October 13, 2011
Editor's note: This column appeared in this week's print editions. I am reprinting it because it made more sense than trying to re-word it into a new blog entry. Why make more work for myself when I don't have to?
One week to go in Section II football. Time to start looking at the playoff picture.
In Class AA, we’re close to finding out which eight teams will be moving on to the playoffs. All four Liberty Division spots have been filled with Columbia, Schenectady, Shaker and LaSalle, while Empire Division schools Shenendehowa, Ballston Spa and Christian Brothers Academy have locked up berths. Guilderland faces Bethlehem Friday with fourth place and the final playoff berth in the Empire Division on the line.
While we know most of the playoff teams, we don’t know what order they will be in. The only certainty is that Shen (5-0 division, 6-0 overall) will be the No. 1 seed out of the Empire Division, and that the winner of the Bethlehem-Guilderland game will be the No. 4 seed.
The Liberty Division is a mess at the top with Columbia (5-1), Schenectady (3-3) and Shaker (3-3) all tied for first with 3-1 divisional records. Adding to the fun is that none of them face each other in Week 7. Columbia plays Colonie (0-4, 0-6), Schenectady faces LaSalle (2-2, 3-3) and Shaker meets Niskayuna (1-3, 2-4). If all three leaders win their games Friday night (a distinct possibility), it will come down to quarter points to determine who wins the division and a chance to host Guilderland (2-3, 3-3) or Bethlehem (2-3, 2-4).
Columbia will almost certainly win its regular season finale against Colonie. The Garnet Raiders have allowed 40 or more points each of their last five games, and though Columbia is no offensive juggernaut, the Blue Devils have a big-play running back in Chris Smith, who has rushed for more than 900 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
That puts the pressure on Shaker and Schenectady to win their games and keep up with Columbia. Shaker ended a three-game losing streak by beating LaSalle 50-49 in overtime last Thursday, but Niskayuna’s no-huddle, spread offense will provide a defensive challenge for the Blue Bison. Meanwhile, Schenectady’s defense will have to contend with a LaSalle offense that has scored 281 points. The one thing that will help Schenectady is that LaSalle’s defense has allowed 224 points.
By comparison, the Empire Division playoff picture is cut and dry. Beyond the fourth-place battle between Bethlehem and Guilderland in Delmar, Ballston Spa (4-1, 5-1) and CBA (4-1, 5-1) meet Friday with second place and a home playoff game on the line.
This will be the second consecutive week in which CBA’s defense has to stop a high-quality running back. Last week, it was Shen’s Tony Fusco. This week, it’s Ballston Spa’s Jordan Davis, who is coming off a 270-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Scotties’ 34-29 victory over Saratoga. The Brothers have a more balanced attack with Cody Zappone, Earl Ricketts and Trey Williams carrying the ball, and quarterback Ted Cillis throwing to anyone within striking distance. But if CBA can’t stop Davis, it may be a long night for the Brothers.
As for the Bethlehem-Guilderland game, the Dutchmen have a slightly more impressive résumé than the Eagles. Among Guilderland’s three divisional losses was a 22-18 setback against Ballston Spa (where the Dutchmen had two touchdowns called back due to penalties) and a 26-25 loss to CBA where the Brothers scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the final minute. By comparison, Bethlehem lost to Ballston Spa and CBA by a combined score of 88-24, though the Eagles were more competitive in their 35-21 loss to Ballston Spa in Week 4 than they were in their 53-3 loss to CBA in Week 3.
Those results against common opponents won’t matter Friday in Delmar. Guilderland will need a strong defensive performance to keep an improving Bethlehem offense in check, and Bethlehem must find a way to get Guilderland’s spread offense off the field. It should be a tense affair, especially with a playoff berth on the line.
I haven’t forgotten about Class A. There are two key match-ups involving local teams this weekend: Mohonasen against Averill Park Friday and Queensbury against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Saturday.
Mohonasen (3-2, 3-3) has a chance to earn a playoff berth with a Southeast Division victory over Averill Park (3-2, 3-3), and it could be a home playoff game if Lansingburgh (3-2, 4-2) defeats Bishop Maginn (3-2, 4-2). That would be something people on the east side of Rotterdam haven’t seen in several years.
The Mighty Warriors have quietly become one of the nice surprises in Class A. Their offense has improved with the guidance of quarterback Killian Tallman and the feet of tailback CJ Stone, and the defense had been a strong point prior to last weekend’s 49-26 cross-divisional loss to Gloversville. Averill Park does most of its damage on the ground. The Warriors have rushed for 1,477 yards this season and done so with balance, as quarterback Taylor Hotaling and tailbacks Nick Valenti and Joe Marino all have gained more than 300 yards. Mohonasen’s challenge will be to force Averill Park into being a passing team.
BH-BL (3-1, 5-1) can lock up a second-place finish in the Northwest Division by beating Queensbury (3-1, 4-2) Saturday in Burnt Hills. BH-BL has owned Queensbury in previous years, mainly because the Spartans are very good at stopping Queensbury’s double wing-T offense. As long as that remains the case this time, BH-BL should prevail and earn a home game for the quarterfinal round.
Finally in Class B, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk and Schalmont can win their respective division titles with victories Saturday.
RCS (3-0, 5-1) travels to Albany Academy (3-0, 4-2) with an opportunity to win the Reinfurt Division. The Indians have played well on both sides of the ball since an opening week loss to Section III’s Watertown, but they will face a major challenge as they have to stop Academy’s do-everything player, Conner Hartigan. The senior has rushed for 1,261 yards and 19 touchdowns, passed for another six points and caught two touchdowns. If RCS can hold Hartigan to less than two touchdowns, then it should prevail.
Schalmont (4-0, 6-0) can lock up the West Division title with a victory over Schuylerville (3-1, 5-1) under the lights in Rotterdam Saturday. The Sabres offense has calmed down a bit after scoring 140 points in their first three games, but the defense has been steady throughout – allowing only 56 points this season.
Schuylerville’s offense has been on a roll lately, averaging 40 points per game in its last three games. But if Schalmont can corral the Black Horses’ multi-pronged offense, the Sabres will be the ones finishing first.
Hopefully, you’re now primed for this weekend’s football action. All you need to know now is where I’ll be this weekend. To find out, follow me on Twitter @jonas_spotlight.