NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 1, 2013

First signs of needed improvement in playoff system

Making the picks
Dan Guttenplan

---- — The new high school football playoff system has been viewed favorably by coaches and players across the state in the test season.

We won’t know until the end of the season if it is, in fact, better than the one used in previous seasons, but we are starting to see possible areas for improvement as we move into November.

The Amesbury football team has to travel to Weston tonight — likely well over an hour commute on a Friday night — to play a team with which it has no established history. It seems like an emotional letdown for the Indians, who were playing for their playoff lives last Friday right up until the final play against Manchester Essex.

Some will say the Indians made their own luck. If they pulled out a win over Manchester Essex, they would be preparing for a playoff matchup against a familiar Cape Ann League foe in Pentucket on Saturday afternoon. While that would have been better for the Indians in terms of familiarity and geographical proximity, it wouldn’t offer much optimism for the Indians. Pentucket beat Amesbury 45-7 on Sept. 20.

So, with the new playoff format, the Indians’ two options on the first weekend in November were to either play an unfamiliar foe on the road 45 miles from home, or play a team to which it lost handily just over a month ago.

Not great options.

Pentucket and Triton coaches and players may also be scratching their heads as they scan the Division 4 North playoff bracket. If the Sachems and Vikings both win this weekend — they are both the higher seeds in their respective matchups — they will meet for the second time this season next weekend in the Division 4 North semifinals. Then, the two teams will meet again on Thanksgiving.

Sure, familiarity makes rivalries, but should Pentucket and Triton really play each other three times in a 10- or 11-game season?

We’ll have to see how it all plays out before making any final judgments.

On to the picks.

Tonight’s games

Newburyport at Bedford, 7

Please note the schedule change on this game. It was originally scheduled for 6:30 p.m., but was moved back due to a Bedford state-tournament soccer game. As for the matchup, Bedford (5-1) boasts one of the top defenses in the state — a unit that is allowing 5.0 points per game. Bedford has allowed a total of nine points since Sept. 20. On the other hand, Newburyport’s offense has struggled at times this season. In its three losses, Newburyport averaged 9.0 points per game.

The pick: Bedford 14, Newburyport 6

Watertown at Triton, 7

Watertown (4-3) has lost its last three after starting 4-0. In those losses, the Watertown defense struggled, allowing an average of 30.7 points per week. We know Triton can score in a hurry under quarterback Bradley Whitman, who has been particularly good the last few weeks.

The pick: Triton 34, Watertown 17

Amesbury at Weston, 7

The teams didn’t have a single common opponent this season, so I imagine it’s been difficult for the Amesbury coaching staff to gather game tape to install a game plan. Weston (3-4) comes from the Dual County League Small, which also includes playoff teams like Bedford and Concord-Carlisle.

The pick: Weston 20, Amesbury 12

Georgetown at Shawsheen, 2:30

Georgetown got its passing game untracked last week in a loss to Hamilton-Wenham for the first time since opening-day starter Colby Ingraham went down with an injury. Replacement quarterback Patrick Bjork completed 13 of 24 passes for 138 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown pass to Nick DePasquale.

The pick: Shawsheen 22, Georgetown 7

BB&N at Governor’s Academy, 3

This was slated to be a battle of unbeaten teams until both schools lost for the first time last weekend. The Govs actually lost for the first time in 24 games, a streak dating back to 2011. BB&N fell to St. Sebastian’s, a team the Govs beat earlier this season.

The pick: Govs 28, BB&N 21

Tomorrow’s game

Hamilton-Wenham at Pentucket, 2 p.m.

The Generals (3-4) benefitted from Amesbury’s loss to Manchester Essex last week, which allowed them to slip into the eighth spot in the Division 4 North playoffs. Top-seed Pentucket has likely been cleaning up some mistakes that plagued the team in its first loss of the season last weekend against North Reading.

The pick: Pentucket 28, Hamilton-Wenham 7

Last week’s record: 3-3

Overall record: 23-9