SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 17, 2013

With two weeks left, football playoffs coming into focus (with video podcast)

By Matt Williams
Staff writer

---- — The proponents of the statewide high school football playoff system that takes off in just two weeks believed their tournament would extend the season for many teams. In other words, early losses would not be doom in terms of winning the state title.

So far, it looks like they were right. Think about Danvers’ opening night loss to Marblehead, or the Magicians’ own stunner at Beverly last weekend. For that matter, consider the Panthers’ upset losses to Danvers and Gloucester.

Some years, those defeats would mark the end of a championship run in a very early part of the season. This year, all three teams are very much in the postseason mix.

With two weekends of football before the seedings come out for this inaugural football playoff bonanza, let’s take a look at where each local team stands. Remember, every team has been placed in a division, with a certain number of those teams qualifying for the tournament. The top two teams in each league (provided the league has at least five 5 teams) get a spot, and the rest of the bracket is filled in by wild card teams.

Wild cards are determined using power rating, which combines a team’s wins (8 points for beating a lower tiered team, 10 for division wins, 12 for beating a higher tiered team) and the wins of their opponents (3 points for a win a team you’ve beaten has, plus one point for every win a team you lose to has). If a tournament has too many auto-qualifiers (i.e., there are 9 in an 8-team region), the ties are broken with the power rating.

What do the teams around here need to do to get in, and what does the possible road to Gillette Stadium for a Super Bowl look like if they do?

DIVISION 1 NORTH

St. John’s Prep: The Eagles are 4-2 with a game against B.C. High tomorrow and a bye week scheduled before the playoffs. A win over B.C. High would put them in the playoffs; the Eagles also look to be in good shape even with a loss. It’s more about seeding at this point; an SJP win this weekend, coupled with losses by Acton-Boxboro and/or Central Catholic, could help St. John’s snare the No. 2 seed in this eight-team bracket; Everett is likely to win out and earn the No. 1 seed.

Grabbing the second spot would help St. John’s, because playing on a Saturday afternoon at Cronin Stadium for a potential semifinal feels much more palatable than another trip to Lawrence to face Central. Avoiding the Crimson Tide for as long as possible by staying away from the No. 4 spot always seems like good news, too. Of St. John’s seven opponents it appears at least five will make the playoffs, so you know the Eagles will be battle tested.

Peabody: The Tanners, coming off an 0-10 season, in the playoffs? It could happen.

If they win their next two games and finish the regular season 4-3, they’ll be on the bubble. The Tanners are hampered because each of their wins will be worth just eight points, as they are the only Division 1 team in the Northeastern Conference. Peabody’s power rating also suffers because at the moment, three of their opponents (Salem, Revere and Somerville) have combined for just two wins.

Besides winning their own games, Peabody is rooting for strong finishes from their opponents to up that power rating. They’ll hope that Lowell doesn’t top Chelmsford for the second auto-bid out of the Merrimack Valley Conference Large, and will be rooting for a Malden loss; if the Golden Tornadoes finish second in the Greater Boston League, that’s one less wild card spot. There’s also a chance that a Winthrop win over Lynn Classical could create a tie for the second spot in the NEC South; if Peabody were to win that tie, they’d likely get in.

It’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for situation for Peabody, because snaring the No. 8 seed would mean a date with powerhouse Everett. If they somehow get to No. 7, that would be even better. Still, the possibility of a playoff appearance and a winning record in Year 1 under coach Mark Bettencourt is within reach if the Tanners win their next two at Revere and at home vs. Salem.

DIVISION 3 NORTHEAST

Beverly: With eight of 11 in the bracket getting postseason invites, it’s good news for Beverly. Revere and Dracut are winless and Somerville and Salem have just one win each, so you can book the 2-3 Panthers for the playoffs. Courtesy of last week’s win over Marblehead, Beverly is now in the hunt for a home game.

A win over upper-division Lynn English (worth 12 points) would probably catapult the Black-and-Orange into the top four should they beat 1-4 Swampscott the following week. They’re also still in the hunt for the NEC North championship as four teams (Beverly, Marblehead, English and Gloucester) currently have one league loss.

The Panthers’ games against fellow Division 3 Northeast dwellers Danvers, Marblehead and Gloucester all came down to the final possession, so finishing strong and securing home field could be important for the group.

Danvers: A win over Salem this week would guarantee Danvers a playoff spot as it would sew up a share of the NEC South championship. In reality, they’re in even without the NEC South title, but the prospect of hanging a league championship banner in the gym for the first time since 2005 has to make the Falcons happy.

