The Favorite - Bishop Guilfoyle
Of course it is BG, how could it be anyone else? The Marauders just put quite the exclamation point on a fantastic regular season by dismantling an undefeated AAA Somerset team 27-3. Where do you start with this team? How about the defense. The Marauders have allowed all of 26 points in 10 games. They are led by some terrific seniors in the front seven like Adam Berger, DJ Kitt, Ian Luther, Matt Gormley, and Owen Wolf. They have a strong secondary highlighted by Sam McCloskey and Brandon Chadbourn. It is just flat out hard to score on this team as they have only allowed three touchdowns total in the regular season. The defense is dominant, but the offense is also special with Sam McCloskey having a monster season at running back. Brandon Chadbourn is an experienced quarterback that just may be the best athlete in the playoff field. After all, he is heading to play for Villanova next season. BG has good complimentary pieces like Gormley at tight end and Aaron Yasulitis as a reserve running back. They have size, speed, strength, coaching, and that kind of confidence you need to be a district champion, and perhaps more.
The Challenger - Bellwood-Antis
Bellwood-Antis is a solid 8-2 team with their lone losses being to the top two AA teams from District Six, otherwise they have been in complete control this season. The 2014 Blue Devils are very reminiscent of Bellwood teams of the past, in that, they don't do any one thing great, but they do just about everything well. Jake Burch is a solid junior quarterback that can operate this offense and make plays, he isn't flashy, just steady. The Bellwood running game is led by Cameron Wood and Matt McMillan. Neither back is a 1,000 yard guy, but they have a host of guys that share the load. Kyler Larderi is the team's top receiver, but like the rushing game, they have a ton of different players capable of making plays. With the way the bracket is set up, we have a very good chance to see the Bellwood-Guilfoyle game in the semifinals. Obviously with BG using Mansion Park as their home field, it would have a championship feel to the game even if it is just the semifinals.
The Dark Horse - Homer Center
Homer Center will be trying to defend their title, and they will have to do it as the six seed. Can they make some noise? I am just going to say that it is possible. Despite having three losses this year, they still have plenty of talent around from last season. They won the championship last year, and they had to beat Guilfoyle at Mansion Park to do it. Ean Lee is a very good running back, and he is actually the school's all time leading rusher. Aaron Berezansky is a mobile and athletic QB that can make big runs as well. It is obvious Homer Center is reeling a bit, but don't be surprised if they can go into Portage and play them very tough.
The Heritage is Hopeful - The Heritage Conference has been playing very well in the district tournament in recent seasons. Can they make some more noise this season? Blairsville is a perfect 10-0 and they sit as a very good and dangerous number two seed. They have an explosive offense, and they have played light out defense all year long. Obviously you have the defending champions in Homer Center, and I definitely think they are capable of winning a game or two. The one team that is kind of flying under the radar is an 8-2 Penns Manor team coming in as the five seed. They are young, but really grew up as the season went on. I really think they will give Bellwood all they can handle this weekend.
The drought is over - The Williamsburg Blue Pirates ended a 24 year playoff drought by virtue of edging Homer Center in week ten, and having enough points to sneak past Purchase Line in the standings. Their reward? A trip to Mansion Park to take on Bishop Guilfoyle. A daunting task no doubt, but getting into the big dance is a big deal for this program. Tyler Shaw is having a terrific senior season as the starting quarterback, and has had a hand in 30 touchdowns this season. He has a legitimate target in Bryce Young, as he is one of the best receivers in the area. Mike Biddle is a reliable back, and is a good receiver also. The Pirates have a a solid well-coached team, but with a 24 man roster heading into Mansion to take on Guilfoyle, obviously the odds are stacked up against them. You hear about David and Goliath stories all the time, but heading into this match-up, I've never seen a game more appropriately called one of those than this.
Some Grand Backs - Obviously in single A football, you see teams rely heavily on the running game. The District Six field certainly displays that theory very well. There is a group of very special backs worth the price of admission this postseason that have rushed for 1,000 yards this season. The headliner is Sam McCloskey, as he is having an unbelievable season and he is playing for the state's third ranked team in single A. You hear plenty about him, and it is all warranted, he is a very talented player. Caleb Kephart from Portage is an experienced back, and he is in his third go-round as the starting running back for a Portage playoff team. He's an explosive player in his own right, and could lead the 'Stangs to Mansion. Ean Lee is a very good back, and is Homer Center's all-time leading rusher. Deion Robinson leads the Blairsville offensive attack, and he is a speedy back that has had a very good career, and may get to show off his skills to the rest of the district with a deep playoff run.
Dynamic QB's - As I mentioned with running backs, teams rely on their quarterbacks just as much. You won't see many game managers in single A football, as teams usually try to get their best athletes the ball as much as possible. The playoff field is filled with guys that can help their team in the running game, passing game, and even on defense and special teams. Brandon Chadbourn is a very athletic QB, and he is going to play college football as a receiver. Aaron Berezansky has a district title under his belt already, and he is more of a runner than a passer - and he can really run. Scott Thompson runs the show for Blairsville, and he is capable of doing it all on offense. Eric Sherkel may be the best player in the playoffs you never heard of, he is doing big things for Moshannon Valley this season. We mentioned Tyler Shaw for Williamsburg and how important he is to their success. Lot of good quarterbacks that make plays for their teams in this field.
(1) Bishop Guilfoyle over (8) Williamsburg
Just don't see it happening for Williamsburg, they have some good players, but not enough to run with the Marauders.
(4) Bellwood-Antis over (5) Penns Manor
A rematch of the 2011 District Title game, but I expect a different result. Bellwood is good, and they are tough to beat at home.
(3) Portage over (6) Homer Center
While I think Homer Center is a dark-horse to pull off an upset or two, I'm not brave enough to pick against Kephart and the Mustangs at home.
(2) Blairsville over (7) Moshannon Valley
This one may be closer than the experts think, but Bliarsville will take control in the second half.
(1) Bishop Guilfoyle over (4) Bellwood-Antis
Like I mentioned before, this one will feel like a district championship. Bellwood fans and players will come in very confident, almost like they are favorites - and I love that about that town and team. Still, BG is good and I think they get over this hurdle, but it might be a battle.
(3) Portage over (2) Blairsville
I think Portage gets back to Mansion for the first time since 2008. I think the Berlin game was a hiccup and I am not concerned with that result as much as other are. Blairsville is fantastic team, and I really view this as a toss-up but something tells me Portage.
(1) Bishop Guilfoyle over (3) Portage
Guilfoyle beat Portage 42-10 last season in Portage, and I think a similar result would happen if the teams were to meet again. Guilfoyle is a powerful team, and they have the make up physically of a team that can make it to Hershey.