Intelligencer/Courier 'Let's Talk Football' (9-16-16)

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:  To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the Intelligencer ( and Courier Times ( sites. Check out the picks by our panel of experts:  Were there any surprises in week three?

Kevin Cooney:  “Week three to me always seems a little ‘eh,’ a little anticlimactic, and I think that’s basically what happened here. You knew North Penn was better that Pennsbury.

“I guess Pennridge losing the way they did to Perk Valley – that was a surprise. For Pennridge, Friday’s game against Souderton is basically an elimination game. Souderton has a little room to play with as far as trying to get in the field of 16. If you’re Pennridge and you lose this game and you still have North Penn and CB South, who I think it’s fair to say are one and two in the division if you’re doing a power structure, you’re looking a bad, bad, bad, bad seed right now if they lose this game.”

Drew Markol:  “You look at the Pennridge-Perkiomen Valley game (a 38-20 PV win) – I think we look as the Suburban One League as sometimes being the end-all, be-all once we get to the district playoffs. With North Penn and Neshaminy, that may well be, but there are teams out there like a Perk Valley, a Spring-Ford, and I’m sure I’m missing a couple that are going to do some damage in the playoffs. I was not at the Pennridge game, but you hear the score 38-0 Perk Valley at the end of the third quarter, and it makes you wonder.

“Truman beat Tennent to get its first win. It’s a nice win for Truman. For Tennent, you look at week one, and Upper Moreland beat them 7-0, and obviously, it’s a one-score game. You thought – Upper Moreland is usually really good. It was a district finalist last year. They have a very good program and have been very consistent under Adam Beach over the years. Honestly, I thought Tennent might be okay, but now look what happened. The next week they lost to Bensalem and got a lot of publicity but in the wrong way because Bensalem snapped a long losing streak. Then they have a chance to bounce back, and they lost to Truman. Last year Tennent went 3-0 in non-league games and people said, ‘You didn’t play anybody.’ It’s hard to balance that. You want to win games and build confidence in your teams, but you don’t want to make it too easy. I think it might have been a little too easy for Tennent last year, and this year it didn’t work out. They’re 0-3 and have to go into Continental Conference play, which will be very difficult.

“On the flip side, a team like Truman gets the confidence boost getting a win. I say it all the time – nothing makes a team feel better and makes the next week of practice easier than a win. The kids probably don’t care who they beat. If they win, it’s a huge shot of adrenaline, and that’s what Truman got as they headed into their conference.”  The three Central Bucks schools enter SOL play with a combined 9-0 record. Your thoughts?

Drew Markol:  “You look at CB East and people probably expected a down year because they lost a lot to graduation, but when you have a good team, that team is practicing against the younger guys, and it’s helping to make them better. You can tie in an Upper Dublin because Upper Dublin lost a whole lot to graduation, but now their next wave of kids are like – ‘Look, we’re not bad either. We can play.’ Having a good team and from those good teams – there are enough juniors and sophomores that play who gained a lot of experience last year and know how to win. I think that’s what’s helping East.

“This week against South is a jump up in schedule. East played Methacton, Cheltenham and Hatboro-Horsham, so now they have to step up against a CB South team – there’s still questions about them too, but they’re both 3-0. I don’t consider East-South a rivalry. I know they have the same first two words in their names, but for South, they’re still new. That’s a game I’ll keep my eye on because it will be interesting to see who of those two are legit  - if both are legit or if both are not as good as we thought.

“I know there’s some excitement building, and you have people who don’t really follow football telling me that CB West is 3-0, CB South is 3-0 and CB East is 3-0. You have to kind of temper it because, granted, it’s nice to be 3-0, but you look at the combined records of the teams those three CB schools have played, and it’s 2-24, which is obviously dreadful. None of the three have really played anybody. You use your non-league games to get ready for your conference schedule where your teams know you and there are rivalries. Any team that’s 3-0 – you include Souderton in that, and they’re thinking district playoffs. When they start adding up the points and the teams you played are not very good in the preseason, you can’t afford to be losing conference games either because you’re 3-0, but you’ve actually dug yourself a little bit of a hole because those teams you beat aren’t going to beat many other teams. All three of the CBs have to temper it because they haven’t played a team with a steady pulse yet, and when they do, that will show their mettle.