Two more wins would put Danvers in position to earn the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, and that means the Falcons would earn at least one home game. A potential rematch with Marblehead looms in the semifinals if the Magicians wind up No. 2. Losses would send Danvers on the the road, but there’s no way they fall out of the top eight.

Marblehead: At 5-1, the Magicians are smarting from last week’s loss to Beverly, but all is certainly not lost. A win over Lynn English on Oct. 25 would cement them as the No. 2 seed (possibly No. 1 in the unlikely event top seeded Tewskbury loses). With a second loss, there’s a chance they’d go on the road, but Marblehead will absolutely be in the bracket.

Masconomet: The Chieftains may have given up the Cape Ann League Large title with a loss against Pentucket last week, but at 3-2 they are a virtual lock for the playoffs. Masco faces two tough games against Division 4 contenders Newburyport and Triton, but even if they finish 3-4 they’ll remain in the top eight. Finishing 5-2 may not get Masco into the top four because those wins would only be worth eight points.

Salem: The Witches’ win over fellow Division 3 Northeast club Revere last weekend appeared to have them in great shape to earn the eighth and final playoff berth. Then Somerville beat Durfee, and Salem found itself back on the outside of the bubble.

The Highlanders have a higher power rating than Salem because the Durfee win is worth 12 points while the win over Revere was worth 10 for Salem. Thus, the Witches will likely need to win another game to punch a ticket to the playoffs for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 1999.

The good news for Salem is that a possible win over Peabody in two weeks would be worth 12 points and would almost certainly get Salem in the tournament. Upsetting Division 3 Northeast contender Danvers this week would deliver both confidence and a likely postseason berth.

Others: Since Division 3 Northeast has the most local teams, let’s look at the other clubs. It appears Tewskbury will earn the top seed and Wilmington will make it. The other six teams should all be from the North Shore, with Gloucester also looking like a lock.

DIVISION 4 NORTH

Swampscott: Though an uncharacteristic 1-4, the Big Blue may be able to control their own destiny by grabbing wins over Gloucester and Beverly the next two weeks. In doing so, they’d be handing those teams their second league loss and putting themselves in position to finish second in the NEC North and snag a possible automatic qualifier. Those wins would also each be worth 12 points since they’d come against upper division foes.

Division 4 North has 16 teams with eight qualifying, so it’ll be one of the more difficult brackets to crack statewide. The Big Blue know one more loss would almost surely put them in the consolation bracket; they are alive, however, if they take care of their own business on the field.

Hamilton-Wenham: Wins the next two weeks over Lynnfield and Georgetown would probably be enough to get the Generals (2-3) in the field. The bad news is that unbeaten Lynnfield is one of the better teams in Division 4 statewide, so H-W will have to earn their berth the hard way.

The CAL Small standings are fairly tight, with Amesbury and H-W each having one league loss behind the Pioneers. If the Indians stumble and the Generals wind up second in the league, that might be their clearest path to a postseason berth. Amesbury did beat H-W, however, in a game that could loom large in potential CAL tiebreakers.

Ipswich: The Tigers (1-4) have a steep hill to climb in that they’ll need to defeat Manchester Essex tomorrow night and follow that up with a victory over powerhouse Lynnfield next weekend to give themselves a chance. It looks like Ipswich will be destined for the consolation bracket, which won’t be a bad thing because it may give them an opportunity to play close games against teams like CAL-newcomer Saugus.

Others: Pentucket (4-0) has emerged as a favorite along with Lynnfield. Those two, Watertown and Bedford look like good bets to make it, while the rest of the bracket may come down to whoever finishes second in the CAL Large and Small divisions. Newburyport, Triton, Amesbury, North Reading and H-W are all vying for spots; Winthrop (3-2) would likely get in with one more win.

Division 5 North

Bishop Fenwick: The Crusaders are one win away from a Catholic Central League title, and if they defeat St. Mary’s and Archbishop Williams to end the regular seaosn 7-0 they will be the No. 1 seed. Northeast Regional and Brighton are also undefeated, but the Crusaders have more wins over teams in higher divisions and a better power rating.

Even with two weeks to go, it’s safe to say that the road to the Division 5 North title runs through Margin Street and the Black-and-Gold.

DIVISION 6 NORTH

North Shore Tech: The Bulldogs find themselves in the biggest field in the North with 19 teams, but they have an opportunity to earn an auto-bid Saturady afternoon by wrapping up the Commonwealth Small title with a home win over Minuteman.There are a number of tough places to play in the bracket, including Chelsea, Latin Academy and Cathedral, so it would behoove North Shore to win this weekend, and next against Mystic Valley, to try to climb their way into the top four and earn a home game.