Back for its seventh season, the popular Intelligencer/Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features Kevin Cooney, Drew Markol and Jen Wielgus. Cooney, the Phillies beat writer, will handle the Bucks County Courier Times coverage area and also is part of a panel each Friday night on the WNPV/Intelligencer Scoreboard Show. Markol is the football beat writer for the Intelligencer area. Wielgus is a video sports reporter for the Intelligencer and Courier. All three are regular 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: Your thoughts heading into this week’s District One Tournament.
Kevin Cooney: “We’re now set with a 6A tournament that, to be honest, is four teams deep, and everybody believes the top two – North Penn and Neshaminy - are destined to meet each other. When you look at it, it’s a strange feeling because you have some decent games underneath, but it’s almost anticlimactic in a way until you get to the semifinal. Until you get to Coatesville/North Penn and Perk Valley/Neshaminy, I think people are going to be a little ho hum about the tournament.
“With the way the tournament is set up with the new classifications, it’s a little watered down. It’s even more so in 5A where a 3-7 team gets in. There’s always a big discussion about whether the playoffs should be like this. I’m all for reducing them to eight teams and having a more meaningful tournament. That way you give the season back a week either at the end or the beginning, so you’re either not playing before Labor Day or not playing into December. Even if you wanted to build in a Thanksgiving week, I would be okay with that, but I’ve also learned that this fight is probably long gone, and the horse has left the barn.
“This format is not going anywhere. I would say you have more of a shot in 5A of having a reduced tournament because people will see the absurdity of it.”
Drew Markol: “If they made me the czar of Pennsylvania high school sports for a day, there would no longer be district or state playoffs. They’d all be gone. We’ve talked about this before – only a handful of teams ever win district titles. The field is way too big. You could chop the field down and only let the top eight in or even the top 12 and give the top four a first round bye. The 6A tournament is bad, but when 16 of the 26 teams in 5A get in – if you’re a three-win team and you get in the tournament and you go and lose to Springfield-Delco or Academy Park 41-2 in the first round of districts, are you getting a jacket made saying you were in the district playoffs. No, you’re not. There’s no patch that says – we were 3-8, good for us. The district playoffs are just bloated in every sport across the board. If you fill out your district bracket, you could make a really good case that the district semifinals are gong to be the top four seeds. I think Downingtown East is going to get in there instead of Perk Valley, but still, there will be very, very few surprises. When they made the decision to go to 16 teams, they didn’t call me.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Truman came from behind to defeat Bensalem 44-43, bringing an end to Bensalem’s bid to earn a playoff berth. Your thoughts.
Kevin Cooney: “I think the game that stands out last week and we mentioned this on the radio several times, but if you had told me the best game of week 10 would be Bensalem and Truman for a playoff spot, we would have said, ‘What?’ but it turned out to be. You feel for the Bensalem kids because they had a shot to do something cool, and it just didn’t happen.”
Drew Markol: “I wasn’t at the Bensalem game – I was at the North Penn game, and after the game, Dick Beck, the North Penn coach, the first thing he said was ‘How did Bensalem do?’ I told him the last I saw they were up 12 points, and it was late in the game, so I thought they had it.
“It was a season like that for Bensalem where they had some tremendous moments, and to have it end like this, it was a shame, but let’s not downplay what Truman did. For them not to quit and to come back, that’s a tremendous win and a credit to them. I’ve said this before – I’m not a huge fan of moral victories, but if Bensalem could have somehow found its way into districts even if they were the 16 seed and had to play North Penn in the first round – that doesn’t matter. You were still a district qualifier. You have to hope that this doesn’t hinder all the momentum they’ve built up this season - in the last week of the season to still have a puncher’s chance of making the district playoffs, it’s fabulous.
“It’s a shame the way it ended for Bensalem, but if you’re Truman, that’s a great win and a great ending. They take some momentum into the offseason, and Bensalem should too. I’m sure Ed Cubbage, the coach at Bensalem, is telling them, ‘Look guys, it’s been a great season.’ They had a couple of hiccoughs here and there, but no one expected anything out of them at all. At the start of the season, did I think they’d win two games? No, but they had a great season. You just hope they can build on that for next year and the year after.”
