This weekend, 10 teams will sit on the bus for as little as 20 minutes or as long as two hours while their 10 opponents will zip to the field on the route they take to school every day. Ten teams will have the home crowd, the cheerleaders, the band, the traditions, even hear their own PA announcer. Ten teams will have all those familiar feelings. And 10 teams won't.
As the Section VI Football Federation playoffs get underway, 10 teams earned home-field advantage in the only playoff round where it comes into play. This weekend's winners advance to championship games at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Nov. 2-3.
Coaches will say where the game is played won't matter once the ball gets kicked off, but it must matter -- teams played eight weeks for right to stay at home.
"I think when you're home, your practice is a set ritual and things don't waver," said Lancaster coach Len Jankiewicz, whose Redskins will host Jamestown Friday night at Foyle-Kling Field. "When you're on the road, you're liable to hit any sort of road block along the way, just with unfamiliar surrounding and seeing something different. Does that provide an advantage in the game itself? It certainly is easier to play in familiar surroundings and practice atmosphere you've been in for years."
Jamestown always seems to be a presence in the Class AA playoffs. While Lancaster is surely glad it's home, it might be even more pleased it doesn't have to go to Jamestown. There are more than 1 1/2 hours of road tripping involved for a team heading down to Jamestown, and then there's the artificial turf of Strider Field that seems to suit the Raiders and their fast and ferocious running game.
"For Jamestown (the trip up) doesn't seem to bother them -- they make it up here four or five times a season -- but the trip down there is monumental," said Jankiewicz. "The conditions on the turf are probably an advantage for them, too. Physically and mentally, it can be an advantage for them."
Among those sitting on the bus will be teams like Portville, which has what can be a two-hour ride from the Southern Tier up to Class C North champion Eden, or Sweet Home, which will make the 50-mile trip to Yorkshire to play under the lights against four-time Class A South champ Pioneer.
"I think our players like playing night games first of all, and being on the road the last two weeks to Niagara County (a loss at Grand Island and a win at Niagara-Wheatfield), it's nice not to take that bus ride," said Pioneer coach Larry Slanovich. "We draw a nice crowd and players like that -- players get pumped up. It's an advantage -- that's why you play all season."
Here's a game-by-game look at this weekend.
Jamestown at Lancaster
They're two of the best teams in the section, but they've both got bad tastes in their mouthguards after last week.
Lancaster (7-1) lost its rivalry game to Depew, while Jamestown (5-3) lost the playoff-for-the-playoffs to Clarence, 18-15, before making the postseason on a tiebreaker (it had beaten fellow 4-3 Class AA teams Kenmore East and North Tonawanda in head-to-head competition).
Both Class AA games are rematches -- it was Lancaster's 13-7 win over the defending state champion Red Raiders in Week Two that vaulted it to the top spot in the state's Class AA poll. After that game, players on both teams talked about how they thought they'd be meeting up again in the playoffs. Lancaster lineman Rich Eicheldinger referred to the teams -- who have met in the last two postseasons -- as "twins."
Clarence at Orchard Park
If home field means anything, Clarence (6-2) is in trouble. Two weeks ago, the Red Devils lost to the Quakers, 21-14, in Clarence. After Lancaster's stumble against Depew, Orchard Park (7-1) shares the No. 1 large school ranking.
Sweet Home at Pioneer
When the season kicked off, the expectations for these Panther teams weren't so great. After heavy graduation losses, Pioneer wasn't expected to win a fourth straight division title, while Sweet Home wasn't expected to have such a turnaround season after going 0-8 last year.
A five-game win streak by Sweet Home (6-2) has prompted pollsters to make it No. 6 in the large school rankings, while Pioneer (6-2) is ninth.
"The kids have worked hard -- and it's been no one particular person," said coach John Faller. "We've got a lot of people that can make plays on either side of the ball."
Pioneer has persevered with a young team that got even younger when coach Slanovich's son, Martin, broke his arm in a 8-0 win at Iroquois in Week Five. Slanovich was the team's quarterback, punter, place-kicker and defensive back.
"We've had four players step up into those roles," said Larry Slanovich. "The kids have picked it up."
Iroquois at Grand Island
Grand Island's home is Masters Field, a name that has taken on much deeper meaning since the passing of former Viking coach Gene Masters early this month. Grand Island (7-1) has won seven straight since losing its opener at Lackawanna. The Vikings will try to keep rolling against an Iroquois (6-2) team that has scored 201 points -- the most in Class A this season -- behind quarterback John Jimenez.
Southwestern at Albion
Southwestern (6-2) gutted out a playoff spot from a ruthless Class B South division race with a 20-0 win over Springville last week, and its reward is a long trip to undefeated Albion (8-0), which was voted No. 1 in the small school poll this week.
Depew at Olean
There's another long road trip on this side, but the Depew (7-1) bus might still be bouncing from their 21-20 neighborhood-shaking win over Lancaster last week. The Huskies are on a four-game tear, including winning the B South title with a 21-20 victory at Alden last week.
Portville at Eden
Cleveland Hill at Salamanca
The playoffs started last week for Eden (8-0) and Cleveland Hill (5-3), as the Raiders nipped the Golden Eagles, 19-14, Saturday. The home date Cleve Hill lost out on looms large -- it already made the trip to Salamanca (8-0) this season, losing, 58-14, in Week Four. Portville (7-1) will have its hands full with Eden's reliable runners, Mike Calderon and Keien Williams.
Maple Grove at Ellicottville
Randolph at Clymer
Ellicottville (7-1) hasn't lost since giving Clymer its toughest test of the season, a 16-6 game in Week One. The bad news for the rest of the bracket is that Clymer (8-0), which has made two straight trips to the state final four, hasn't allowed a point since then. The Pirates have outscored teams, 322-6, including a 30-0 rout of Maple Grove (6-2).
Clarence (6-2) at Orchard Park (7-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday
Jamestown (5-3) at Lancaster (7-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday
Sweet Home (6-2) at Pioneer (6-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday
Iroquois (6-2) at Grand Island (7-1), 2 p.m. Saturday
Southwestern (6-2) at Albion (8-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
Depew (7-1) at Olean (6-2), 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Cleveland Hill (5-3) at Salamanca (8-0), 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Portville (7-1) at Eden (8-0), 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Randolph (6-2) at Clymer (8-0), 2 p.m. Saturday
Maple Grove (6-2) at Ellicottville (7-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday