One of the more intriguing aspects to the 16-team PIAA District 1 Class AAAA football playoffs is always the question of whether the non-Suburban One teams from around the rest of Southeastern Pennsylvania are actually as good as their impressive records.
In some years, the answer has proven to be yes, but more often than not, it’s the toughened-up Suburban One teams getting the better of the opposition.
Three local teams hope the second case again holds true as defending district champion Pennsbury, 2014 champ Neshaminy and Council Rock North are all set to take on outside playoff competition.
Bristol is also in action as the No. 3 seed in the Class AA bracket.
Neshaminy (7-3) at Spring-Ford (10-0), Friday night, 7 p.m.
Coming off a near miss at North Penn and its 16-14 win at Pennsbury, Neshaminy has peaked at the perfect moment. It’s also in a good part of the bracket and has a solid shot of reaching the semifinals. Spring-Ford is undefeated, but it has not played a schedule that’s nearly as tough as the one the Redskins have played. Spring-Ford’s biggest win came last week when it knocked off Perkiomen Valley, 28-14, in a battle of unbeatens. Neshaminy must stop a balanced offense. Senior quarterback Ricky Venuto has completed 111 of 168 passes for 1,681 yards. Impressively, he has thrown 23 TD passes while being intercepted just once. He has a variety of targets, including three receivers with over 300 yards. Junior Matt Gibson leads the ground game with 806 yards on 96 carries. If Neshaminy can pound the ball inside with Will Dogba as it did against Pennsbury last week, it shouldn’t have much of a problem. Look for the strength of schedule to show here.
Council Rock North (7-3) at Upper Darby (9-1), Friday night, 7 p.m.
A playoff qualifier for the third straight year, Rock North is another team that comes in with lots of momentum. The Indians have won four in a row, including last Saturday night’s impressive 35-14 do-or-die victory over Rock South for the Sub One Continental title. Although Upper Darby has just the one loss, it has not exactly beaten a bunch of heavyweights. Christoff Minott has thrown for over 1,400 yards, but the Royals are primarily a running team. Isaiah Bruce leads the way with 1,739 yards on 228 carries with 28 touchdowns. Look for the Indians to finally get past the first round. The defense has clearly stepped it up after some shaky moments earlier in the year. Furthermore, Rock North quarterback Brandon McIlwain is the most dangerous player in the district. Ranked among the top five high school quarterbacks in the nation, McIlwain is on a mission and should be able to lead his team up and down the field against the outmatched Upper Darby defense.
Bristol (5-5) at Springfield (MontCo) (3-6), Friday night, 7 p.m.
From a local standpoint, this is kind of the strength-of-schedule argument in reverse because it’s Springfield that has played the far more difficult competition. A member of the Suburban One League American Division, Springfield has played teams such as Class AAAA playoff qualifiers Upper Dublin and Plymouth-Whitemarsh. The Spartans have been crushed so often against bigger schools they don’t have much in the way of individual stats, although quarterback Justin Hill has been effective at times making his team go. Bristol has won its last two games, but those wins came against two teams that finished a combined 3-17. These teams met in the district final last year with Bristol coming up just short by the score of 15-14.
Pennsbury (7-3) at Downingtown West (9-1), Saturday night, 7 p.m.
The Falcons can physically beat this team, but one has to wonder where they are mentally after losing two of their last three. Against Neshaminy last week, Pennsbury’s line did not play well on either side of the ball and that needs to change against the Whippets. Downingtown West has a diversified offense. Quarterback Thomas Mattoni has completed well over 50 percent of his passes for 1,245 yards and 17 touchdowns. He throws to a wide variety of receivers and Downingtown West can run it as well. Jake Barr, who is also the top receiver, has run for 568 yards and 10 TDs. West has scored 40 or more points five times. It beat Neshaminy, 20-14, early in the year and its only loss came last week in a 21-14 setback against undefeated and top-seeded Downingtown East. Since both teams are coming off disappointing losses to their arch rivals, it will be interesting to see which one bounces back best. Downingtown West is the favorite, but Pennsbury can pull this off if it plays with an attitude and confidence.
Contact Rick Fortenbaugh at email@example.com @RickFortenbaugh on Twitter
PIAA District 1 Playoffs
- Plymouth-Whitemarsh (8-2) at 1. Downingtown East (10-0)
- North Penn (8-2) at 8. Unionville (8-2)
- Neshaminy (7-3) at 4. Spring-Ford (10-0)
- Quakertown at 5. Central Bucks East (8-2)
- Pennsbury (7-3) at 2. Downingtown West (9-1)
- Perkiomen Valley (9-1) at 7. Haverford (9-1)
- Garnet Valley (7-3) at 5. Upper Dublin (10-0)
- Council Rock North (7-3) at Upper Darby (9-1)
- Lower Moreland (2-8) at 1. New Hope (9-1)
- Bristol (5-5) at 2. Springfield Montco (3-6)
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