Jen Wielgus: “Bensalem was one of my favorite subjects all season. I started following them because I was doing a feature on a kid, not really knowing they would be the feel good story of the year just because they came in on a 28-game losing streak. Was Ed Cubbage going to be able to succeed where others had failed before him? They had a chance to make the playoffs for the first time ever, and all they had to do was beat Truman. No offense to Truman, but their health was in question.
“If we could take a break from Bensalem and talk about Truman – kudos to them. They don’t have their Thanksgiving Day game against Conwell Egan this year, so this was their last game of the year, and they could have very easily said, ‘Well, our season is over.’ They went out there and fought. Yes, it was a sloppy game on both sides, but Truman took advantage of every opportunity they needed to. I took a bathroom break, and I come back out and Truman had returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Their ability to go for two and convert their two-point conversions ended up being a big factor in that game too.
“On the other side, it really is a shame for Bensalem, but they have no one to blame but themselves. They couldn’t hang onto the ball in the biggest moment of their season, and that’s what happens. If you give the other team as many opportunities as they gave Truman, you’re not going to win. What a heartbreaking loss. You look at the score – 44-43. I went to that game to kind of coronate Bensalem, and that’s why you play the games because they don’t always turn out the way you think they’re going to. They didn’t make the playoffs, but they still deserve a lot of credit.
“Both Bensalem and Truman deserve a lot of credit because they both battled injuries this season, they both had their share of adversity and kept fighting.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Pennridge will travel to Neshaminy for an opening round game. Your thoughts about the Rams heading into the playoffs.
Drew Markol: “Pennridge lost its last couple of games, losing to CB South in a game it had to have, and they knew if they lost to CB East they might end up with a 16 seed and have to play North Penn. As it turns out, they got the 15 seed, which is no bargain either going to Neshaminy. Granted, when they played in week two, Pennridge had a lead in the fourth quarter and Neshaminy scored two quick touchdowns, but in that game, Zach Tredway for Neshaminy was knocked out of the game early on a punt return, and he missed the last three quarters. With that kid on their team, he’s a big difference maker. On a team with a lot of really good players, he still kind of drives the engine as a receiver, defensive back, punt returner and just an overall threat you have to keep your eye on. The Neshaminy team that Pennridge played in early September is a much different and improved team. Neshaminy is playing a lot better.
“Pennridge is coming off a couple of losses, and now they have to go to Neshaminy to do it – it’s a difficult road. I just see a different outcome. I think Neshaminy will win, and I don’t think they’ll be looking for a late touchdown to do it.”
Kevin Cooney: “Pennridge has a lot of emotional stuff going on this week with the death of one of their former players. They’re facing an opponent that they played before and actually played pretty tough, but the one thing – I mentioned this on the WNPV Selection Show on Saturday – it’s one thing to play this schedule where your five losses are to the top nine teams in the tournament. But at some point, if you’re going to be a playoff team or do something in the playoffs, you have to beat one of those teams. There’s been nothing in Pennridge’s DNA right now that tells you that they are capable of beating an elite level team. On offense, it’s (Jaggar) Hartshorn, and that’s pretty much it.
“I wonder if this has become something that’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy with this program. I think that when you sometimes get in these ruts it’s tough to break out of them. If you’re going to outline the 16 best 6A teams, they’re definitely in that mix, I get it, but by the same token, I don’t think they’re good enough to do any damage in it.”
Jen Wielgus: “I was shocked to see that result. You have to say that’s almost the final straw with Pennridge. I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt so many times this season where they’ve got that potential, but they keep shooting themselves in the foot.
“Anything can happen, but we’ve said this so many times that it’s cliché now - they’re trending downward. If any team is trending downward, it’s Pennridge. It’s a shame because if you go back to the first meeting of the season between those two teams (a 31-24 Neshaminy win), you would say, ‘Pennridge really gave Neshaminy a good game. They put up a big fight.’ Neshaminy didn’t have Zach Tredway for a lot of that game, and he’s a big factor. You really would have said – if these teams meet again in the playoffs, that’s going to be a battle, but now you look at it completely differently. It’s really disappointing."
