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: 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 – November 29th

I am not a die-hard hockey fan.  But, I miss the NHL!  More than two months of the season have already been lost due to the labor dispute and the lockout.  Hockey, to me, although it does not have the stature of NFL football, major league baseball, or NBA basketball, is still one of the major professional sports in America.  It did bring in $3.3 billion last year.  In addition, take away the NFL and I think hockey has the most rabid fans in all of professional sports.

I do not watch or attend hockey on a regular basis, but there is something about the sport that always intrigues me when going around the dial.  It is one of the few sporting events that causes me to pause and watch, no matter which teams are playing.  There is the anticipation of the potential for violence and an almost surreal curiosity in the skills that the players exhibit.    It is an excellent television event.

And yet, if you go to a hockey game, the sport becomes, for me, at least one of the few competitions that is better to view LIVE than watching on TV.  A great deal of action takes place away from the puck that a viewer at home might miss.  There is a unique “silence” as the players skate around the rink to an almost inaudible “shooshing”.  Throw a big bang into the boards and the intensity of the action has you enthralled.  And the fans!!  The decibel level is incredible; the intensity shocking; and the involvement without compare.

So why are we left with no hockey?  The issues are division of revenue, salary arbitration, and free-agency.  These terms are not new to professional sports.  The NFL, NBA, and MLB have all dealt with the same issues.  And they have resolved them!  It seems that the NHL is very, very close to not having a season at all.  The New Year’s Day Winter Classic is gone, over 450 games gone, and there is no resolution in sight.  Still, January hockey would be better than no hockey.  Owners and players need to return to the table.  They owe it to the fans!

As the famous philosopher, Larry the Cable Guy, says – “Get ‘er done!”

 


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Parkland, Central Catholic, and Pen Argyl all won their first round state football games this past weekend.  Two of the three (Parkland and Pen Argyl) now take on the dreaded Philadelphia Catholic schools out of District
  2. History shows that this is the end of the line for our AAAA and AA football.  Central would face Archbishop Wood next week if they win.  They put up 70 points on the Vikings last year in a similar scenario.  Can we finally reverse the trend?  Tune in.
  3. Did we watch Andy Reid’s last game as an Eagles coach this past week?  An awful team beat an awful team.
  4. I was going around the dial the other night and a Joan Rivers stand-up comedy special was on Showtime.  It was hilarious, irreverent, and, at times, filthy.  I was just amazed by her energy, her ability to deliver the lines, and her captivating style.  How old is she?  Really, how old??  It did not matter.
  5. Notre Dame vs either Alabama or Georgia for the national championship in college football.  The ratings will be record-breaking for this one as far as college football is concerned.  The games got it right this year – no computer, no old men in a room, and no playoff needed.
  6. Is there anyone right now who thinks they have a good handle on not only the Super Bowl champion, but which two teams will even get to the game?  With injuries, upsets, and poor coaching decisions, it is anybody’s guess unless, of course, you just know it will be YOUR team.

 

NFL PICKS FOR THIS WEEK

(Last week – 7-9)  (53-31 for the season – 63%)

  •  ATLANTA
  • CHICAGO
  • GREEN BAY
  • SAN FRANCISCO
  • JETS
  • CAROLINA
  • DETROIT
  • BUFFALO
  • NEW ENGLAND
  • HOUSTON
  • DENVER
  • BALTIMORE
  • CLEVELAND
  • CINCINNATI
  • DALLAS
  • WASHINGTON