If we learned anything from the 2012 playoffs, it’s that looking ahead can be a bad, bad idea.
Five years ago, Downingtown East was 10-0 and the top seed in the then-Class 4A District 1 bracket, while 8-2 Coatesville sat as the No. 9 seed.
A rematch of the week four masterpiece, in which Jay Harris caught a touchdown in the final seconds to give East a one-point win over Coatesville, seemed like destiny.
But, the Cougars were stunned by No. 16 Wissahickon in the first round, opening the path for the Red Raiders to make their run to the state final.
The 2017 version is eerily similar, with them poised to meet in the second round. Most of the names have changed (though there’s still a Lauletta under center for East), but fans of the schools can’t help but imagine chapter two of what was a classic game in the rivalry in week nine.
Opposite of 2012, it was Coatesville winning in the final seconds, giving East the revenge card this time.
First, though, they both have to get through the opening round. Here’s a look at what to expect in the opening slate.
No. 4 Coatesville (9-1) vs. No. 13 Harry S. Truman (7-3)
Why Coatesville can win: The Red Raiders will have the clear advantage from a talent and depth standpoint. In week seven against Pennsbury, the Tigers struggled mightily against the Falcons’ spread offense, giving up 47 points. Sophomore quarterback Ricky Ortega is primed to have similar success against Truman, with his arm and legs. Ortega has rushed for 501 yards this season and hasn’t thrown an interception since week three. Truman has three shutouts this season, but in its first playoff trip ever, running back Aaron Young (1,219 yards, 21 touchdowns on the ground) and Dapree Bryant (758 yards and 12 TDs receiving) will be unlike anything the Tigers have seen in their division of the Suburban One League.
Why Truman can win: The Tigers’ best chance of winning has very much to do with what was addressed in the intro. If Coatesville is looking ahead, thinking about a rematch with Downingtown East, Truman’s style could somehow make this a game. The Tigers employ the wing-T offense and will try to pound the Red Raiders. Truman is 1-0 in Chester County this season, with a 35-12 victory at Avon Grove in week two.
No. 5 Downingtown East (9-1) vs. No. 12 Owen J. Roberts (8-2)
Why East can win: These two met in the first round of the 2010 playoffs and the formula hasn’t changed for the Cougars. They will be more physical than anyone the Wildcats have faced this season and that should mean another big week from East’s three-headed backfield. Garvey Jonassaint has taken over as the leading rusher with 940 yards and 12 TDs, while Brassir Stocker (897 yards, 10 TDs), Tim Aivado (835,11) and a punishing offensive line make the Cougars’ rushing attack relentless. East leads the Ches-Mont in rushing yards allowed per game, surrendering 101.4, and if the Wildcats can’t get a ground game going they won’t be in their comfort zone.
Why OJR can win: As stated with Coatesville, East will make it a lot harder on itself if it’s not focused on the Wildcats this week. East’s past four playoff openers have been decided by a total of 25 points. The Cougars are 3-1 in those tight games, but for whatever reason, they have a trend of finding themselves in closer-than-expected games as the home favorites. OJR has only given up 99 points this season, boasting three shutouts, and keeping things low scoring would only add pressure to the Cougars. The Wildcats have wins over Great Valley (20-8) and West Chester Henderson (26-14) this season.
No. 3 Unionville (9-1) vs. No. 14 Glen Mills (3-6)
Why Unionville can win: For starters, the Battling Bulls are one of four 5A teams with a losing record in the bracket. They’ve given up 30 more points than they’ve scored, while Unionville is plus-159 on the season. Unionville has its best contingent of skill players in awhile and it starts with Joe Zubillaga. The senior has rushed for 664 yards, received 425 more, tallied 17 TDs and is also 2-for-3 passing for 56 yards and 2 TDs. Dante Graham (563 rush yards, six TDs) and Jack Adams (358, four) are apt complements in the backfield and JT Hower (553 receiving yards, nine offensive TDs) has established himself as a big play weapon. Quarterback Alex Gorgone (1,296 yards, 17 TDs) has had a strong year, and when he doesn’t turn the ball over the Indians’ offense can really hum.
