It seems fitting that the game anticipated the most for the last month would in the last of the season. The last in the Wyoming Valley Conference. The last in District 2. And the last to decide the final playoff spot in the District 2 Class 3A playoffs.
If Crestwood (8-1) and Coughlin (7-2) had their way, the game would have been played sooner. But they’ll have to wait until 7 p.m. Saturday at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium to play … well after the 35 other teams in District 2 have completed their regular seasons.
“They’ve been hearing the talk here the last couple of weeks,” Crestwood coach Greg Myers said. “We’ve been trying to keep them focused on one game at a time. I think they’re happy to finally get to this game. It means a lot to the players on both teams, it means a lot to high school football in this area to have a big game like this coming down to Week 10 for that fourth and final district playoff spot.”
Teams qualify for the district playoffs based on state points accumulated during the season . Berwick (9-0, 1,320 pts.) and Scranton Prep (9-0, 1,270) are in. That leaves Abington Heights (8-1, 1,050), Crestwood (8-1, 1,040) and Coughlin (7-2, 930) vying for the final two berths.
The math is simple for Coughlin. The Crusaders must win to qualify. The math could be simple for Crestwood as well. If Abington Heights defeats Scranton tonight, then the Comets must win.
But if Abington Heights stumbles, Crestwood could get in with a loss Saturday provided four of the following teams win tonight — Hazleton Area, North Pocono, Pocono Mountain West, Tunkhannock and Wallenpaupack — and West Scranton loses to Prep on Saturday afternoon. Or if Abington Heights loses and all five of those aforementioned teams playing tonight win.
An Abington Heights loss is a possibility. Scranton (7-2) is playoff-bound and playing very well. Expecting more than two of those five teams to win … well, let’s just say the odds are slightly better than hitting the Powerball jackpot. Tunkhannock (1-8) plays at Carbondale (8-1), and Hazleton Area (3-6) hosts Berwick (9-0). Plus, North Pocono has just one victory this season, that coming against a very weak Riverside team.
So it should be a winner-take-all situation Saturday night.
“There’s the anticipation,” Coughlin coach Ciro Cinti said, “but there are goals you set in the beginning of the year and you have the opportunity to achieve one of those goals, making the districts.”
Both teams reached their collision course with powerful running games. After last Friday’s games, though, it looks as if both teams could be missing big parts of their offense.
Coughlin running back Paul Cole, who leads WVC Division 3A in rushing with 1,318 yards, injured his shoulder in the second half of a 39-7 loss to Berwick. Crestwood running back Frank Aigeldinger, who is just behind Cole with 1,185 yards, hurt his foot in the first quarter of the 35-0 victory over Williamsport.
Cinti was very optimistic that Cole will be just fine. So will receiver/defensive back Darik Johnson, who left the Berwick game in the second half with an apparent leg injury. Cinti said Johnson suffered a bad cramp in his thigh, which made the injury look worse than it actually was.
“(Cole) got banged up late in the game,” Cinti said, “but he’s seen the doctor and he’s OK to play. … It killed him not to finish the game on Friday. But he’s working hard and he’ll be playing in the game on Saturday.”
A bit later, Cinti made an inquiry.
“You going to ask Greg Myers about Aigeldinger?”
Of course, and Myers’ assessment of Aigeldinger’s injury wasn’t as rosy.
“We’re just going to have to wait and see how he handles things,” Myers said. “But he’s certainly going to give it a try.”
Myers has said all season he has six players capable of carrying the ball. Running back Matt Bobeck proved it against Williamsport with a career-high 160 yards. Bobeck (315 yds.), running back Tanner Kahlau (592) and quarterback Jay Popson (553) all ranked among the top-11 rushers in Division 3A.
Coughlin has one in that bunch as well — quarterback Tim Pilch, whose 672 rushing yards are second most among WVC quarterbacks. So the Crestwood defensive front will be tested, especially outside linebackers Brandon Cole and Mike Legg. Coughlin likes to use Cole’s tackle-breaking ability between the tackles. And if the outside linebackers sag in too much, Pilch can burn the Comets on the edge.
Crestwood’s offense presents a challenge as well. The Comets use a version of the single wing, the offense first made famous by Notre Dame coaching legend Knute Rockne. Popson calls the signals, but doesn’t necessarily take the snap. Sometimes it’s a ball carrier running behind a stampede of blockers. Other times, it’s a misdirection run away from the flow of the rest of the team.
Coughlin has the defenders to match up with the Crestwood attack. Defensive lineman and Division I recruit Anthony Khalife leads the team with 81 tackles. Inside linebacker Chris Sebia tops the Crusaders with nine tackles-for-loss. And defensive tackle Pat Pilch is a big guy inside with a team-leading eight sacks.