, Newburyport, MA

October 4, 2013

New playoff system gives teams hope

Dan Guttenplan
Making the picks

---- — The early returns are favorable when it comes to the new playoff system in high school football.

While it seemed a little early last weekend for a game between Triton and Pentucket — typically Thanksgiving Day rivals — the outcome and aftermath supports the notion that this playoff system is better than the old one.

Pentucket came out on top with a 19-13 victory, giving the Sachems the early edge in the battle for a Cape Ann League Large title. In past years, Triton’s late September loss would have all but eliminated the Vikings (2-1) from postseason consideration, since they would have needed to win the league to advance into the playoffs.

This season, Triton still has every opportunity to earn a postseason berth on the heels of what looks like a promising season. Sure, a game between Pentucket and Masconomet next Friday will likely determine the CAL Large champion, but teams no longer have to win their league to earn postseason berths.

In fact, eight of 16 teams in Division 4 North will advance to the postseason, so the Vikings can likely assure themselves of a postseason berth by finishing 4-3 in their September and October games before the playoff seeds are determined.

At the end of the day, the new playoff system gives hope to a team like Triton that encountered an early-season setback, but believes it can play better late in the season. On the heels of a 1-10 season, the Vikings deserve to play more big games down the stretch.

On to the picks.

Tonight’s games

Pentucket at Newburyport, 7

Newburyport has won the last three meetings between the teams, although that shouldn’t factor in tonight’s game since none of the players taking the field tonight saw action in the 2010 game. History means very little in high school football. However, we can go back to last week in hopes of getting a feel for how these teams will play tonight. Newburyport played about as well as it could play in a 35-7 victory over North Reading. Nobody really saw that coming, considering the Hornets were 10-2 in their last 12 games.

On the other hand, Pentucket is still playing for a CAL Large title, with a big game against Masco looming next weekend. Will the Sachems overlook the Clippers? They better not, because this could be their stiffest test, with the exception of Masco, on the remainder of the regular-season schedule.

The pick: Pentucket 20, Newburyport 14

Hamilton-Wenham at Amesbury, 7

Hamilton-Wenham (1-2) posted a 28-14 victory over Ipswich last weekend, but these aren’t the same Generals from recent seasons. Amesbury is going to have to find a way to tackle better, otherwise it’s going to be a long season on the defensive side of the ball. The Indians are allowing 41 points per game through their first three. If they can hang around, they have enough weapons on offense to pull it out late.

The pick: Hamilton-Wenham 35, Amesbury 21

Triton at Saugus, 4

Saugus seems like it could be on the receiving end of Triton’s frustration after the 19-13 loss to Pentucket last weekend. Triton coach Pat Sheehan felt his team played below its potential in the loss, and he’s had six days to get that message across to his players. I expect a solid effort from the Vikings despite the long commute and the weird start time.

The pick: Triton 31, Saugus 10

Georgetown at Ipswich, 7

There’s a good chance whichever team loses this game finishes winless on the season. Ipswich has been more competitive against CAL opponents than Georgetown, so I’ll take the Tigers.

The pick: Ipswich 14, Georgetown 13

Tomorrow’s game

Governor’s Academy at St. Sebastian’s, 7

Govs coach Jim O’Leary said St. Sebastian’s (1-1) will be one of the team’s toughest opponents, but that’s what you would expect to hear from a coach who is trying to keep his team focused in the midst of a 20-game win streak. O’Leary said the same thing before each of the last two games, and his team has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 51-0. Let the shutout streak continue.

The pick: Govs 28, St. Sebastian’s 0

Last week’s record: 3-1

Overall record: 8-3