Intelligencer/Courier "Let's Talk Football (10-27-17)

Back for its eighth season, the popular Intelligencer/Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features Drew Markol, Todd Thorpe and Jen Wielgus. Markol is the football beat writer for the Intelligencer area while Thorpe is the Courier’s football beat writer. Wielgus is a video sports reporter for the Intelligencer and Courier. Markol and Wielgus are contributors on the weekly Game On show. To view this week’s show, click on the following link: http://www.theintell.com/videos/hsgameon/  To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the Intelligencer (http://www.theintell.com/sports/high-school/) and Courier Times (http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/sports/high-school/web sites.

Check out the picks by our panel of experts:  http://www.suburbanonesports.com/football-forecaster

SuburbanOneSports.com: The Neshaminy/Pennsbury game that everyone has been pointing to all season is on Friday night. Your thoughts.

Todd Thorpe:  "Nobody has stopped Zach Demarchis all year. He has a thousand yards rushing, a thousand yards passing with 15 touchdowns passing and 15 touchdowns rushing. He's been unstoppable. He's the kind of guy - if you're Pennsbury and you fall behind, you don't worry about it because he can make a play. He's had a really remarkable senior year. He goes into the game against a Neshaminy team that has been doing pretty much the same thing. They do it a lot differently, but they have a good defense, a good passing game.

"Flip a coin. I've seen Pennsbury a lot this year, and even North Penn didn't shut them down, and Pennsbury is a better team now than they were than. They have a much more established offensive line with the running game now. They're a much different team.

"Neshaminy has had some close games where you shook your head and said, 'I thought they would have beaten them by more,' but in the end, who cares. A win's a win, and you take it, and they're doing what they have to do to win games. Brody McAndrew has had a very good year as a sophomore quarterback. Joel Stills, their tailback, has really come on the last half of the year. He's a 100-point-a-game guy now, and that's something they really didn't have earlier in the year, and that's a big plus for them.

"It's funny - you look at this game and you look at the offensive players, and you say, 'They have to stop this guy, they've got to stop that guy.' The most intriguing part about this game is the defenses because both are good. Neshaminy's secondary is really good. They're top notch. Cory Joyce is an excellent safety. Oleh Manzyk got a lot of credit for how good he was catching the ball last year, but he's done most of his work this year as a linebacker, and he's been very good.

"Then you look at Pennsbury - nobody's got the front seven that Pennsbury does. They're the best front seven I've seen this year. They shut teams down. I've seen them play Council Rock South - they shut down their running game. I've seen them play Bensalem - they shut down their running game. I can counter that with they didn't shut down Truman's running game, but Truman is pretty dangerous running the ball. Both teams have real good defenses, so something's got to give here. It could be 35-31 or it could be 17-14, who knows.

"I've done all the numbers as I wrote my preview of the game, and you're talking about teams that have played each other almost 80 times, and it's a great rivalry.  It's one of the last real good rivalries in Bucks County. It goes back so far. Both teams have been real, real successful. Just talking with Drew Markol about it - as a little kid, he went to all the games. He talked about the year they didn't play in 1980. I asked him why they didn't play. He said there was a teacher's strike at Neshaminy, and the kids didn't have school for over two months, so half the football season was cancelled that year, and they didn't play Pennsbury. Just little things like that - both teams had long runs, it's your neighboring communities, and there's more than a little rivalry dislike type of feelings between the two communities. It's just a great rivalry, and the last 20 years, this game has always decided the conference except when North Penn was in the league and maybe CB West if you go back far enough. When it's just the Lower Bucks League essentially, it's those two teams.

“This year at the beginning of the year - I don't think anybody would have been surprised if they were the two teams, but it wasn't written in stone that they were going to be the two because you didn't know. You certainly didn't know that Pennsbury was going to have the best player in the league. You knew they were talking high on him. They graduated Mike Alley and they bring in a junior last year, and this guy has been good. Both teams are going to the playoffs, and the winner gets the top seed, which is huge. The loser could actually slip down as low as eight, and they may have a rematch in two weeks. You never know. I don't crunch the numbers in football, but I've seen scenarios where probably the loser of this game is the seven seed, so it's important to win because do you want to go some place like Coatesville in the second round? In my opinion, the three best teams in the district are Coatesville, Downingtown East and North Penn, and you want to avoid those three teams.

