Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Hard Bargain

This column originally ran in the Nov. 9 edition of The Mercury

Funny how no one (including Jim Mora) wants to talk about you-know-what until the you-know-what arrives. Well, the playoffs are here … finally.

And for the first time since District 1 surrendered to the idea of playoffs and got most (not everyone initially) to sign up, get on board and share the excitement of postseason play back in 1992, the Pioneer Athletic Conference will have four teams lining up for the opening rounds. Throw in Daniel Boone making what has become its customary appearance in the District 3 playoffs, and you have an area-record five teams participating in the postseason.

And even though the Lawrenceville-Hill School spectacle isn’t exactly a playoff game, it is one of the longest-running and most-heated prep school rivalries in the entire country … and Saturday afternoon they’ll be playing for a Mid-Atlantic Prep League championship on top of all that.

Think there’s a little bit going on this weekend?

First thing is first — District 1.

Boyertown is traveling to Henderson High School on Friday night to take on Bayard Rustin and make its first trek into the postseason in four years. Owen J. Roberts is making its third straight appearance in the postseason – and first in AAAA – with a trip to Downingtown East. In AAA, Pottsgrove opens up defense of its AAA title with a home game against Academy Park, and Upper Perkiomen – at least for some of its coaches and all of its longtime fans – takes that long and dreaded drive to Strath Haven.

If you noticed, Boyertown and Owen J. Roberts are lining up against a pair of Ches-Mont League teams. Some say that isn’t good. Surely not the (good) luck of the draw. Heck, one Southeastern Pennsylvania writer even said “the Ches-Mont will take a PAC-10 team anytime” in the playoffs during a radio talk show last weekend.

Oh yeah, he said it … and despite not getting into any details, he could back it up.

The PAC-10 hasn’t fared well against the larger schools in the Ches-Mont since the controversial (and emotional) break-up back in 1986. And not faring well covers the regular season as well as the postseason, although there were only two playoff games between the two leagues – Boyertown getting dumped by Downingtown West, 35-6, back in 2006, and Owen J. Roberts outlasting Great Valley, 30-29 in two overtimes, in an AAA confrontation two years ago.

The fact there’s only been that one AAAA playoff game doesn’t really provide much substance in any argument for the Ches-Mont being the mighty alignment. But the fact Ches-Mont teams repeatedly compete for and win a lot of postseason games – and have won three AAAA district titles (none since 1996) – is something no one in the PAC-10 can talk about.

Will that change or not this weekend is anybody’s guess. Both Rustin and Downingtown East, whether you want to believe it or not, will be the heavy favorites – Rustin because of a great coach in Mike St. Clair and its reputation (which was tainted just a wee bit with its fans’ behavior after last year’s District 1-AAA semifinal setback at Pottsgrove), and Downingtown East because of its strength of schedule, a great coach in Mike Matta and, of course, a lot of individual talent.

Whether Boyertown and OJR are intimidated by all that – or motivated even more by it – is yet to be seen.

And it’s the same for Pottsgrove and Upper Perkiomen.

The Falcons gave the PAC-10 its first Class AAA title a year ago, but a lot of critics came out of the woodwork the following week and downplayed the achievement when they were beaten in the first round of states, 30-28, by Archbishop Wood. This was supposed to be Pottsgrove’s shining season, but it lost some of its razzle-dazzle in Week Three when four-year starter and Pitt-bound Terrell Chestnut went down during a 34-28 loss to Boyertown back and even more splash-and-flash four weeks ago when OJR put a 49-20 thumping on them.

Chestnut and the Falcons have gotten a little healthier since that forgettable Friday in Bucktown, winning three in a row and outscoring the opposition by a 160-34 spread. Next up is Academy Park, which Pottsgrove defeated 14-7 in its very first postseason game back in 2000, but a team much, much better than its 6-4 record may indicate. And a team that head coach Rick Pennypacker already said “scares the heck out of us.”

But no one faces a more imposing challenge than Upper Perkiomen with that long ride to that darkened dungeon of football at Strath Haven. The Indians, who incidentally have been to the postseason four times now since 2004 and six times since its initial appearance in 1996, haven’t had much luck when it comes to playoffs – even less against Strath Haven.

For those who don’t remember, the Strath Haven program already owns nine District 1-AAA titles – including eight in a row from 1996 through 2003 – and a pair of state championships. The Panthers are also 10-0 overall against six different teams from the PAC-10 – Lansdale Catholic (1-0), Perkiomen Valley (2-0), Phoenixville (1-0), Pottsgrove (3-0), Pottstown (1-0) and Upper Perkiomen (2-0) – and hardly a one was even close.

In other words, tall tasks await all four of the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoff teams this weekend.

Up in District 3-AAAA, Daniel Boone – which equaled its program’s best regular-season mark of 9-1 by erasing Exeter last week – gets to host Cedar Cliff (7-3). The Blazers haven’t looked at all like the dominating team they were the first half of the season, but they have showed considerable grit in pulling out a couple of wins since that humbling 42-0 loss to Governor Mifflin three weeks ago. The visiting Colts haven’t exactly been overwhelming in their last three games, either, struggling to get by Lower Dauphin (1-9) and Chambersburg (2-8) and outlasting Mechanicsburg (1-9) in double-overtime last weekend.

* * *

Three provisional games scheduled at the outset of the season for this weekend – Norristown at Phoenixville, Pottstown at William Tennent, and Spring-Ford at Upper Darby – will be played Friday night.

And, don’t forget, Perkiomen Valley visits Methacton on Saturday afternoon in both teams’ PAC-10 and season finales. The Vikings (4-4, 4-6) need a win to finish above the .500 mark in the league, while the Warriors (3-5, 4-6) are looking to end a two-year skid against their guests and regain the upper hand they long had in the series.

* * *

Two of the area’s best players a year ago – Pottsgrove’s Preston Hamlette and St. Pius X’s Josh Rogers – capped their seasons with big games in Valley Forge Military Academy’s 38-19 rout of Fork Union (Va.) last weekend.

Hamlette had 16 tackles and forced a fumble, while Rogers had four sacks among his eight tackles and forced a fumble for VFMA, which finished up 8-0.



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