed for over 300 yards in a game, five who have set school records.  Emmaus’ Kyle Boney will rush for over 2000 yards before he puts away his jersey.  His high this year is 377 yards in one game.  Liberty’s Gunner Anglovitch rushed for 391 yards just two Saturdays ago.  Saucon Valley’s Evan Culver needs just 52 yards to go over 2,000 yards for this season.

This certainly begs the question – Are these athletes so outstanding or are defenses non-existent?  I made a quick count of EPC and Colonial games and there were 24 games where a team scored 50+ points in a game and 11 more where a team scored 49 points.  In one game, a team scored 54 points and lost by 21. 75-54!!  Where are the defenses?

Many coaches attribute the high scores to outstanding offensive talent, but also to poor defensive skills.  They say there is much less time spent on contact drills in practice due to the fear of injury and this has limited the repetition necessary for an individual to become a good run stuffer and a good tackler.  Everywhere I go now I hear the phrase, “Nobody can tackle any more”.

In case you are wondering, the Pennsylvania single-game record is 722 yards set this year in a 107-90 game.  107-90?

Maybe, by comparison, our defense isn’t so bad in the Lehigh Valley!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. The Eagles’ victory on Sunday night in overtime was refreshing for a couple of reasons – Sam Bradford threw a perfect pass to win the game and it was caught, not dropped. And, it took some of the spotlight off of Greg Hardy, who should not be playing for the Cowboys at all, except he settled a financial civil suit with his girlfriend so she would not testify in his jury trial.  No matter how you spin it, he should not be playing football – another reason for fans to hate the Cowboys.
  2. As I write this, the Flyers are 5-9, losing six of their last seven, and the 76ers are 0-6, so the Eagles are the last vestige of hope for the Philadelphia fans through the winter.
  3. In the Football Bowl Subdivision, there are only six undefeated teams – Clemson, Baylor, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Iowa, and Houston. Baylor and Oklahoma State play of November 21 and Ohio State will probably play Iowa for the Big Ten Championship.  That will leave four and that’s what the NCAA likes for their playoff system.  Houston may end up playing Temple for the American Athletic Conference title.
  4. The Allentown public schools can be proud of the weekend dedication of the Andre Reed Field and the spirited play of their two football teams. Both Allen and Dieruff did themselves proud and I’m sure Andre was happy to see the Huskies come away victorious.
  5. You can find all of the brackets for the District XI football games which begin this weekend at the following site:  http://www.districtxi.com/fall/football

Gary's Picks

NFL PICKS LAST WEEK – 5-8; OVERALL 81-51 (61%)
NFL PICKS (WEEK NINE)

JETS
GREEN BAY
DALLAS
CAROLINA
ST LOUIS
NEW ORLEANS
PHILADELPHIA
PITTSBURGH
BALTIMORE
MINNESOTA
DENVER
NEW ENGLAND
SEATTLE
CINCINNATI

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Football Poll-Week 6

It’s time once again for a look at this week’s District XI high school football poll results, consisting of area head coaches, athletic directors and media members.

Big Schools (10 pollsters)

  1. Parkland (50 points, 10-first place votes)
  2. Freedom (39)
  3. Easton (27)
  4. Nazareth (19)
  5. Liberty (15)

Among the big schools…no changes again for the #1, 4 and 5 teams.  Parkland continues to roll and hasn’t done anything to tarnish its preseason predictions as one of the state’s top teams. Nazareth and Liberty both posted pairs of wins the last two weeks to stay in the mix.

Easton, who had been #3 before an impressive win over Emmaus pushed them up to second in our previous poll, falls back a spot following their loss to Central Catholic.  Freedom had little trouble dispatching the Vikings when they played them last Friday.  The Patriots’ game was our live contest last week–check out the highlights here…

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It’s been a much tighter race among the smaller schools.

Small Schools (10 pollsters)

  1. Saucon Valley (41 points, 5-first place votes)
  2. Becahi (39 points, 4-first place votes)
  3. Notre Dame (33, 1-first place vote)
  4. Central Catholic (23)
  5. Northwestern (10)

Also receiving at least one vote: Northern Lehigh, Palmerton, Salisbury

The Panthers hold onto the #1one spot–barely–as we cross into the second half of the regular season.  Undefeated Saucon Valley had probably its toughest game thus far before beating Northwestern, who moved back into the fifth spot in our poll with their solid showing.  Bethlehem Catholic continues to roll as the number-two team with its only loss so far coming at the hands of the Hurricanes.  Another undefeated team, Notre Dame, continues to gain momentum with a solid “W” against Palmerton and replaced the Vikings at the third-top team in our poll.

Although Salisbury failed to place in our poll this week, the Falcons represented themselves well this past Saturday on RCN TV.

Don’t forget, all of our local sports coverage is available to watch for free at any time for up to two months on RCN On Demand.

A reminder about our polls:  our pollsters consist of many 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 identifies 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.

Keep checking back to the “SportsTalk Shop” as we’ll be updating our pollsters’ opinions once again in a few weeks.

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.