"Last week at Abington, Pennsbury fell behind by two touchdowns, and you're thinking, 'Oh my god,' and then they end up winning by 28. Nobody has really touched Pennsbury, and even if they have a bad half, they usually bounce back in the second half. They're good. Are they district title good? I don't think so because I think a really good team will have a whole week to prepare for Demarchis and they're going to say - let somebody else beat us, but this kid just has football savvy to him. He's an interesting kid."

Drew Markol:  “Last week, Pennsbury beat an improving Abington team in a game they had to have. Abington took a 14-0 lead on them, and Pennsbury was able to come back. Now Pennsbury has put itself in a spot where if they can beat Neshaminy they’re going to get the number one seed in the district, so that was a very good job by Pennsbury against an Abington team that got better just a little bit too late.

“The way Zach Demarchis has been playing – he’s been one of the best players in the whole SOL, not just the National Conference. He’s such a huge part of their offense at quarterback. Obviously, quarterbacks are a huge part of any offense.

“I despise the cliché ‘you can throw the records out the window,’ but you look at the all-time series and I believe it’s 39-39-7. Neshaminy beat up on Pennsbury last year. Some people thought this was a rebuilding year for Neshaminy, but in turn, they’ve had a very good season. I question Neshaminy’s defense. Is it stout enough? They shut out a CR South team that had been playing well, and that was a nice effort.

“This is a great game. I wish they played on Thanksgiving, but in their minds, both of these teams think district titles are within reach, which they usually are. It’s just a great way to end the National Conference. For most of the season, we thought we might have a couple of other folks involved at the end like Bensalem and Truman, but it comes down to these two teams again.

“Some people think I’m biased because I’m a Neshaminy grad, and they’re right. I think in this one I do give a slight edge to Neshaminy. That’s basically a guess though. You can’t really go by comparative scores because that doesn’t matter in this rivalry. I just think Neshaminy is just a shade better, has more weapons on offense. I think if Neshaminy were to get a lead – I know Pennsbury came back last week against Abington, but I’m not sure they could come back against Neshaminy. It’s less than a touchdown, but I do like Neshaminy.”

Jen Wielgus:  "Honestly, those two teams have been head and shoulders above everybody else in the conference. Neshaminy hasn't really seen anybody who's up to their caliber in a while, but I think Pennsbury could beat Neshaminy. I really struggled as to who to pick, and I kind of did the cowardly thing and picked Neshaminy on Game On and I picked Pennsbury on Suburban One. I don't usually do that, but that is how torn I felt about this game. For the past few years, nobody has felt torn about who's going to win this game, so that says a lot about how far Pennsbury has come. They completely missed the playoffs last year, and according to Kyle Berger, the winner of this game could be the number one seed.

"Neshaminy's defense is going to be put to the test. We know Pennsbury's defense is very good, but Neshaminy's defense hasn't seen anybody like Pennsbury since the non-league. For a young kid like Zach Demarchis, this is really a great stage for him, and for Pennsbury to be playing at home, I feel as though Neshaminy is Neshaminy, but Pennsbury is the team you really want to see how they play in this game. They're the interesting party. No offense to Neshaminy. Unfortunately, they've gotten to the point where you just expect them to be good, and it gets kind of boring. I'm not choosing sides, but this is definitely Pennsbury's chance to show because they've been lurking there all season, feeling like they can win the league, feeling like they can beat Neshaminy. Now, here you go. Plus, I think Pennsbury can do some damage in the playoffs, and what they do in this game will kind of foreshadow how they handle that pressure. I do want to say Neshaminy is good, and their coaches - as I've said before - know what they're doing. They are going to put those kids in a position to win that game. It sounds stupid, but it's just going to come down to who plays better. I haven't been to a Neshaminy/Pennsbury game in many years, so this will be exciting for me."

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Your thoughts about the district race heading into the final week of the regular season.

