Intelligencer/Courier Times Let's Talk Football (Week 12)

In the 12th weekly edition of the Intelligencer/Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football,’ high school football beat writers Kevin Cooney and Dom Cosentino take a look at last week’s opening round of the District One Class AAAA Tournament. They also offer their opinions on this week’s big playoff games.
Cooney and Cosentino – who boast a combined 23 years covering high school football – are two of the area’s most respected and knowledgeable football writers. To stay on top of all the latest high school football news in the area, visit the web site http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/sports_now.html
 
SuburbanOneSports.com: As many people had predicted, the Souderton-Council Rock South game was a battle to the finish. What are your thoughts about that game?
Dom Cosentino: Council Rock South did a nice job of adjusting to the defense Souderton was playing in the first half. They couldn’t get untracked offensively because Souderton was playing a 3-4 where they had a safety cheating up, as Indians coach Ed Gallagher described it. It forced Council Rock South to adjust its blocking schemes.
Players on both sides of the ball on both teams made plays. It was a very entertaining game, a very well-played game. There were mistakes, but overall, it was pretty good.
It’s a good win for Council Rock South because Souderton is a team that’s better than a 15 seed -- a lot of people (though not me, ha ha) – actually picked against Rock South. Yes, Rock South righted things with the win, but they’re going to have a whole new challenge this week with Rashaad Williams when they play CB West.
Kevin Cooney: I’ll be honest. I was one of those who had Souderton potentially winning that game. What we saw from Rock South was a little bit of a re-emergence of its defense. Souderton still scored 17 points, but the offensive numbers were down. They weren’t getting caught as much in over-pursuit. It sounds like they were keeping their discipline better this week than they did last week.
You’re talking about two contrasts – you’re talking about the good Rock South defensive team who seems to be finding itself again against Rashaad Williams and Central Bucks West’s offense. I don’t think Williams is going for 419 this week, but what I think you’re going to see is that West is going to have to use the other weapons it has – a Bill Bell, a Ward Udinski, a Jake Poeske. They’re going to have to be creative. They’re not going to be able to run Rashaad 30 times and expect 400 yards. That’s just not going to happen against CR South.
If they’re creative, they can win this game. If they win this game, they’ll probably have North Penn next week, but you’re at that point where you have to figure it’s going to come down to that battle. If Rock South stops West, Rock South wins. If West gets its offense going, I can’t see Rock South keeping up point-wise.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Billy Fleming’s ball fake once again fooled the officials, and in Friday’s win over Souderton, the two teams had to replay a down after an official blew the play dead when Fleming was still running for a first down. Is Fleming one of the toughest weapons to defend?
Dom Cosentino: Yes. Ed Gallagher said he actually had to use two spies on just him because of what he’s able to do with his ball fakes and when he keeps it or when he chooses to throw it even though they don’t throw it that often. You have to account for him in so many different ways, and it can be a real headache for a defense to prepare to play a team with a player like that.
Fleming sells the fake so well – it’s easy to be fooled. I certainly have been fooled by it, and I have watched it different times this season. It’s funny, but it’s not surprising.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Talk about the Central Bucks West win over Coatesville and the performance of Rashaad Williams.
Kevin Cooney:  He was getting some good blocking from his line. When a guy runs for that many yards, you have to give the guys up front a lot of credit, and Williams always made the right choice, always made the right cut. He was reading basically what he was taught all week. He saw that the linebackers came in and pinched, which left the outside open. Coatesville never adjusted, and I think it allowed Williams to have that kind of night. You’re looking at one of the all-time nights for a high school kid. Five touchdowns is one thing, but the 419 rushing yardage is pretty remarkable given the fact what the stakes were.
It was one of those games – they had to keep running. This was not an, ‘Alright, let’s pile up the stats because it’s a meaningless September game.’ This was a playoff game. Coatesville was competitive until the fourth quarter, and Coatesville is the favorite if you go by seeding.
It was pretty incredible to watch. It’s a continuation of what has been the best story in the conference and the league this year – that is the re-emergence of Central Bucks West football.
Dom Cosentino: That’s an all-time playoff performance by a guy who might just be the best player in Bucks County this year. He’s closing in on 2,000 yards for the season in 11 games, and to put up 420 yards in a playoff game is remarkable. As good as Council Rock South’s defense has been all year, they’re going to have their hands full this week.
I think it was a great win for CB West in general, just to have their first playoff win in 10 years. They’re coming off a one-win season, and here they are in the second round of the playoffs. It’s a pretty remarkable turnaround. You typically don’t see a turnaround that drastic, but getting a player like Williams back – they didn’t have him last year – certainly helped. There are a lot of guys on that team that are good football players, but when you’ve got a kid who’s rushed for 1920 yards in 11 games, you’re going to win some games.
