By Dan Guttenplan
---- — Even critics of the new high school football playoff system have to admit we have never seen this much excitement on the gridiron in the final weekend of October.
Newburyport, Amesbury and Triton were all playing for their playoff lives, and two of the three clinched berths with wins.
The most emphatic statement of the weekend came from Triton (5-2) Friday night when the Vikings crushed playoff-bound Masconomet 33-6, locking up the first playoff berth in program history with their most convincing win of the season. The win was strong enough for Triton to earn a home game in the opening round of the Division 4 North tournament. When the pairings were released yesterday, Triton learned it earned the fourth seed, drawing a home game against fifth-seeded Watertown Friday night.
All of the sudden, Triton has a new identity heading into the postseason. No longer are the Vikings the team that beats up on non-playoff foes and loses to teams destined for the postseason. Instead, the Vikings are a team capable of rolling playoff foes. Looking back at Triton’s one-score losses against Pentucket and Newburyport — both Division 4 North playoff qualifiers — the Vikings had chances to win late in both games despite not playing its best.
Newburyport didn’t make the same statement in terms of posting a victory over a similar quality of opponent as Triton, but the Clippers played the only game on their schedule and earned their way to the postseason with a 41-8 victory over Saugus. The sixth-seeded Clippers will visit third-seeded Bedford Friday at 6:30 p.m. for its first-round tournament game.
In Bedford (6-1), Newburyport will face the co-champion of the Dual County League Small. Bedford finished just a few tenths of a percentage point behind second-seeded Lynnfield in the Division 4 North power ratings used to seed the tournament.
As for what to look for from Newburyport moving forward, the Clippers haven’t shown the consistency of Pentucket or Triton this season, although the Clippers did beat Triton in the lone meeting. If they can play that well all postseason, they have as much chance as anyone to come out of Division 4 North. If they play as they did in losses to Masconomet or Pentucket, they will likely fall into the non-playoff bracket on Friday night.
Amesbury (3-4) was the first of the local teams to experience a crushing defeat that eliminated the squad from playoff contention on the final weekend of the regular season. The Indians were in complete control of their own destiny about 8:45 on Friday night, looking for one last first down on fourth-and-inches to run out the clock. Manchester Essex stopped the fourth-down attempt, and rallied to win 22-18. Amesbury will visit Weston this weekend in a non-playoff bracket showdown.
The Indians may be able to offer the best insight as to how the new playoff system could improve after this season, seeing as though the team’s November games will be decided on a week-to-week basis, and may not include a familiar opponent from the Cape Ann League.
Heading into the weekend, Pentucket (5-1) appeared to have a stranglehold on the top seed in Division 4 North, and that proved to be the case. With not much to play for, the Sachems dropped a 28-14 loss to North Reading Friday night. They still squeaked out the top seed over Lynnfield, but by less than a percentage point. Pentucket will host eighth-seeded Hamilton-Wenham Saturday at 2 p.m. Hamilton-Wenham benefited from the Amesbury loss Friday night, earning the second automatic bid from CAL’s Baker Division.