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Big weekend kicks off tonight

There's a pretty big inferiority complex when it comes to Section VI football teams playing in the regionals.

And there's a good reason for it. Section V leads the regional series, 42-25, and has gone 16-4 over the last four years. But for some reason, I'm not as doom-and-gloom as some other high school football fans I've talked to about the Buffalo-area teams as they head to Rochester's Paetec Park.

Here's my take on the matchups (In case you missed it, I wrote a Web-only preview story about this weekend's football action):

AA -- Orchard Park vs. Canandaigua: Call me crazy, but this seems as good a chance as any for OP to break through. The Quakers have a complete team which has embraced the underdog role that comes along with having an 0-7 regional record (not to mention Section VI AA teams' 1-10 regional mark). Even still, OP is coming off its most dominant sectional title game victory.

A -- Sweet Home vs. Aquinas: Like the AA game, this is another one that in which many are expecting the Rochester private school to live up to its top ranking in the state, but Sweet Home is loaded with weapons and I think it will be a close one. (Last year: Aquinas 7, Iroquois 0).

B -- Depew vs. Geneva: I was struck by the size of the Wildcats when I was on the field at The Ralph. The 6-7, 6-6, 6-5 size on the line sets it up for some speedy runners. Depew's last game went right down to the wire, and yes, I know they're playing the defending state champions, but I think this one could go to the final play as well.

C -- Cleveland Hill vs. Leroy: Cleveland Hill is great to watch, and they sure came up with some magic when in the last minute of the championship. But when you hear the name, "Leroy," you think intimidating, hard-nosed, winning football. The Oatkan Knights might have too much tradition, and more importantly, too much size.

D -- Randolph vs. Bolivar-Richburg: Onlookers were wowed by the Cardinals' no-pass-because-we-don't-have-to ground game in the final against Portville. It doesn't appear to be the multi-weaponed Randolph group that won the state title (and the top spot in The News' small school poll) two years ago, but these guys could be playing as long as many thought Maple Grove would be (which would be past Thanksgiving). QB Blake Morrison is a seasoned leader, their blocking and running is outstanding and they have an outstanding kicker (David Pihlblad, another vet from the state title team), which is rather rare for Class D.

I'm a reporter, not a prognosticator, so here's my limited football forecast: I think Randolph has the best shot of winning this weekend, followed by Depew, Orchard Park, Sweet Home and Cleve Hill.

In games closer to home, I don't think it's much of a stretch to expect that the Catholic finals will mirror their regular season meetings.

St. Francis has had some sluggish starts -- perhaps due to some early top-level competition and a league which is generally acknowledged to be down this year -- but I'd like to think that a title game at The Ralph will prevent any lackluster openings Saturday afternoon. And I'm thinking that Cardinal O'Hara's seniors, Reggie Garner and Jackie Feggans in particular, will want to end their dynastic run with the Hawks with a statement game.

Over at All High Stadium, a season dominated by McKinley concludes with the Macks meeting East on Friday in a game that -- although the Macks are in and East is out -- could be interesting. It's nice that the non-Macks of the league will get the entire spotlight on Saturday as five teams battle for three seeds.

Around the halls

* If you haven't checked out photographer Mark Mulville's photo slide show on our site, complete with
live audio from the turf at The Ralph, get a look (and listen) here.

* Prep Talk Blog voters are 6-1 in football so far. The only game at The Ralph in which a majority didn't pick the winner was Sweet Home's win over Cheektowaga in Class A (55.6 percent voted for Cheektowaga). Canisius won the vote twice before it won close games from rival St. Joe's. Vote right up until tonight's kickoff in our regional polls.

* Think football can keep up with soccer and volleyball in the regionals? Vote here.

* While football is hitting the home stretch, the winter is just getting started. The chatter is already starting at our Preseason Prep Talk posts like boys basketball and girls basketball. Hockey and wrestling are coming soon.

* Thanks to all those who tuned in to this site during the live blogging from the championship football games at The Ralph (in case you missed them, they're here: AA, A, B, C, D). This is our first year navigating the blogosphere, and it was a first-time experiment that we're glad to say worked out pretty well. Due to me being in the wedding of one of my best friends I won't be able to report on (or blog from) the games at Paetec Park this weekend, but I should be there the following week (that is, of course, as long as we have a Section VI team there).

-- Keith McShea

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