“I’m withholding my judgment for a couple of weeks just to see where this goes. Sometimes you get unlucky when you look at your non-league schedule. Amongst those teams that are 2-24, you have the Council Rocks, you have Quakertown, you have Hatboro-Horsham and Abington – teams that are historically pretty good that all are kind of down this year. The odds of that are slim, but it’s happening. With all those teams being down, you just get unlucky. Now that’s the case, and if you’re the coaches of those teams, you know you haven’t tested your team yet. You just got some unfortunate scheduling when you probably thought they would be pretty good tests for your kids, and it turns out they’re not. A little bit of bad luck, but that’s sports.”

Jen Wielgus:  “This week South is playing East. I honestly think South will win that game – they’ve got a lot of good athletes. Nate Norris is a big bruiser who plays on both sides, and Tyler Watson does everything for that team. He ran it in for a touchdown on South’s first play of the game, he had an interception, he returned a kick, and he was running the ball and catching passes. Sam Thompson was serviceable at quarterback. Based on my observations, I would say South is the best of the CBs. I was impressed, but it’s so hard to tell if anyone is any good.

“I don’t know if it has to do with the record, but the turnout on Friday night at Council Rock North by the CB South students was really impressive. They had a huge student section, and they had an America theme, so they were all red, white and blue.

“These CB schools have got to be excited. I know that West has got to be beside themselves. The last time they were 3-0 was more than a decade ago. The fairy tale is about to end though because they’re playing North Penn this week.” What are your observations heading into the SOL season?

Kevin Cooney:  “We know the Continental is deeper than the National by leaps and bounds. North Penn is clearly 1A in the Continental, but West, South, East, Souderton is playing better than expected - all of them are 3-0. Pennridge is 1-2 but played a pretty tough schedule.

“When you compare that to what the National Conference is and that’s Neshaminy and maybe you give Pennsbury a little bit of a break to because of the new coaching staff and the new system, and they played two really tough teams back-to-back in La Salle and North Penn, but the drop-off after that is just precipitous. Between Truman and Bensalem who are what they are, Rock North which went through a coaching change and is going through growing pains and Rock South, which is one of the bigger disappointments that they’re not a little better – you’re looking at a case where if it was a merit-based system, there are five playoff teams in the Continental and one out of the National. Pennsbury can get out of the National 6-1, which would make them 7-3, and they’d probably get in somehow, but realistically, it’s sloppy.

“Maybe Abington steps up. There’s going to be a number two team out of the National, and I would say Pennsbury and Abington are the most likely to compete for that.

“Here’s what the storyline has become in the SOL - North Penn and Neshaminy basically doing a dance with each other and never playing each other because the first one who slips, the first one who loses will be giving up home field advantage in a potential district title game. They’re the two best in the district, and I think everyone would agree with that right now. They’re on this collision course, and right now, if you blink once, then you’re looking at either Towamencin or Langhorne for the title game on Thanksgiving weekend. You could be looking at a much more difficult semifinal game against Downingtown East or whoever you want next. It’s clear to me right now that one and two are pretty established. Coaches hate when we talk like this, but will they be sending messages to one another from long distance. That’s what this season has become.

“The thing with Upper Dublin that’s strange is they’re only playing eight games – they lost a game last week with Abington and have the Springfield forfeit. On one hand, it’s good because it means you could be healthy, and on the other, it’s bad because you have a lot of young kids who are not going to have a lot of experience by time you get to the playoffs. Upper Dublin has now established, especially at the 5A level, that they’re a force to be dealt with.”

Jen Wielgus:  “Because of the CB schools and because of Souderton and even Pennridge, which has had a tough non-league schedule, the Continental Conference at least has some intrigue even though everyone is expecting North Penn to win the league.

“The National Conference, on the other hand, has none of that.  I look at the Truman-Council Rock South game this week, and you might say, ‘That’s exciting for Truman because they’re got a real shot to win,’ and that would be a winning streak. If South doesn’t win this game, we could be looking at Council Rock South and Council Rock North each being 0-9 heading into the last game of the season. If you have to look at a Truman-Council Rock South game as something that’s important in the SOL National, that just says – there’s really no race there. Not that there’s a race in the Continental, but there are many more good stories and good angles going on there.

