By John Lohn, Delaware County Times
November 03, 2006
Entering tonight’s action, seven teams from Delaware County possess playoff aspirations. At the Class AAAA level, Ridley and Upper Darby are locked into the 16-team bracket while Interboro is almost assured of entry.
In Class AAA, the puzzle isn’t as clear cut. With six squads receiving invitations, it appears that Garnet Valley and Sun Valley, regardless of the outcome of their matchup tonight at Dr. Wally Field, will both qualify. Meanwhile, Marple Newtown and Strath Haven are also in the mix.
Although Marple owns a 24-0 win over Strath Haven, the Tigers need a triumph over Conestoga or a loss by the Panthers to advance to the playoffs for the first time in school history. If Marple falls to Conestoga, Haven can get the chance to defend its District One title with a verdict over Penncrest.
“All year long, the goal has been to be in this situation,” said Marple coach Ray Gionta. “We wanted to be involved in a game with playoff implications. We know that if we win, we’re going to get in. We’re happy with this situation. We couldn’t ask for more.”
When the PIAA went to a playoff format in 1988, the postseason featured limited fields. But as the years have passed, the brackets have expanded. This season marks the first campaign in which the District One Class AAAA Tournament consists of 16 teams. Meanwhile, Class AAA has also experienced a bump in size.
Unquestionably, expansion has changed the landscape of high school football. While one loss was highly damaging to a team’s hopes a decade ago, programs now have more breathing room. This year’s Class AAAA bracket is sure to include a handful of three-loss squads. At least one four-loss team will qualify.
Some critics might view the 16-team field as watered down, an argument that holds strength. At the same time, the expanded field has added intrigue to the final week of the regular season.
This weekend, due to a bye, Upper Darby coach Rich Gentile will send his assistant coaches to various fields in District One to scout potential opponents. Meanwhile, Interboro will try to strengthen its positioning with a win over Chichester that could – with some luck – land the Bucs a home game in the first round.
Really, Ridley is the team with the least mystery. Undefeated through nine games, the Green Raiders have won the Central League title and are guaranteed a home game, probably as a third or fourth seed. The only question for John Waller’s club, which will play Springfield tonight, is the identity of its opponent.
“My thoughts are not on the playoffs,” Waller said. “We have a tremendous rivalry with Springfield and want to be prepared for that game. But it is quite a relief to know that we’ll be in. The kids want the opportunity.”