A fall full of fun
By Ryan S. Pugh
CLARION NEWS Sports Editor
It's been a while since I have talked baseball in this column (I guess the Pirates' slog toward 100 losses put me off the Grand Old Game through the dog days of summer) but since the playoffs got started this week, let's talk a little horsehide before we get to the pigskin.
This year was a little different in that the Wildcard round had the two teams with the highest payrolls; the Dodgers and the Yankees.
As this issue went to press, the Yankees lost in their one-game Wildcard round playoff to the Red Sox. The Dodgers were scheduled to play the Cardinals in the National League Wildcard game the night this issue went to press. My heart would grow three sizes if Los Angeles was somehow eliminated in a one-and-done playoff. The Dodgers just went out and started spending money hand over fist and it still wasn't enough to get Los Angeles past the Giants in the National League West standings (I'm also hoping the Dodgers lose as a punishment for introducing those hideous all-blue alternate uniforms. It looks like the team is wearing pajamas when they wear the all blue outfits. I mean the Dodgers have one of the most iconic uniforms in all of sports, why ruin it?)
It has long been my contention that if big market teams like the Yankees and the Dodgers are eliminated from the playoffs in a one-game, do-or-die scenario, the Wildcard round will be altered. I think if both the Yankees and the Dodgers lose, the one-game Wildcard playoff will be replaced by a three-game wildcard round. The one-game Wildcard is nice for towns like Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Cincinnati, etc. because it's cute when these teams make the playoffs.
The fans of teams in New York and Los Angeles are not going to take the disappointment of seeing their season be shuttered in one game. It would be especially devastating for the Dodgers because they won 106 games.
Don't be surprised if the one-game playoff gets replaced by a best-of-three format after this year's playoffs.
As for who is going to win the title, I haven't the foggiest idea. I could see maybe the White Sox making a run in the American League whereas the Cardinals might have the moxie to make some noise in the National League, if St. Louis gets past the Dodgers. St. Louis won 16-straight to close out the month of September.
In the world of college football, Notre Dame went from College Football Playoff contender to a team which is going to need some help to make the playoff now after the Fighting Irish fell to visiting Cincinnati 24-13.
The problem for Notre Dame is there are no ranked teams left on the Fighting Irish schedule. For Notre Dame to make the playoff, the Golden Domers are going to need some help. The Fighting Irish should be rooting for chaos.
I think Alabama and Georgia definitively proved that the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs are the two best teams in college football and third place isn't that close. Alabama bludgeoned Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa while Georgia went between the hedges in Athens and rolled past Arkansas 37-0.
A team which may have gotten dismissed too early was Ohio State. I believe the Buckeyes have shaken off their early season malaise which saw them lose by a touchdown to visiting Oregon. The thing about Ohio State has going for it is the Buckeyes still have Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan on its regular season schedule and if Ohio State wins the rest of its regular season games it will likely be playing Iowa in the Big Ten championship and the Hawkeyes could have an unbeaten record when the title game rolls around. The point is; the Buckeyes have a lot of opportunities to impress the playoff committee.
The first year of the College Football Playoff in 2014, Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech in Week two of the season but the Buckeyes won the rest of their regular season games, bludgeoned Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten title game, received an invite to the playoff, beat Alabama by a touchdown and toppled Oregon 42-20 in the title contest. The same scenario could play out this year.
My four for the playoff right now are Alabama and Georgia in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots with the winner of the Penn State/Iowa game this weekend coming in at third while Ohio State moves into No. 4.
Just missing the playoff field are Oklahoma and Cincinnati. Oklahoma can help its cause if the Sooners beat Texas in the Red River Shootout (yeah, I know the name of the game was officially changed to the Red River Rivalry years ago because the word shootout condoned gun violence. Sorry, I don't think calling a game a shootout is going to spark a wave of gun violence but maybe I'm nave.)
Cincinnati, on the other hand, needs help. Actually, the Bearcats need chaos. Cincinnati needs a lot of those teams I mentioned earlier to lose once or twice before the end of the regular season to give Cincinnati. The Bearcats are not in a Power 5 conference so they don't have the conference resume the Big Ten and SEC schools have.
I think the only way Cincinnati makes the playoff if there are only three Power 5 schools left with one loss or better. I don't think an undefeated Cincinnati will have the resume to overtake a one-loss Penn State or a one-loss Oklahoma for one of the four playoff spots. It's not fair but that's the system that is in place for now.
In the world of District 9 football, I had a pretty good week of predictions going 9-1 boosting my overall record to 46-12.
District 9 Small School South
Union/A-C Valley (4-1 overall, 1-1 District 9 Small School South) at Keystone (5-0, 3-0), Thursday
This showdown between the Falcon Knights and the Panthers has the potential to be a game of the year.
You will be especially tickled by this contest if you are a fan of defense because both teams are solid on that side of the ball.
