Sunday, November 2, 2014

District Six Class AA Playoff Primer

The Favorite - Tyrone

Another year, another very good Tyrone football team.  The Golden Eagles went 9-1 in the regular season, and showed a lot of different qualities throughout the year.  For example, Tyrone can win in close games with big playoff atmospheres. They knocked off Bellwood and Central to start the year in some memorable games and hung on to beat a very good Chestnut Ridge team last week. They are certainly battle tested. Tyrone has a strong-armed senior quarterback in Garrett Hunter. He is completing 58% of his passes and has 15 touchdown passes to just 4 interceptions. The running game is paced by Aleic Hunter, another senior himself. He went over the 1,000 mark this season. The Golden Eagles have some big play receivers in Nicholas Getz and Silas Crawford, and sure handed tight end in Duane Boone.  This is a veteran, balanced, and experienced team, and I think this is their title to lose.

The Challenger  - Central

Don't tell the kids from Central they aren't the favorites, because they absolutely believe this is their title. The Dragons have a championship to defend, and they have an excellent chance to make it happen. They have lost two games this year, but both games were winnable. With nearly a completely new team, some of those early season struggles were expected. I think they corrected the little mistakes judging by the way they have been playing of late, and it seems they are clicking on all cylinders right now. The Dragons employ somewhat of a two quarterback system with Noah Benton and Mike Mock having combined for 24 passing touchdowns and over 1,000 rushing yards.  Benton is more of a passer, while Mock leads the team in rushing. Both players can run and throw, and it makes them difficult to defend with interchangeable parts like that. Justin Helsel and Alex Hoenstine are two very versatile weapons that help make this offense explosive.  This team has been rolling since the Chestnut Ridge loss, and they look to be a very tough out right now.

The Darkhorse - Forest Hills

Forest Hills was a team I really thought could be towards the top of the standings, but with some key injuries this season, the Rangers had to scratch and claw to get into the postseason. Now that they are here, they could give Tyrone a serious problem on Friday. The Rangers have Joe Donoughe back, and they are being creative with how they are using him. He is already the team's leading receiver just by playing the past few games, and he's been running well also.  Shareef Blough is one of the most explosive players in this tournament, and he is a threat to go the distance any time he touches the ball, as he has a 98 yard touchdown to his name this season.  So at the very least, the Rangers have two dangerous offensive threats that can run with (or past) anyone. Throw in Don Bailey calling the shots, and they are certainly a team nobody will want to see.

The Question Mark - Mt. Union

OK, time to talk about the undefeated number one seed, Mt. Union. The Trojans are a very good team, and I think they are right with Tyrone and Central for the most part. Still, we have seen these kind of stories before where a team with a good record comes into the playoffs, but loses early due to their strength of schedule.  I am not saying the ICC is a bad league, but if you don't play teams your own size, it has be proven in the past that it will come back to bite you. A great example is Mt. Union from last season, as they hosted a first round game but lost to Forest Hills. Can they get over that hump this season? It's hard to say because they do appear to be very good. They have an explosive offense led by the dynamic, BJ Loner. He is a threat that is important in the running and passing game as he has accounted for 27 offensive touchdowns this season. Trevon Walker is an experienced senior QB that has had a very strong season. Kole House, Keiton Pollock, DJ Bookwalter, and Robbie Steel are all big contributors on offense. This team can put up points in a hurry, but obviously the games get tougher now.

The Unknown - Juniata

Juniata enters the 2014 District Six AA playoffs as a 9-1 team and seeded third. It sounds like they are a good team. It's simply just a matter of not being sure what to make of them since they have played only one team from district six this year.  The Indians won their games by an average 35-17 against a schedule comprised of teams from Districts 3,4,6,and 11 along with a team from Maryland. They are a team that goes as their running back goes. Chantz Swartz has rushed for 1,484 yards and 25 touchdowns, and has caught 12 passes for 428 yards and 7 scores. Juniata can sling the ball around a little with Tyler Clark at QB. He has thrown for over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns.  We will get to see what this team is all about on Saturday with a game against Huntingdon.

The Surging Cats - Penn Cambria 

Penn Cambria was just a 2-8 team last season, and they started the year 2-3. From there, the Panthers turned up the defense in the second half of the season, and finished the year 4-1 to bring their record to 6-4. The Panthers are a solid team, but even as a five seed, they look a bit over-matched going into Roaring Spring to take on Central.  Penn Cambria revolves their offensive hopes on their senior QB, Mark Mardula. He leads the team in rushing and obviously in passing too. He takes some gambles, and the 11 interceptions are evidence to that, but sometimes this offense can be stagnant and he actually needs to take some risks to make something happen.  The Panthers do not even average 300 yards of total offense a game, so it shows you just how defense is important to Jason Grassi's team. Isaac Will and Jacob Driskel have combined for over 20 sacks on the year, and the Panthers are certainly a team that will put pressure on the quarterback.  Can they bother the high-flying Central offense? They have to, because the offense won't last in a shootout with the Dragons.

The Turnaround - Southern Huntingdon

 Southern Huntingdon 2011 record - 3-6
Southern Huntingdon  2012 record -  0-10
Southern Huntingdon 2013 record -  1-9

Southern Huntingdon is currently 5-5, and they are the eight seed in the District Six AA playoffs. It is a nice rebuilding effort by coach Ryan Garlock and the kids of their program. The Rockets have two solid wins this season by virtue of beating playoff teams, Williamsburg and Everett.  Southern Huntingdon also played a good Tussey Mountain team to the wire, but the one score we cannot ignore is the 57-7 loss to Mt. Union. It will be the same Mt. Union team they have to play in the first round on Friday.  I would not be counting on an upset, but perhaps the game will be a little closer this time. The Rockets will likely be counting on the running of Mason Parks to stay in this game. He is a very good back, and having a steady running game with clock control may just be their best defense to stop the Trojans.

The Youth - Huntingdon 

Huntingdon is sitting at 5-5, and staring down a long road trip to take on third-seeded Juniata.  The Bearcats finished last year 5-5, but just missed the playoffs. They have a team with just five seniors, and they may be a year away from being a serious threat to contend for a championship. Every single one of their passing and rushing yards have come from underclassmen, and most of their receiving productions are also accounted by juniors and sophomores. I think playing in a playoff setting against a Juniata team that isn't overly dominant could actually be a big learning experience, but also a big opportunity for this Huntingdon team.

The Picks

(1) Mt. Union over (8) Southern Huntingdon

The Trojans should roll over Southern Huntingdon. After all, they did beat them 57-7 earlier in the year.

(4) Central over (5) Penn Cambria

I just don't think Penn Cambria will be able to get a lot of points on the board, but they may be able to slow down Central enough to make it close.

(3) Juniata over (6) Huntingdon

This may be the game of the week, because we just don't know what to expect from Juniata.  I think Huntingdon could beat them, but Juniata seems to have a little more firepower on offense.

(2) Tyrone over (7) Forest Hills

Tyrone and Forest Hills. Big crowd, big atmosphere, and a lot of tradition packed into one stadium.  I think the Rangers can hang with them, and even beat them, but it's tough to ever pick against Tyrone at home.

(4) Central over (1) Mt. Union

I'm a believer in Central.  This will be an epic game with a lot of big plays for both sides, I just think Central has a few more weapons.

(2) Tyrone over (3) Juniata

Tyrone shouldn't have a problem here. I think their first round game is more difficult than this.

(2) Tyrone over (4) Central

What a game this would be. If Mansion Park holds 10,000, I think a good number of those seats will be filled if it's these two teams in the championship game. I think it will be another classic game, just like it was in week two.  I'm leaning with Tyrone.

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