SuburbanOneSports.com: What did this playoff win mean to a West team that hadn’t been in the playoffs since 2004?
Kevin Cooney: To put it into perspective, this was West’s first playoff win since the Eastern Final in 2000 when Mike Carey was coaching. That says it all right there. When you look at the way this tournament is going with Ridley going down – it’s wide open.
You’re obviously looking at a West team right now that has everything to gain and nothing to lose. If West goes out this week and loses to Rock South, nobody is going to say it was a disappointing year. If that happens, they will be 9-3, and everybody will be happy with them. If they get to 10 wins, that’s a big, big step, it’s a huge step.
As we’ve talked about all year, this is not the same West program as the early 2000s or late 90s. This is a program that pretty much had to rebuild from scratch, and they have done that, and they have done that extremely well. They have talent. We mention the same names every week. Their line is pretty good, and they’re getting key plays. Their secondary played fairly well down the stretch on Friday night. Seth Ehlo had two interceptions.
It’s a good team effort. Does this mean the program is back for every year? Maybe not. This may be just the one year collection of guys, but it’s gotten them into the quarterfinals, and that’s pretty good for a program that was 1-10 last year.
SuburbanOneSports.com: What are thoughts about the Neshaminy-Abington game?
Kevin Cooney: I think the only lock this week is that Neshaminy will win. You look at what Neshaminy is doing right now, you look at what they’re generating offensively, and their defense has played well. They seem to have an emotional lift right now. They’re feeding off the emotion of middle linebacker Marco Dapkey, and they’re playing very well right now. They also lost Joe ‘Mustang’ Foster, one of their assistant coaches, during the offseason. As Mark Schmidt has said, they’ve had a very rough year.
I think what you’re seeing is a Neshaminy team that’s jelling at the right time, that has the confidence, that has the weapon in quarterback Charlie Materella and is starting to regain a little bit of their swagger.
On the flip side, Abington has played out of their minds this year, and you saw what they did to a pretty decent Cheltenham team last week, but going on the road and going to the Ridge is a completely different ball of wax. I think Neshaminy has the edge. They have already beaten them once, and the winner of this game becomes very dangerous in this tournament, especially now that the winner of this game is going to face the eight or the 16 seed.
Look how much different that road got. With Ridley in the tournament, it looked like a minefield, but now you take that mine out, and the winner of the four-five game will go against the winner of the eight-16 game instead.
For Neshaminy, its’ going to come down to stopping Julien Ireland. The task for Abington is a lot more diverse and a lot more difficult. That’s where I think the game will be decided.
Dom Cosentino: Both teams are clicking, both are very good defensively. The first time they met Abington only had 106 yards of total offense. They really tried to funnel a lot of what they were doing through Julien Ireland, mostly with runs, but they have opened things up a little more by getting Ray Schreiner more involved the last few weeks.
Neshaminy has been playing really well. Defensively they have been rock solid all year, and their offense has so many different weapons with Charlie Marterella, Justin Andrews, Dwight Williams, Sean Ulmer, Anthony Woodroffe and a pretty good offensive line.
This is probably the best quarterfinal matchup.
 It’s interesting too that they met last year in the first round. After Abington had won in the regular season, Neshaminy won the playoff game. It’s possible we could see that again, or it’s possible that Neshaminy will win. Anything's possible in this one.
I don’t think it matters that they’ve played each other before this season. A lot of people overplay things like beating a team two times in a season, but you line up and you play. It was probably the worst game of the season that Abington played. They were able to generate no offense, and because of that, they put their defense in some tough spots with field position. If they are able to move the ball and keep Neshaminy from getting the kind of field position they got in the first game, they certainly have a chance to win this game.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Could Downingtown East give North Penn problems this week?
Kevin Cooney: Yes, they could. Downingtown East was a team that was really ticked off last week. It’s strange – you look at a whole football season, and we believe everything is intertwined. What I mean by that – if West Chester Henderson doesn’t beat Downingtown East, West Chester Henderson doesn’t get in and beat Ridley. If West Chester Henderson doesn’t beat Downingtown East, Downingtown East doesn’t fall to sixth, so we’re not talking about a second round matchup against North Penn.
North Penn has to be better than they were last week, flat out. They weren’t awful if you look at their total offensive numbers. They have over 400 yards, but turnovers in the red zone, stalling in the red zone and not getting points – that can’t happen against Downingtown East. If that happens against East, they’re going home.
This isn’t Penn Wood. Penn Wood played tough, and you give them credit and tip your hat to them to a certain degree, but North Penn should have really blown that game open and never did. I’m sure that caused some alarm in Lansdale.
We’ll see how things go this week. They’re going to need a big game out of Dom Taggart. It’s going to come down to ball possession, it’s going to come down to finding a way to grind things out.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Comment about the Ridley loss to West Chester Henderson.
