It all starts with 21 quarterfinals this weekend. Win this weekend and you’re in your classification’s final four, one win away from Ralph Wilson Stadium and the Section VI championships.
Here’s a breakdown of which teams are favored to be there, from the smallest (Class DD) to the largest (AA).
The Monsignor Martin Association still has two weeks of regular season games to go, highlighted Saturday by Bishop Timon-St. Jude visiting St. Joe’s and the Nov. 2 showdown of St. Joe’s at Canisius.
Favorites for The Ralph: Jamestown (7-0), ranked No. 1 in the large school poll for the last several weeks, is an easy pick for this category, and after the test it got from No. 5 Orchard Park last week (42-41 Jamestown win at OP), the Quakers (5-2) likely deserve to be mentioned right behind them.
Sleeper: While Clarence was routed at Jamestown two weeks ago, in Week Three it went to Orchard Park and only lost by a 13-7 score. With the sixth-seeded Red Devils (2-5) heading to third-seeded OP Friday night, that earns them this spot.
High-quality quarterfinal: Fifth-seeded Lancaster (4-3) at fourth-seeded Kenmore West (5-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday is what you would expect from the best 4-5 games. Lancaster won at Kenmore West in Week One, 22-7. Ken West lost to Jamestown in Week Two but has reeled off five wins since, including a victory over Frontier at home in Week Five. The following week, Frontier went to Lancaster and ran off with a 31-0 rout at Foyle-Kling Field. That’s resulted in Kenmore West earning the co-No. 8 spot in the large school poll. Both teams are coming off tremendous rivalry week wins, Lancaster with a 36-0 rout at Depew and Ken West with a 42-0 thumping of Ken East.
Frontier (5-2) is the No. 2 seed here, but that is a seeding attained after a regular season in which it didn’t have to play Jamestown or Orchard Park due to the division’s unbalanced schedule. The Falcons, who dropped out of the polls this week after losing their Week Seven rivalry game to Hamburg, are preparing to host Lockport (3-4), which Frontier shut out on the road in Week Three (23-0).
Favorites for The Ralph: The large school poll says there are two teams considered above the rest of the A pack. There’s a very familiar face in six-time Class A champion and undefeated North winner Sweet Home (7-0), which has won 67 straight games against Section VI teams. Then there is South Park (6-1), which is in the playoffs for the first time since winning the Harvard Cup on Thanksgiving Day 2003, and is one of a handful of Buffalo Public Schools that are trying to become the first city teams to make it to The Ralph since the district joined Section VI in 2010.
Sleeper: Grand Island (6-1) is technically the sixth seed as it plays on the road against third-seeded and A Central champion McKinley (6-1) at Riverside on Friday night, but it is 10th in the large school poll, just one point behind the Macks there. The Vikings’ lone loss is to Sweet Home, and their margin of defeat (19-7 at home in Week Five) was a lot tidier than McKinley’s nonleague loss at Sweet Home last week (58-22).
High-quality quarterfinal: In addition to the outstanding GI-McKinley matchup, West Seneca East (6-1) heads to Williamsville South (5-2) Friday in a nice quarterfinal. WSE, whose only loss came to South Park, won two games against the Billies last year when both teams were members of Class A South. The winner, however, most likely gets a trip to Sweet Home.
Favorites for The Ralph: In a bracket that is always loaded with quality and intrigue, B South champion Alden (7-0) is certainly the favorite, with its No. 1 small school status and its three straight sectional titles. At No. 4 in the small school poll, B North Cheektowaga isn’t far behind.
Sleeper: Bennett is the sleepiest with its 4-3 record and lack of a signature win, but its results warrant a good look. The Tigers began the season with losses to division leaders Burgard (14-0) and Cheektowaga (20-0), and lost at state honorable mention Attica (7-6). In its wins, its margin of victory has been 53 (Maryvale), 22 (Lew-Port), 30 (Medina) and 27 (Barker/Roy-Hart). This spot is a good one to be in: Springville was in this category last year and went on to make it to The Ralph.