Todd Thorpe:  “Downingtown East and Coatesville played a real barnburner last week. Coatesville was behind and then scored with 50 seconds to go, and then there was a fumble on a kickoff, so they scored and it ended up being a 14-point game, but they were behind with like 50 seconds to go. Downingtown East scored 60 points against North Penn earlier this year. Coatesville lost a non-league game earlier in the year, and you look at it and say - they must not be that good. If we held North Penn to those standards, they'd be written off every year, and look what happens - in November, North Penn is really good because they play good non-league games. Last week was the first game Coatesville hasn't scored 40 in six weeks. The playoffs are shaping to be really interesting. I think the top eight are legit, and it's going to be awfully fun because I think you can almost interchange some of those teams. You look and say - North Penn is the favorite, but I went last year and saw a 16 seed, Pennridge, give the one seed, Neshaminy, the scare of their lives in the first round. Pennridge is better this year than they were last year. Is there anything to say that Pennridge couldn't go somewhere in week two and find themselves winning and getting into the semis - they could. It's crazy, and I know that there's also a scenario - if Perk Valley wins, they could jump over Coatesville, which potentially forces a North Penn/Coatesville game in the quarterfinals, so your district final might be played in two weeks.”

SuburbanOneSports.com:  In the American Conference, Upper Dublin still has a shot to win a share of the title if they can knock off Upper Moreland Friday. Your comments.

Todd Thorpe:  "Upper Dublin has been right there with Upper Moreland in the league. They got tripped up in that game against Quakertown, but they beat Hatboro-Horsham, and Hatboro-Horsham has been a little bit short in the big games this year. They've been a good team, but they've just come up a little short. Upper Dublin had to win it, they knew they did, and they got the job done.

"That should be a pretty spectacular game. The question will be - can Upper Dublin slow down Upper Moreland because if they can, they have a chance, but nobody else has been able to."

Drew Markol:  “Give Upper Dublin credit because they kept themselves alive in the American Conference with a good win over a Hatboro-Horsham team that has been close all year but just hasn’t been able to do it. That was nice job by Upper Dublin to basically keep their conference championship hopes alive. If they lose that game to Hatboro-Horsham, they have no chance for an American Conference title. By virtue of doing that, now they can get a share of the title if they can beat Upper Moreland this week. I’m a big fan of conference championships. They do mean something. We had a huge game with Upper Moreland against Quakertown. Now Upper Moreland has to come up big again if it wants that perfect season, and Upper Dublin wants a share of the title. That will be an interesting game.

“With the way Upper Moreland is playing, they’re going to be an awfully tough out for anybody. Then when they get to the District One 5A playoffs, I think they’re heading to the district title game. I don’t know if they’ll win that, but they will be very difficult to beat. In this one, I give them an edge over Upper Dublin, but again, credit Upper Dublin for doing what it did in order to give themselves a chance to win a conference title, which is great.”

Jen Wielgus:  "Good job Upper Dublin. We tend to forget that they won a district championship a couple of years ago. They're one of those programs that doesn't go away. They might not have that marquee Division One talent, but kudos to them because that is a tough league, so for Upper Moreland and Upper Dublin to be the two teams that are battling it out for the championship this week, that says a lot because that conference was brutal. Hatboro-Horsham might not have the record to show it, but they're a tough team to play, and there's Quakertown. As we've said this whole entire season, the American Conference was the toughest race. The Pennsbury/Neshaminy game is going to get a ton of attention this week, but that Upper Dublin/Upper Moreland game is just as important to those schools, and playoff seedings matter to them too. Upper Dublin is fourth in Class 5A and Upper Moreland is second."

SuburbanOneSports.com: Pennridge earned a big win over a shorthanded CB South squad. Your thoughts.

Drew Markol:  “I was at the Pennridge game, and Pennridge came out and got the big lead. They’re up 21-0 at the half and just really played well defensively and had enough offense. I think Pennridge is in pretty good shape gearing up for the playoffs. They’re playing better. Their quarterback, Zak Kantor, is growing into the position, which you like to see. A bad cliché about how defense always shows up – well, it does. If you have that come playoff time, that’s not a bad thing. I think Pennridge has that. That was a good solid win, and that’s what coach Jeff Hollenbach had to say about it after the game.