SuburbanOneSports.com: CB East – despite its big win over Pennridge – is on the road at Spring-Ford in the eight-nine game. Your comments.
Drew Markol: “We’ve talked all year about all the losses East had to graduation. Enough of that discussion because this group and this defense – that 35-0 win over Pennridge is a tremendous effort. You rarely see shutouts even when it’s two unevenly matched teams. There’s usually a late touchdown that’s scored. After losing last year to East in overtime and East celebrating on Pennridge’s field and what East called its biggest win, Pennridge goes in there and they get hammered.
“My math is brutal, but I thought if East won they’d get a seven or eight seed and a home game. I don’t think home field advantage means a lot in high school football in most cases, but East might be a bit of an exception because they do seem to play better at home. It’s a Saturday game, and they just seem more into it. That didn’t happen. If you’re them, you’re thinking, ‘All right, we shut out Pennridge, we’ll get a home game,’ and it turns out you’re the nine seed, so you miss out on a home game by one spot of gaining a top eight. Now you have to go to Spring-Ford. It’s just a bit unlucky that all the points didn’t fall your way. What goes into that, I really honestly don’t understand – who beat them and when, if it was raining or snowing.
“Now CB East has to go prove it. They had a home playoff game last year against Quakertown by beating Quakertown in the last week of the season. Then Quakertown beat them in the playoffs, so they need to go on the road against a really good Spring-Ford team. That Spring-Ford team went up to Wilson-West Lawn early in the season, and they lost by one point in overtime. Spring-Ford is legit, but again, it’s an eight-nine game, and eight-nine games shouldn’t be easy. Eight-nine games should be decided by a couple of points. I think Spring-Ford beats them, but I’ve been wrong all season. Give credit to East for what they’ve been able to do.”
Kevin Cooney: “(John) Donnelly has just done a tremendous job at East. He’s just completely put his stamp on a program that wasn’t always viewed as the toughest, if you will, but they win tough games right now. They play physical football, they play defensive football, and it’s taken a couple of years, but Donnelly has managed to engrain in them that they play smash-you-in-the-mouth football.
“I actually like East against Spring-Ford. They are toughened up by their schedule, and I like the way things are shaking down for them. Look, they’ll go to North Penn next week and that will probably be the end of the run, but they have a certain toughness to them.
“Spring-Ford has a high-flying offense and everything, but I don’t think they get punched in the mouth that often. Maybe by Perk Valley, but it’s a complete style change for them right now. I’m fascinated to see how that’s going to go. I really like that matchup for CB East, especially if the weather gets a little dicey. I think that’s something that has to play into it as well.”
Jen Wielgus: “I don’t know if you want to call CB East a dark horse, but they missed having a home game by some crazy power point formula. It stinks for them because I think they do have a home field advantage having to play during the day on Saturdays, but they have to go on the road to Spring-Ford. The nine-eight game is supposed to be good, and I think CB East wins that game, I really do. I don’t see Spring-Ford having signature wins on their schedule. I see them beating up on the likes of Upper Perk, Methacton and Norristown. East plays in a really strong league and really showed a toughness on defense, and I think they come out with a win there. I’m flying my American flag for the Patriots in the playoffs. I definitely think they’ll get past the first round.
“Last year East lost to Quakertown by a point in the first round, and to win a playoff game is another hurdle. John Donnelly is building that program. He’s done a really good job. If they can win a first round game, that’s just another step.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Central Bucks South will host Garnet Valley. Your thoughts.
Kevin Cooney: “Garnet Valley with (coach) Mike Ricci is traditionally a very deep program. If South is going to win that game, South has got to win it on defense. Right now on offense there are some questions with their quarterback situation and who’s going to start, but I think the bigger thing is they have to win it with their defense. When their defense has been very good, they’ve been really tough to beat.”
