Making the Picks Dan Guttenplan
Newburyport Daily News
---- — The merits of the new high school football playoff system have been debated throughout Massachusetts this week by athletic directors, coaches, players and media members.
It seems the general consensus is that most people like the new system, which will go into effect next fall.
The key changes: Teams will only schedule seven regular-season games next fall. After Week 7, teams that qualify for the playoffs will be power-seeded into six sectional playoff brackets into for regions. Teams that fall short of the playoffs will round out their schedules with other non-playoff opponents. Thanksgiving rivalries will be preserved.
On the surface, it seems like a positive change to me. Since the formation of the Cape Ann League/Northeastern Conference last season, the first six weeks of each season serve as extended preseason for all intents and purposes. A team can start 0-6 and still be on track to win a league title since the league games don’t begin until Week 7.
I applaud any change that gives every game greater significance. The only downside I worried about when the proposal was announced was that non-playoff teams might play meaningless games in Week 8, 9 and 10 before their respective Thanksgiving Day matchup. I worried that a team like Triton this season would miss the playoffs and be forced to round out its schedule with unfamiliar opponents, rather than CAL/NEC out-of-divison foes.
As it turns out, there is little chance a local non-playoff team will have to schedule season-ending games against completely unfamiliar foes. All six teams from the CAL/NEC Division 3 (Newburyport, Amesbury, Triton, Pentucket, Saugus, Winthrop) will move into Division 4 North. So even though Winthrop and Saugus will drop from the CAL/NEC, there is a good chance our local teams will continue rivalries with those teams in the future in some capacity.
The other 10 teams in Division 4 North will include Greater Lowell, Watertown, Weston, Swampscott, North Reading, Stoneham, Ipswich, Hamilton-Wenham, Lynnfield and St. Mary’s. While there are some unfamiliar schools in that bunch, in most cases, at least one local school has a standing rivalry in place.
For instance, Newburyport played Hamilton-Wenham in the playoffs last year. Hamilton-Wenham, Ipswich, North Reading and Lynnfield all have standing CAL rivalries with each of the local schools. Swampscott already plays Pentucket every year. St. Mary’s hosted Newburyport this season at the Manning Bowl.
As for Greater Lowell, Watertown, Weston and Stoneham, none of those schools has much of a standing rivalry with the local schools. Although, who’s to say a rivalry can’t form quickly? Winthrop and Saugus served as unfamiliar foes to local teams as recently as last season, but now multiple local coaches and athletic directors have discussed maintaining those rivalries in the future.
On to the picks.
Pentucket at Newburyport, 7
It’s hard to believe this is Newburyport’s first home game under the lights since its opener against Lynnfield Sept. 7. Last week, I wrote that I was anxious to see Newburyport quarterback Connor Wile work himself back into playing shape after missing the first six weeks due to a shoulder injury. He went on to complete 8 or 9 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown last week in a 35-15 victory over Triton. So ... that happened fast. The key will be the Newburyport defense, which has been the team’s strength all season. Pentucket running back Cody Rothwell has rushed for 403 yards and eight touchdowns in the last two weeks.
The pick: Newburyport 21, Pentucket 19
Triton at Winthrop, 7
Both teams are coming off lopsided losses last week, so it will be a matter of which coach was more effective in steadying the ship this week. Triton seems to be a team in transition with many new names showing up in the box scores each week. When in doubt, I’ll take the home team.
The pick: Winthrop 20, Triton 14
Amesbury at Saugus, 1
Amesbury’s strength is its ability to enter a game with a defined game plan, and execute it to near perfection. It helps that the Indians are so versatile. They can win games several different ways: a power running game, a finesse running game, a passing game, on defense, etc. Amesbury senior Devlin Gobeil certainly helps the team’s versatile attack. After missing four games with an injury, Gobeil had a breakout performance last week, catching six balls for 145 yards in the first half. In the second half? Gobeil spent much of it on the sidelines with leg cramps. Devlin — On behalf of the fans who enjoy watching you go up and make great catches in traffic, stay hydrated.
The pick: Amesbury 36, Saugus 12
Georgetown at Lynnfield, 2:30
I know Lynnfield has the most talent in CAL/NEC Division 4, and even last week, I knew all signs pointed to a Lynnfield/North Reading showdown for the league title on Thanksgiving Day. But I couldn’t have been the only one surprised when the Pioneers beat Hamilton-Wenham last week, could I have? It just seems like Hamilton-Wenham has won about 10 games like that — odds stacked against it as the underdog — over the last two years when the Generals won back to back league titles.
The pick: Lynnfield 28, Georgetown 6
Last week’s record: 4-0
Overall record: 25-12