Kevin Cooney: It was funny – I wrote my column last week about how wide open the tournament was, and I think I threw in the line, ‘Fourteen of the 16 teams could win, and yes, that includes 15 and 16.’ I would have been a little bit stronger, but I thought Ridley had its bad game out of its system.
This is the way this tournament has been structured the last few years. You go back to the first year when they had 16 teams. Abington was better than a 16 seed, and probably Council Rock North was not as good as a one. Yes, the point standings added up to that, but points don’t necessarily dictate how good teams are.
This year Ridley was the best team in that area, there’s no doubt. They were undefeated. Did I feel strongly going in that Henderson could win that game? No, but I thought they had a shot because you win a game like they did the preceding week, and they have some momentum. The longer you’re hanging in a game like that - you’re going to find a way to get it done.
They will never say this publicly, but a team like North Penn really wanted another crack at Ridley. Given what happened last year, they would have craved another shot at them. Does that knock some of the wind out of North Penn’s sails? I doubt it because I think North Penn wants to win a state title or at least a district title, but it changes the whole complexion of the tournament. You don’t have the defending district champion who was undefeated this year in the tournament any more, and that’s a huge change in the whole dynamics.
You can take the Abington-Neshaminy winner and the Downingtown East-North Penn winner and figure – okay, they’re probably the favorites.
Dom Cosentino: I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Ridley was playing well all year with the exception of their final regular season game when they struggled against Upper Darby. They looked like they were going to be a lock to at least get to the finals, if not win the district for the second year in a row.
What this does now is it really opens it up. Council Rock South is now the highest remaining seed, and North Penn is right there at the three seed – they’re going to be a tough out for anybody. The Neshaminy-Abington winner is going to be pretty formidable too because now the winner of that game won’t have to play Ridley next week. It changes the balance of power. It really kind of evens things out.
I think there’s just a whole lot of parity throughout the district. You might not have an ‘elite’ team, although North Penn has the opportunity to step up and maybe claim that.
SuburbanOneSports.com: What are your thoughts about the tournament now that we’re heading into the second week?
Kevin Cooney: I think one of the flaws with the way the tournament is designed right now is sticking to a strict bracket. Rustin and Henderson are going to be playing each other in an eight versus 16 game while four and five play each other and three and six play each other. No, I’m sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Two and 10 are going to play each other, and that’s not that big a difference, but you’re talking about two of the bottom three teams left in the tournament are going to meet each other. How does that happen?
I think coaches like the idea that you don’t have to have people at seven different games in case an upset happens, but with game film exchanges and things, this shouldn’t take place. You want the best tournament possible, and eight versus 16 is not the best tournament possible.
Dom Cosentino: It’s been a while since District One had a state champion – 2003, when North Penn did it, to be exact -- and it’s kind of looking like a year where the district could fall short of winning it all once more. We’ll see what happens the next couple of weeks.
North Penn right now is the favorite, but a lot can happen. Downingtown East has some Division One-caliber guys. CR South plays a solid team game. Abington and Neshaminy have their strengths … You see what I mean? One thing is certain: We’re going to see at least two SOL teams in the district semifinals, and perhaps three of the four.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Do you think any of the teams remaining could beat LaSalle?
Kevin Cooney: I think North Penn could. Their quarterback is a lot better now than he was at the beginning of the season. Corey Ernst is playing really well. Would I pick La Salle in that game? Yes, I would, but I don’t think I’d be stunned if North Penn won.
Dom Cosentino: I think teams from District One can play with them, but I think La Salle has to be the favorite. They’re rolling as well. They came in and beat North Penn pretty soundly the first game of the season. That’s a long time ago, but with Ridley going down, I think La Salle is now the favorite in the eastern part of the state, with my alma mater, Pittsburgh Central Catholic, the top team out west, though they have a tough game tonight against North Allegheny.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Were you surprised to see Upper Moreland lose in the opening round?
Dom Cosentino: I was. They have had some good teams in the regular season and have had some head scratchers in the playoffs. That’s not the first time that happened. And last year, when they struggled to be .500, they almost knocked off a tremendous Pottsgrove team in the first round. Go figure.
SuburbanOneSports.com: It’s time to put it on the line – who are you picking to come out of the second round alive?
Kevin Cooney: I actually think three of the four games could go either way. I’ll go with Henderson, Neshaminy, North Penn in a real tight one, a really tight one, and Council Rock South.
Dom Cosentino: Henderson, Neshaminy, North Penn, Council Rock South. But a kid like Rashaad Williams really does give West a chance.
*The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of SuburbanOneSports.com. Check back every week for more football talk with Kevin Cooney and Dom Cosentino. To offer comments or ask questions, write to Cooney at KCooney@phillyburbs.com and Cosentino at DCosentino@phillyburbs.com.