October 14, 2012
Mid-October, the leaves turning, and after a month and a half of games played in everything from stifling summer heat to steady rain to raw chill, the Section III football playoffs are set to go.
Sure, the Class C side got a head start, but now there's just eight teams left in each class, all of them dreaming that they'll be able to go to the Carrier Dome on Nov. 2 and 3, playing for championships.
All that was left to wonder was how they would line up in Class D, and who would get the pair of wild-card bids as third-place teams. Dolgeville and Pulaski made it through.
That gives us an opening round where the Blue Devils, holders of more sectional titles than anyone, take on Sandy Creek, the top seed, For a Dolgeville team that got shut out twice, it might not be wise to face the Comets, who have three shutouts in it last four outings. Though Weedsport lost the first-place D West showdown with Port Byron, the Warriors still gained the crucial no. 4 seed so it could host Sauquoit Valley, winners of three straight.
Upended by Sandy Creek in D Central, defending champ Westmoreland must go on the road to face Port Byron, who must be careful of a letdown after that huge win over Weedsport. The same might hold true for West Canada, whose emphatic closing statement against Dolgeville landed them a first-round meeting with Pulaski.
This is a balanced field - maybe you make West Canada the slight favorite, but only a touch over Sandy Creek. And there's no doubt that Port Byron, Weedsport, even Westmoreland and Dolgeville feel like they could have a say in this, too.
Looking at C-1, General Brown knows that its last-second escape against Utica-Notre Dame offered a real reprieve, for Skaneateles, improving on defense each time out, might not offer as ready an escape in Saturday's clash at Chittenango. The other semifinal, between Canastota and Bishop Ludden on Friday night at F-M, offers bruising running games on both sides, but enough of a threat to pass - the Gaelic Knights' Antoine Montgomery might be the key figure.
Suspensions behind them, full-strength Herkimer continues its title defense in the C-2 semifinals Friday at Utica Proctor against Frankfort-Schuyler, a solid 5-2 team with an effective defense that should make the Magicians worry a bit. Tully and Lowville play the other semifinal Saturday at Chittenango, the Red Raiders one of the season's most improved teams, and very capable of doing something against the potent Black Knights.
The Class B playoffs revolve around a pair of Madison County rivals, Chittenango and Cazenovia. For the 7-0 Bears, it's not an easy path to a repeat, for even if it gets past VVS in the first round, a semifinal would come against Oneida or Cortland. We all know that the Indians can pull off some playoff surprises (ask Caz), and the Purple Tigers just lost by a point, 14-13, to Chittenango. Simply put, Oneida-Cortland is one of the best first-round matchups.
Meanwhile, Westhill will head to Caz on Saturday, returning to the playoffs after a one-year absence, though nowhere near the powerhouse it was when it dominated the B West division late in the last decade. Homer, with its tough ground game, is ready to host Camden. At least on initial glance, it's tough to imagine anything other than a Bears-Lakers final, but we've been shocked before.
How weird is it for J-D, the 7-0 favorites in Class A, to face Watertown? First of all, it's on Thursday night, and second of all, didn't the Red Rams just mash the Cyclones? Both true, but it's a rematch, just as it is when ESM meets Whitesboro, the two antagonists in the 2011 final gathering two rounds earlier, neither of them expected to go as far. But the winner of that game is likely to make J-D worry.
Remember when Indian River got run over by ESM in the season opener at the Dome? The Warriors haven't lost since, a six-game win streak built on an overwhelming ground game, and IR is sure to display it again in the first round against Fulton, who's just 2-5. Nottingham is a legitimate title threat, too, ready to welcome a Carthage it just thrashed 45-6 on Oct. 7.
At least in Class AA, we didn't see any of these match-ups in the regular season. The AA-1 tie-breaker ended up favoring Baldwinsville, so the Bees get the best possible first-round game, at home against Central Square, who was 0-5 before winning its last two games to steal a bid. Henninger's "reward" for beating West Genesee and finishing second in AA-2 was to play....6-1 F-M at home, which doesn't seem like a prize at all.
CBA is still the team to beat, though, with its lights-out defense, something that first-round opponent Utica Proctor knows about because the Brothers pounded them 35-6 on Sept. 7. Difficult to imagine anything different at Alibrandi Stadium. When West Genesee visits Liverpool, though, expect both sides to score at least 30, for they've played these type of games all season. Last team with the ball may win this.