High-quality quarterfinals: As is usually the case in one of the deepest classes of quality football in the section, all four games are compelling. Bennett heads to No. 7 small school Depew on Friday in one of the better quarterfinals of this weekend. Alden is the favorite, but I’ve called them the Drama Kings after close calls that no one expected, and they face a seasoned, talented Medina team. Cheektowaga hosts an Eden team that nearly beat Alden this year and is coming off a playoff spot-clinching victory over top 10 team Pioneer. Pioneer, meanwhile, should be a tough out for No. 6 small school Burgard on Saturday afternoon at All High Stadium.
Favorites for The Ralph: As undefeated division champions and Class C’s only residents of The News small school poll, they are clearly C North winner and third-ranked Cleveland Hill (7-0) and C South champ and fifth-ranked Fredonia (7-0). Last year the two were both in C North, with Fredonia winning, 15-8, in the regular season before Cleve Hill beat Fredonia, 22-20, in the championship game at The Ralph.
Sleeper: Southwestern (4-3). The program that has been a member of the top category in this story for many recent years played both Fredonia (28-21) and Salamanca (20-14) to a touchdown on the road.
High-quality quarterfinals: While the top seeds shouldn’t have much trouble, (Cleve Hill hosts 2-5 Falconer; Fredonia hosts 3-4 Tonawanda) the other two games line up as great games with great names. Lackawanna (4-3), in its first year having moved down to Class C, heads to Salamanca (6-1). Southwestern (4-3) heads to Akron (5-2) to face a Tiger team that only lost to Cleveland Hill by 28-13 in Week Two and whose other loss is to Class B playoff team Medina. Southwestern’s resume nearly matches up; its other loss was to almost-Class B playoff team Olean.
Last year C North swept all four quarterfinals – in order for that to happen again, Tonawanda would have to score what would be a major upset.
Favorite for The Ralph: Randolph is the one and only.
The Cardinals (7-0) are the defending state champions, the No. 1 team in the state poll, the No. 2 team in The News small school poll, and the biggest favorite to win a Section VI title after a regular season in which it outscored opponents, 310-50.
Usually Maple Grove – this year it is Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake after the merging of those two programs – would join Randolph in this category, as either one of the schools has been a part of the Class D final for 20 straight years, and they played for the title last season.
However, while Maple Grove (5-1) is the No. 4 team in the state poll, The News’ No. 10 small school and the favorite to meet Randolph, the Cardinals won the teams’ regular season game, 35-7 at Maple Grove. Randolph routed the hosts after surrendering the first touchdown of the game (just one of two first-half touchdowns Randolph has allowed this season).
Sleeper: We’ve put Randolph to the side in picking this one. We’re tabbing Portville, which heads to Maple Grove in the semifinals next week, having lost there, 13-0, in Week One.
High-quality quarterfinal: The only quarterfinal in the five-team bracket (reduced by one after Westfield/Brocton called off the remainder of its season following the death of Damon Janes), has fifth-seeded Cassadaga Valley (1-6) at fourth-seeded Ellicottville/West Valley (3-3). Ellicottville won, 26-11, in Week One.
One of Section VI’s best moves in recent years was to establish this bracket in 2011. It divides Class D into two divisions, one with some of the strongest Class D programs in the state and a route to the NYSPHSAA playoffs, and the other with usually much smaller schools. The DD programs had trouble keeping up with the likes of Randolph and Maple Grove, but they’ve played good, competitive football, and that was evident again this year while forgoing the chance to compete in the state playoffs.
Last year’s top four DD seeds tied at 5-1 and this season it took until last weekend to decide the seedings, as top-seeded Sherman (6-1, 5-1) and second-seeded Cattaraugus/Little Valley (6-1, 5-1) won to earn semifinal home games. Sherman hosts fourth-seeded Frewsburg (4-3, 4-2) while Cattaraugus/Little Valley will host third-seeded Panama (5-2, 4-2).
With past champions having moved on – Chautauqua Lake (2011) has merged with Maple Grove while Ellicotville/West Valley (2012) moved up to D this year – and two-time finalist Clymer missing the playoffs, there will be at least one team, and possibly two, earning that special trip to Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Frewsburg (a D finalist two seasons ago), is the only team among the quartet who has made a recent trip to The Ralph, where this weekend’s winners will head after a week off.