NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 25, 2013

The final playoff push

Three local teams can lock up tournament berths

Dan Guttenplan
On Football

---- — You likely won’t hear any complaints from local coaches about the new high school football playoff system.

The goal of athletic directors and principals who voted in favor of the new system was to keep more teams in the hunt for a state championship late in the season.

As we get ready to kick off the final week of the regular season, each of the local schools — Newburyport, Amesbury, Triton and Pentucket — is in control of its own destiny when it comes to qualifying for the postseason.

Pentucket (5-0 overall, 5-0 CAL) has already clinched a Cape Ann League Kinney Division title and can lock up the top seed in Division 4 North with a victory over North Reading tonight.

Amesbury (3-3 overall, 3-1 CAL) will clinch second place in the CAL Baker Division and an automatic berth in the Division 4 North tournament with a victory over Manchester Essex tonight.

The simple rule is that if you finish first or second in your league, you are in. That could be altered — if too many teams gain automatic bids in a certain sectional — but it won’t be in Division 4 North.

That leaves potential wildcard spots for Triton (4-2 overall, 2-2 CAL) and Newburyport (3-3 overall, 2-2 CAL). Both teams control their own fates heading into the final weekend, although neither will earn an automatic berth for placing in the top two in the CAL Kinney Division. However, since there will not be eight teams among the 16 in Division 4 North that finish in the top two in their respective conferences, Triton and Newburyport have a chance to earn wildcard berths.

Triton will almost certainly lock up a wildcard berth with a victory tonight over Masconomet, a Division 3 Northeast playoff team. Newburyport will also likely lock up a wildcard berth with a victory over Saugus tomorrow.

We’ll have to wait until the end of the playoffs to fully judge the new playoff system, but it seems to be working at this point in the season. It’s late October, and four local teams are still in the hunt for a Super Bowl.

On to the picks.

Tonight’s games

Amesbury at Manchester Essex

If the Amesbury football team has a gripe about the new system, it’s that the Indians will be punished with a low seed in the Division 4 North tournament because their strength of schedule won’t be as strong after playing CAL Baker Division opponents. It’s a legitimate complaint. Amesbury had to play the games on its schedule, even if it wasn’t going to help with its strength-of-schedule. However, the Indians didn’t match up well in their non-league games against Triton and Pentucket, and they’ll likely have to play one of those teams eventually if they want to win a Super Bowl, so seeds aren’t really that important.

The pick: Amesbury 28, Manchester Essex 21

Triton at Masconomet

Triton’s average margin of victory is 26.5 points, and its average margin of defeat is 6.0 points. So the concern heading into the postseason is that the Vikings haven’t pulled out any close games at the end. Granted, it’s a small sample size when you’re talking about a six-game season so far, but tonight’s game offers Triton the perfect opportunity to come away with a victory in a close game. I know Triton coach Pat Sheehan has been scouting Masconomet enough to know the Chieftains’ trends. We’ll see if it pays off.

The pick: Triton 21, Masconomet 20

Pentucket at North Reading

As the Sachems size up the potential Division 4 North bracket, they have to be feeling pretty good about their chances. Not only will they earn the top seed with a victory tonight, they will have beaten three of the other seven tournament teams in Amesbury, Newburyport and Triton. That leaves Lynnfield, Bedford, Watertown and Stoneham if the bracket remains as it is right now. Since a team will need only three victories in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl, there is no way Pentucket can beat every Division 4 North playoff team at least once this season.

The pick: Pentucket 29, North Reading 8

Tomorrow’s games

Newburyport at Saugus

Every team has its peaks and valleys over the course of the season, but it seems the Clippers have been scaling more elevation than most. There are moments when the Clippers look talented enough to threaten for a Super Bowl. The fourth quarter against Pentucket and the entire game against North Reading come to mind. Then, there are moments when the Clippers don’t look much like a playoff team at all. The first three quarters against Masconomet fit that description. A decisive victory over Saugus could spark some momentum.

The pick; Newburyport 14, Saugus 0

Georgetown at Hamilton-Wenham

If Amesbury somehow loses to Manchester Essex tonight, you can bet the Indians will be heading to Hamilton-Wenham tomorrow to cheer on Georgetown. Hamilton-Wenham is Amesbury’s primary competition for the second spot in the CAL Baker Division, and there is only room for one of those teams in the Division 4 North tournament.

The pick: Hamilton-Wenham 23, Georgetown 6

Governor’s Academy at Milton Academy

Big-game alert for the Govs. Milton Academy is also 5-0, although with a larger margin of victory than Governor’s Academy. The Govs are averaging 30.0 points per game and allowing 8.2. Milton Academy is scoring 39.2 and allowing 14.2. Milton Academy, Governor’s Academy and BB&N are the only three remaining undefeated teams in the ISL. The Govs host BB&N next Friday.

The pick: Govs 20, Milton Academy 19

Last week’s record: 4-1

Overall record: 20-6