Since an opening week loss to Brockway where Union/A-C Valley surrendered 28 points, the Falcon Knights have rattled off four-straight wins with three shutouts in the span.
Keystone has allowed just 32 points in its last three games.
Two years ago, Keystone's Nick Weaver ran all over Union/A-C Valley but last year a pick six gave the Falcon Knights the win over the Panthers. In the rubber match, I see a strong Union/A-C Valley ground game giving the Panthers some troubles.
Union/A-C Valley 21, Keystone 20 (OT)
Redbank Valley (4-1, 2-1) at Bucktail (0-5, 0-2)
It has not been a pleasant introduction to the District 9 Small School League for Bucktail as the Bucks have went winless through their first five games.
It won't get any easier for Bucktail this week as the Bucks host a Redbank Valley team that might have found some offensive balance last week in the Bulldogs' win over then undefeated Smethport. Redbank Valley got its running game going in last week's 27-6 win over the Hubbers.
Moreover, the Bulldogs defense has played lights out all year allowing just a total of 18 points (Redbank Valley allowed 22 points to Keystone in Week one but all of the Panthers points came off of two interception returns for touchdown and a kickoff return for a TD).
I have a feeling Redbank Valley can just name a score here.
Redbank Valley 60, Bucktail 0
Elk County Catholic (2-3, 1-2) at Brockway (2-4, 1-2)
After a strong start, things have gotten rough for Elk County Catholic. The injury bug decimated the Crusaders' lineup.
Brockway snapped a four-game losing streak with a 26-8 win over Otto-Eldred last week. Recency bias says to me the Rovers will make it two-in-a-row this week.
Brockway 33, Elk County Catholic 12
District 9 Small School North
Smethport (5-1 overall, 3-0 District 9 Small School North) at Cameron County (4-1, 2-1)
Cameron County has been the biggest surprise in the 2021 season staking out to a 4-1 record but the road gets tougher from here on out as the Red Raiders face Smethport, Union/A-C Valley and Port Allegany in succession over the next three weeks. If Cameron County has any hopes of making the District 9 Class A playoffs, the Red Raiders have to win at least two of those three games.
Unfortunately for Cameron County, they host a Smethport team coming off of its first loss and I feel the Hubbers will take out the frustrations of last week on Cameron County this week.
Smethport 45, Cameron County 13
Otto-Eldred (1-5, 1-2) at Coudersport (2-3, 1-2)
There is still an outside shot for Coudersport to make a run at a playoff berth. The Falcons need a win here against an Otto-Eldred team that is basically just finishing out the string.
Coudersport 21, Otto-Eldred 6
Sheffield (0-6, 0-3) at Port Allegany (2-3, 2-1)
Sheffield actually scored two touchdowns in its game last week which is progress. However, I don't think the confidence boost from the two scores will play a role in this week's clash with Port Allegany.
Port Allegany 44, Sheffield 6
District 9 Large School
Ridgway (5-1 overall, 5-1 District 9 Large School) at Central Clarion (1-4, 1-3)
Central Clarion played a solid game last week against Kane as the Wildcats picked up their first win.
The duo of quarterback Jase Ferguson and Christian Simko played a key role in the win as Simko hauled in two TD passes from Ferguson including a 72-yard fourth quarter connection which gave Central Clarion a two touchdown cushion.
It's going to be a challenge this week for the Wildcats as they host Ridgway which is tied for first place in the District 9 Large School standings with Karns City and St. Marys.
The Wildcats are starting to gel but I don't think they've gelled enough to beat the Elkers.
Ridgway 30, Central Clarion 21
Kane (3-3, 3-3) at Karns City (5-1, 4-1)
Karns City is coming off its first loss of the season which could be bad news for a Kane team who might be without its starting quarterback. The Wolves' signal-caller Harley Morris was knocked out of Kane's 34-26 setback to Central Clarion last week and it is not known if he will be back this week.
I feel Karns City's running game will give the Wolves fits.
Karns City 47, Kane 20
Moniteau (1-4, 1-4) at DuBois (3-3, 3-2)
DuBois has rebounded from a sluggish start to post three-straight wins. And the Beavers will make it four-straight wins Friday.
DuBois 35, Moniteau 14
Brookville (5-1, 5-1) at St. Marys (5-1, 5-1)
St. Marys elbowed its way to the top of the standings with a win over Karns City last Friday but it doesn't get any easier for the Flying Dutchmen as they host Brookville in a first place showdown.
They are calling for rain on Friday which might play a role in this game especially when it comes to the Brookville passing game.
I think St, Marys wins if the natural turf at Dutch Country Stadium gets soggy.
St. Marys 14, Brookville 13
Bradford (0-6, 0-6) at Punxsutawney (0-5, 0-5)
Punxsutawney has been close to breaking through for its first win a couple of times this year and I think this week the Chucks finally break through.
Punxsutawney 35, Bradford 21