Why Glen Mills can win: The Bulls are coming off a double-overtime win against Chichester in the season finale, which clinched their trip to the postseason. They may have some mojo and are playing with zero pressure on them. Running back Quadir Gibson spearheads a Bulls’ running game that will have to be effective to keep Unionville’s offense off the field. In Unionville’s toughest games — a 23-30 win over Academy Park, a 14-6 win over Avon Grove and a 45-21 loss to Downingtown East — the Indians are minus-five in the turnover margin.
No. 6 Bishop Shanahan (7-3) vs. No. 11 Strath Haven (5-5)
Why Shanahan can win: The Eagles have gotten a boost from Dan Smyth since he transitioned to starting quarterback. In four games there, Smyth is 40-59 for 646 yards with seven TDs and only one interception. This has allowed former QB Dan DiBeneditto to line up all over and he has 316 yards of offense and five TDs the last four weeks. Shanahan spreads it around and has scored over 40 points four times this season. Strath Haven has given up 33.6 points per game in its five losses, so if the Eagles can get out and running, the Panthers and their wing-T offense hasn’t be able to keep pace in those sorts of games.
Why Strath Haven can win: The Panthers rely on bruising fullback Zack Hussein, who is a 1,000 yard rusher. In the wing-T, Hussein is a quick-hitting, downhill, physical runner, and Strath Haven will look to control the clock and tempo of the game. Forty-six percent of the rushing yards allowed by Shanahan came in its three losses, so if Strath Haven can have success on the ground, the Eagles will be in for a fight. Strath Haven coach Kevin Clancy is going for his 300th career victory in this game.
No. 8 Great Valley (6-4) vs. No. 9 West Chester Rustin (6-4)
Why Great Valley can win: For starters, the Patriots just beat the Golden Knights two weeks ago, 31-28. Doing it a second time, especially that close together, will be a challenging feat, of course. What gives Great Valley a significant chance is its ability to throw the football. Junior Jake Prevost took over at QB in week three and has excelled with a 13-2 touchdown-interception ration. He had his best game against the Knights, going 25-30 for 247 yards and three scores. Rustin has been susceptible to the pass, giving up 171.6 yards through the air per game. The Knights’ defense also uncharacteristically allowed 34.5 points the last five games. Great Valley needs to improve on the 63 rush yards it gained in their first matchup, but expect the Pats to try to get the game moving fast.
Why Rustin can win: As previously stated, the Golden Knights have revenge on their side and that is a very real motivation. The Knights ran for 286 yards two weeks ago and will apply the same strategy with Ty Pringle becoming a force since his return in week five. Since then, Pringle has 790 yards of total offense and 12 TDs. Nick Benoit is the change-of-pace back on the edge and he’s second in the American Division with 811 rush yards. Rustin was minus-two in turnovers against the Pats in round one, so the Knights have to fix that and get better at forcing punts. It’s not the traditional way around Rustin, but for a spot in the second round, the Knights may have to settle for outscoring Great Valley the way they did against Kennett last week, 50-35.
No. 10 Oxford (6-4) at No. 7 Marple Newtown (6-4)
Why Oxford can win: Strategy aside, if you like quarterbacks and passing games, this game is for you as it features two of the most prolific throwers in the district this fall. Oxford’s QB Chandler England leads Chester County with 2,081 yards and receiver Brandon DeShields is tops with 53 receptions and 1,013 yards. The Hornets have scored on everyone except Unionville, putting up over 40 points on average against the other nine opponents. Brandon Holz has found his stride the second half of the season and is the American Division’s top rusher with 889 yards. In an expected shootout, the Hornets have the weapons to keep up if their defense can just get some stops.
Why Marple can win: The other half of the QB battle is Delaware County’s career leader in passing yards, Anthony Paoletti. He’s in the midst of his second straight 2,000-yard season and this will be his fifth playoff game. His favorite target is Dash Dulgerian, who will line up in the backfield and catch swing passes, or find a seam and stretch defenses. Marlon Weathers is a speedy running back who just cracked the 1,000-yard mark last week with a huge game against Strath Haven. Oxford is not strong defensively, giving up over 30 points and 300 yards per game. The Hornets are also minus-six in the turnover ratio. Experience will be huge for the Tigers, who will be favorites to face Upper Moreland for the third year in a row, in round two.
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