The SportsTalk Shop: Three H.S. Football Surprises…”

Actually, I had another, perhaps more fitting title, but I felt it was a little too long. Something along the lines of:

“Three Phrases I’ve Heard Repeated By Fans And Media Members This Football Season Expressing A Revelation or Shocking Fact That We Probably Should Not Have Been Surprised About in the First Place”

(Probably best we went with the former headline).

I know I always dread making predictions when it comes to high school sports. It sometimes put unnecessary pressure on kids and quite often creates hard feelings. However, because of the success and popularity of scholastic sports programs in this area, we in the media are constantly questioned to make “educated” guesses about teams, players and possible results. Local fans are also very opinionated and most often very knowledgeable about the local sports landscape. Predictions encourage debate among the fandom—and publicity for our local athletes and communities. While becoming a foregone conclusion for everyone to make pre-season predictions, it sometimes leads to rash or incongruent opinions evolving on certain teams and players. Here are three phrases echoed by local residents claiming shock, when really, we all should have taken a closer look.

Myth #1: “Where Did All This Central Catholic Offense Come From?”
Central Catholic scored 41 points in each of its first two games this season, and was able to move the ball against arguably the best defense in the area this past weekend (several ill-timed penalties killed drives—two were deep in enemy territory).

Many people looked at the Vikings’ 2013 record (2-8) and saw many of the same offensive players returning with few additions and assumed that they would once again struggle to score points this fall. However, if you looked back to last season, you’ll notice that moving the chains was not an issue at all. ACCHS ranked right in the middle of the pack in a number of offensive categories. Failure to execute in the red zone and penalty-killing drives (as was the case vs. Parkland) were the big culprits in several of the team’s losses. Central battled in nearly all of their ball games that ended in defeat.

Look deeper and you’ll find that returning QB Mason Kholi has continued to post very impressive numbers (501 yards passing, a 4 to 1 touchdown/interception ratio and over 200 yards rushing—despite being sacked at least six times). The Vikings also have several talented, skilled guys (among them Dallas Kassis, Deionte Wilson, Pat McKellick and others) and have a solid line anchored by Max Ebert and Marc-Antony Ocascio (both 6-3, 245 lbs).

Furthermore, Head Coach John Cupples has shown the innate ability to come up with impressive game plans against the top teams in the LVC—now EPC—during his tenure. Despite being heavy underdogs and incredibly outnumbered in terms of depth, his team has put together very strong performances over the last year against Parkland, Easton and Whitehall…until those teams eventually wore down the Vikings, as those bigger schools frequently do to everyone. Our panel on ‘RCN SportsTalk’ a few weeks back thought it would be an extreme reach for Central Catholic to make the post-season this year, and that may be the case. But to be shocked if the Vikings do pick up five wins and reach the playoffs, and continue to score a ton of points in the process, would not be an educated assumption.

Myth #2: “For A 4-A School, Bangor Should Be Winning More Games By Now”
Now, the facts.

First, Bangor is NOT a 4-A school. According to the District XI classifications, they are a 3-A school with similar male enrollments of Central Catholic, Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Pottsville, East Stroudsburg-North, Bethlehem Catholic, Saucon Valley, Southern Lehigh and Blue Mountain. Bangor is like many schools across the country now that have fewer athletes participating in sports and coaches have had to share students in order to avoid program cuts.

Also, in case people haven’t noticed, there is an incredible amount of parity in the Colonial League again this season (see last week’s blog). Southern Lehigh, a team many thought could go undefeated, already has picked up an “L.” Notre Dame and Pen Argyl, two teams predicted to be no worse than sixth, are both winless. Wilson, despite being 0-3, has played well this fall and might have fared better if not for a rash of turnovers.

Look even closer at Bangor’s competition. The Slaters have played two undefeated teams that have outscored their opponents 214 to 44. Bangor won its third contest easily, 31-19, against a Catasauqua team that easily handled the Crusaders—the consensus #3 preseason team. Second-year Head Coach Donnie Hawk had tremendous success as an assistant at Pen Argyl and needs to be given an opportunity. If Bangor beats Salisbury Friday, they could jump as high as 4th place in both the Colonial League and District XI standings. It is FAR too early to make assumptions or outlandish statements about the Slaters’ program.

Myth #3: “Boy, Where Did This Saucon Valley Team Come From?”
The smart-guy commentator might answer this by saying “Hellertown,” but in reality we should have seen the Panthers’ undefeated start to the season coming—at least to some extent.

First, Head Coach Matt Evancho is an defensive whiz and has created a number of schemes over the years to slow down even the stoutest of offenses. His win over the Spartans last Friday was legitimate and his defense did a tremendous job in frustrating some of the most talented offensive players in the league (this game is available to watch on RCN On-Demand right now).

Secondly, Saucon came into this season with a ton of momentum, winning its last four games last fall and being one of the few teams in the region to win its final playoff game (an Eastern Conference Division-3 title) last November.

If there was any surprise to this team, it’s the rapid overall development of its younger players. An accomplished running quarterback one year ago (and another 225 rushing yards so far this season), junior Zach Thatcher has become an equally lethal throwing option, passing for 370 yards with a ridiculously good eight touchdowns to just one pick. The dearth of underclass talent doesn’t stop there, with Mike Kane, Evan Culver, Devin Fontanez and Mike Paolini among a number of skilled-position players. Many fans (and media members) assumed the Northwestern/Southern Lehigh matchup in October would be the only game needed to decide who’s winning this year’s Colonial League title. But the Panthers have forced high school football fans to pay more attention to them this fall, and their upcoming games against the Bombers, Tigers and Pirates will be factors in determining this year’s champion.

What are some of the other surprising facts about this current fall sports season? What other teams and players do you feel are flying under the radar? Email you comments to us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us each Thursday live from 6-7 pm to talk about local issues.

 

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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