Jen Wielgus: “For CB South, obviously, it’s a big deal to get a home game in these playoffs. That’s not an easy thing to do. Garnet Valley is another one of those teams – their coach (Mike Ricci) is well known, they have a pedigree, but I don’t think they have a great resume either. I think CB South comes out with a win there, and if they do, they’ll face Neshaminy again. That’s tough.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Souderton defeated Central Bucks West 33-15 to earn its first district playoff berth since 2010. Your comments.
Drew Markol: “Souderton is a team that’s been on the cusp of the playoffs, but it hasn’t happened. They would stumble at the wrong time. If you look at CB West, they got off to the good start, and then they hit a deep valley, but they were still playing tough. They gave CB South all they wanted – that game was 14-7, and CB South is the seven seed in the tournament.
“For Souderton to go out and just take care of them, it wasn’t all Koby Khan this time. They used a couple of different players, and it’s a win they had to have. To win a must-win game is hard to do, and they now find themselves in the playoffs. Having to play Downingtown East, that’s a team with a lot of offense. They have a defensive back - Jeremy Jennings - who also plays some offense and is going to Temple. They’re very good. The rest of the district has to be very pleased that it’s been a while since the Downingtowns split because if those two were still together it would really be interesting. Even apart, they’re both usually pretty good.
“For Downingtown East, they played Downingtown West last week and blew them out, so they come into this one with momentum, and they’re playing at home. Souderton will have the long bus ride, and you wonder about slow starts and all that stuff. But again, for Souderton to win a must-game like they did last week is fabulous. A lot of credit to Ed Gallagher.”
Jen Wielgus: “Good for Souderton. They’ve had kind of an up and down year. They’ve had some pretty good performances. They only lost to CB South by seven. I think Friday’s game is going to be closer than people think, but I don’t see them beating Downingtown East on the road. Hopefully, they can keep it close.
“We shot our show at Souderton this week, and we were all commenting on the strength of quarterback Joey Curotto’s arm, and we know Koby Khan is a good running back. Full disclosure – I haven’t seen Souderton play this season, but to win on the road, I just don’t see that one happening.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Quakertown upset Plymouth Whitemarsh in the final regular season game. Your comments.
Drew Markol: “Good job by Quakertown coach George Banas because when they started off as poorly as they did, they could have folded up and gone home, but they didn’t do that. They beat Upper Moreland, and then they beat PW last week. What a huge win, and for PW, they’re kind of limping into the playoffs. They barely beat Cheltenham (26-20 in overtime), and it’s got to hurt your confidence a little bit to have that happen against Quakertown.
“If you’re Quakertown and you beat PW, a district playoff team, now you’re taking a week off and you’re playing Norristown next week. A month ago, if someone asked you who’s going to win the Quakertown/Pennridge Thanksgiving game, you’d be hard pressed to find anybody that didn’t say Pennridge. If you’re Quakertown and as fired up as you get for that game – now you’ll be even more fired up because you’ve got a chance, you really do. Wow, that’s just a credit to George Banas and a very young team for being able to keep plugging away. That’s what they’ve done, and that’s tremendous. That’s how you build for the future. I know a lot of coaches that don’t make the playoffs dread the Thanksgiving game because it’s such a break, but Quakertown has the momentum of beating PW to keep your kids going, then the contingency game with Norristown next week and a winnable game against Pennridge on Thanksgiving at home.”
Kevin Cooney: “I think that win over PW a testament to what the Quakertown program has become. Look, they were in a real bad spot in mid-season, and they kept fighting, they kept fighting, and they kept fighting and found a way to get it done. They should get a lot of credit for what has gone on.
“It’s amazing how things changed for PW. You’ve gone in three weeks from ‘Hey, we beat Upper Dublin. Here we go, ready to make a run.’ You beat Hatboro, and you’re going to be a top eight seed. Now suddenly it’s like ‘crash.’ It shows how quickly things change.”
Jen Wielgus: “Quakertown came up with a big upset and beat PW, and they could beat Pennridge on Thanksgiving because Pennridge is coming apart at the seams. I don’t know what’s going on with that team.
“Quakertown could be like – we played Upper Dublin tough, we beat PW, and we have a chance to win our Thanksgiving Day game, which is their super bowl for them no matter what.”