The PIAA’s decision to go from four to six classifications in football in 2016 made making the postseason so much easier.
Only eight of the 37 teams in the Wyoming Valley Conference and Lackawanna Conference failed to make the postseason a year ago. The Class 3A field had four of 14 teams make the District 2 playoffs in 2015. Basically the same group of teams formed 4A in 2016, and eight of 11 qualified.
So the idea is to be among the eight best in 4A … or not be among the three worst. That’s where several WVC games come into play Friday. Three are head-to-head matchups that could prove critical come late October.
In the geographic north end of the WVC, Pittston Area (1-1) visits Dallas (1-1). Both teams were 2-8 in 2016 and finished with the same amount of state points, the way playoff spots are determined. Dallas’ win over Pittston Area proved to be the tiebreaker for the final playoff spot.
At the other geographic end, Coughlin (0-2) is at Crestwood (2-0). Coughlin needs to start winning to make the postseason for an 11th consecutive year. Crestwood needs to keep winning. The Comets made districts last season with just three wins, but all the non-playoff teams look improved.
Plunked down in the middle of the WVC map will be Berwick (2-o) at Wyoming Area (1-1). Wyoming Area was the top seed in 2016, but was knocked off by the Dawgs in the semifinals.
Of those six, Coughlin appears to be in the worse shape. A line depleted by graduation has left the Crusaders unable to run the ball or stop the run on a consistent basis. The result has been a 54-7 loss to Dallas and a 42-0 blanking by Scranton Prep.
“To be simple, tackling and blocking. It’s very simple,” Coughlin coach Ciro Cinti said. “We didn’t tackle very well and we didn’t block very well. It’s not a hard thing to figure out. They’re young kids and they’re getting it, but we played two very good teams to start the season and we play another (in Crestwood) that’s undefeated.
“If we can build off the second half of (the Prep) game, it will be better for the rest of the season.”
Crestwood is already in a better situation than in 2016. After winning their opener, the Comets lost five in a row and barely made districts. A win is critical with tough road games against Berwick and non-conference foe Pottsville on the horizon.
Crestwood finished the 2014 regular season 10-0 and won the D2-3A championship. The team, though, was a combined 6-15 the past two seasons.
“It’s huge,” Crestwood coach Greg Myers said of the 2-0 start. “It’s huge to get back to doing what we did before after our two down years. It also says something that we’re healthier going into Week 3 than we have been the past two years. It’s special. These kids work hard, they prepare, they practice hard. I’m just happy for them to be 2-0 right now.”
The Comets’ second victory, 21-18, came at the expense of Wyoming Area. The Warriors host Berwick, which lost in the D2-4A title game in 2016, then have a rare Saturday night road game at Coughlin followed by a rare Saturday afternoon game at D2-3A power Scranton Prep.
Wyoming Area split with Berwick last season, winning 34-20 in Week 3 and losing 38-6 in the D2-4A semifinals.
“It’s always exciting to play Berwick whether we play at Crispin Field or at home,” Wyoming Area coach Randy Spencer said. “We’re going to do everything to compete and we’re certainly going to be excited to host them.”
Dallas opened with a very impressive 54-7 win over Coughlin, then lost 23-7 at Berwick. Pittston Area lost 34-15 to Crestwood, but had a solid effort in a 36-20 win against Tunkhannock.
The game appears more critical to Dallas since its remaining schedule looks tougher than Pittston Area’s.