“The guys on the Game On show are always joking that everyone makes the playoffs this year, but what is high school sports really about? Yes, it’s fun to win league championships, but it’s those CB South versus CB East games, those CB East versus CB West games where all the students are dressed up in their theme. That’s what it’s all about, and when the teams are winning, you know they’re going to be more excited and enthused, and I love to see that.”  Any games that you find interesting this week?

Kevin Cooney:  “The East-South game is important as we look at – who is number two behind North Penn in the pecking order. They’re obviously playing for a division title, but if you win this game, you’re going to get your shot at North Penn with a division title on the line, barring what I believe would be an upset. If you lose this game, odds are you aren’t going to get North Penn to lose two games.

“On paper, Pennsbury should beat William Tennent. Tennent is not a good team right now. If you don’t score more than 10 points against Tennent, that’s when the wheels can really come off the wagon. If you think it’s bad now – if you play a close game with Tennent, it comes crashing down in a hurry. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but there has to be a sense of urgency this week.

“It’s not unrealistic to think that CR South and CR North could end up in that last week of the season both being 1-8 or 1-9. They should beat Bensalem in theory, but that last game between those two teams could be to avoid a real embarrassing season.”

Drew Markol:  “If you look at the SOL schedule, there’s nothing that really jumps out at you. You look at Pennridge, and they had a pretty good non-league schedule. They played Neshaminy and a pretty good Perk Valley team, and now if you’re Pennridge, you’re 1-2. You have to play Souderton, and Souderton comes in 3-0, so they’re excited about what they can do and you have your rivalry. Let’s say you lose to Souderton – if you lose to Souderton, then you have North Penn next week, and you’re probably staring at 1-4. If that’s the case, you’ve got to win out to get into the district playoffs and have any sort of seed. That’s an enormous game for Pennridge to kind of right the ship after the Perk Valley game last week.

“On the flip side, it’s a really, really big game for Souderton because if Souderton can win that against Pennridge, does that put them at the top of the heap – North Penn aside - of the SOL Continental. Now you’re 4-0 and you’ve done a 180 from last year and you’re looking great as far as the district playoffs are concerned. That’s probably the most intriguing game of the week because of the ramifications.

“I would give Pennridge a slight edge. I’ve been on the Pennridge bandwagon all season – I picked them to beat Neshaminy and I picked them to beat Perk Valley. We’ll see what they can do. It’s rare to have must-win games in week four, but if there is such a thing this early in the season, that one’s it for the Rams.”

Jen Wielgus:  “The Souderton-Pennridge game is a good one. Souderton is the sleeper team – I don’t think anyone thought they were going to be bad, but they’re back in that league they love with those local rivalries. Pennridge is beatable as we’ve seen, and this game is really big for both teams. This is another big game in the Continental whereas in the National – even the Neshaminy-Pennsbury game won’t have that luster.

“In the American Conference, Quakertown is playing its first league game against Wissahickon, and I picked them to win. (George) Banas knows what he’s doing. We’ll see how they play this week, and maybe they can build up some momentum because it’s not going well so far.”

SuburburbanOneSports:  What are your thoughts about the CB West at North Penn game?

Kevin Cooney:  “I think for CB West it’s the same thing we talked about with Pennsbury last week – hold your own, don’t look overwhelmed, don’t look lost in the moment, play tough football, hang in the game into the second half and make North Penn sweat a little bit. Do I think West has the players right now that can match up with North Penn? No.  It’s going to be tough for them to win that game. West is still at a point where they could take a close loss and really take it as a springboard to where the program is going. If you get blown out, you’re in deep trouble.

“There’s going to be an eye test here – there’s a clear established one in the Continental and it’s North Penn.  The eye test is going to be – how did West play against North Penn and how does that translate if you get into districts into a first or second round game. Just because you lose to North Penn doesn’t mean that your season’s over. You have to find a way of taking it forward and seeing where it goes from there.”