Coughlin and Dallas started the season with the same goal – the District 2 Class 3A playoffs – but took entirely different paths.
Coughlin's journey began with three consecutive victories; Dallas' with three straight losses. Since then, the teams have traded courses, but remain in the D2-3A hunt.
Whether they continue on the correct road will be determined today. Coughlin (5-3) hosts Berwick (7-1) at 7 p.m. at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium. Meanwhile, Dallas (5-3) plays at the same time at Tunkhannock (2-6), a team coming off its best offensive performance of the season.
Four teams make the D2-3A playoffs. Dallas (690 state pts.) is in fifth in the standings while Coughlin (640) is sixth. There's also a linchpin game up north for both as Valley View (5-3, 710), currently in the fourth and final Class 3A playoff spot, hosts West Scranton (4-4, 470).
Dallas could finish as the D2-3A top seed and Coughlin as high as second, but those aspirations are unrealistic. Catching Valley View or third-place Crestwood (6-2, 760) is a more reasonable possibility.
Since winning three to start the season, Coughlin has lost three of five games including a 12-6 loss to Wyoming Valley West and a 38-36 loss to Pittston Area. The latter along with a 45-35 victory over Pocono Mountain East last Saturday concern coach Ciro Cinti. His team opened the season with consecutive shutouts and allowed just 65 points through its first six games.
The 73 points are the most Coughlin has allowed in consecutive games in a season since 2004 when it surrendered 96 in its last two games that year.
I'm very concerned, said Cinti, whose teams during his seven years as coach have been known for their strong defensive play. Berwick scored 50 points on a couple teams this year. And with a lot of our own turnovers, I'm not happy about that.
Coughlin has turned over the ball 15 times this season, with nine coming in the three losses. Two of the nine resulted in defensive touchdowns for the opponent.
Now comes Berwick, a team that has recorded 18 turnovers including five interceptions by senior defensive back Jake Pecorelli. Although the defense hasn't been up to the standard coach George Curry established in the 1990s, it's still a complex puzzle to decipher. So is the Dawgs' offense.
It's a mental preparation week, Cinti said. They use so many different fronts, so many different formations. It's just a matter of breaking down their different packages and what they do out of their different packages. This week is really a study week to get a handle on what they like to do.
Coughlin has a pretty direct route to the D2-3A playoffs as it plays two teams it's chasing – Berwick and Crestwood – to finish the regular season. Dallas took a detour to start the year, but has won five in a row and finishes off the regular season with rival Lake-Lehman.
The Mountaineers have been excelling on both sides of the ball in the last five games. They've scored 31 or more points in four of those games while allowing a total of 29 points. A big reason is the improved play of the line that includes veterans Logan Bullock, Ryan Monk and Buddy Shutlock. Dallas has also moved big wideout Jason Simonovich to tight end at times to improve the run blocking.
Dallas enters tonight's game off a huge win – a 35-12 victory over Crestwood where the Mountaineers dominated. Simonovich had three sacks in the game and Shutlock added another.
When we came in, we said they are just another step in the journey, Dallas first-year coach Bob Zaruta said. We've got our sights set on postseason play. I give all the credit to our players who lived up the challenge like they did the past four weeks.
We're excited. Right now, we're playing pretty good football and we expect to get better each week.
Tunkhannock hasn't played well against better teams this season except for a 27-20 loss to Crestwood. The Tigers, though, run a Wing-T offense that uses deception and misdirection instead of brute power. They are also coming into the game off their best performance of the season in a 35-14 victory over Williamsport.
Week 9 Schedule
Berwick at Coughlin
Crestwood at Williamsport
Dallas at Tunkhannock
Hazleton Area at East Stroudsburg South
Lake-Lehman at Hanover Area
Northwest at Wyoming Area
Pittston Area at Wyoming Valley West
Meyers at Holy Redeemer, 1 p.m.
Nanticoke at GAR, 7 p.m.