“South is a pretty good defensive team, but they’re hurting without quarterback Jack Johns, who is injured.”

Todd Thorpe:  "Pennridge is dialed in right now. You could tell in the post game comments - they have their sights set on a home playoff game. They're a very confident team, and they think if they get in the playoffs - no matter who they're matched up against - they'll have a chance. If you look at how tough they've played Neshaminy and you look at how tough they played North Penn, there's no reason to think they won't. They beat Perk Valley and a lot of people have Perk Valley skyrocketing into the top five if they win this week. Pennridge is a good team, and they did what they were supposed to against a CB South team that isn't really the same team they were at the beginning of the year. Pennridge just killed them. To South's credit, they're going to get in the playoffs, and when you get in, the official party line is you never know."

Jen Wielgus:  "I was impressed with Pennridge last week and how they took care of business. You don't expect as much out of CB South when they're down to their third quarterback, but when I think of the teams in that league besides North Penn, Pennridge has the best shot of doing damage in the playoffs."

SuburbanOneSports.com: Central Bucks West earned an important 14-13 win over Central Bucks East. Your comments.

Drew Markol:  “It was a nice effort by CB West. They bounced back from a tough loss to CB South where they got the extra point blocked in the last seconds. For them to beat their rival in a game East had to have was impressive. 14-13 - a good game, a big crowd, the whole thing, and that’s how it should be. That was a good job by West. Basically, you’re helping secure your own playoff spot, and you, in essence, knocked your archrival out. CB East is a pretty good 4-5 team, and I think they’ll give Pennridge a battle this week.”

Todd Thorpe:  "CB East/CB West is an old-fashioned rivalry, and the difference between those two teams is that much (one point). There's big disparity in the records, but CB West might be a tad bit better than CB East this year, and that's what this game proved. That's what the whole season has proved - they're not that much better, but they're a little bit.

"Any time you can line up like West does defensively, you have a chance to win. They're not going to score 40 points on you, but their defense is going to play straight up. For West, a playoff season is tremendous, it's a great effort for that squad. They did what they had to do to beat East and ended East's remote chances of a playoff spot. That being said, they're still dangerous against Pennridge this week. Playoffs are what they are. You play the whole season trying to get to that magic number to get you into the playoffs, and East is going to end up a little bit short, but they certainly were representative in every game they played."

SuburbanOneSports.com: Bensalem and Truman will meet in a must-win game for both teams. Your thoughts.

Jen Wielgus:  "I think this is what they wanted when they scheduled it for the last week - they wanted it to be that rivalry game that Pennsbury and Neshaminy has. It has taken on that sort of personality, not necessarily because the two schools hate each other but because this game ends up being important to somebody. It was very important last year, and Bensalem ended up losing in a shootout and missed the playoffs. This year Bensalem needs help but also absolutely needs to win the game to have a prayer of making the playoffs.

"Truman is hanging on at number 14 in the district playoff power rankings, and they're not anybody's absolute sure thing. That Abington loss really hurt Truman in terms of their certainty of making the playoffs, so this is a huge game. If I wasn't going to Pennsbury/Neshaminy, I would go to Truman/Bensalem. For those programs that have fought to be relevant, it's great to have that last game matter so much and to have so much riding on it. Some teams can't say that. Council Rock North and Council Rock South, unfortunately, have their rivalry game, and it matters for that, but both of those teams are sadly out of it. To have a rivalry game that matters is a great thing for high school football."

Drew Markol:  “This game still means something to both teams. Like it did last year, it comes down to Bensalem and Truman with both teams trying to get into the playoffs. That’s what you want to do. Both started the season 4-0 and you know they’ve been talking district playoffs with the start that they had. You don’t want to be left out, especially Bensalem – if you lose that game, you’re out. You had such a good start and a lot of positive vibrations. To lose that would be tough. I think Truman has a little too much offense for Bensalem. I just don’t think Bensalem can keep up with them. I like Truman in that one.”