Section VI football chairman Chuck Funke has been a part of all previous 25 sectional playoffs. The 26th is offering something that he's never seen before: a playoffs in which no team is undefeated.
As 20 teams in five classes head into semifinal action this weekend, one win away from a trip to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the sectional championships, it is believed to be the first time that none of them is 8-0.
But just because the teams have a few losses, Funke doesn't look at it as a defeat.
"It tells me we've good balance in our divisions," said Funke. "Anyone can win, which is good. This is what we've tried to create all these years. That's why we have our classification system of setting up divisions. We tried to create parity, and we're getting there."
Not only are there no undefeated teams, but only one defending Section VI champion made the playoffs this year (Portville in Class C). There are several new faces in the playoff brackets, with several schools trying to reach the Ralph for the first time.
"I think it's a pick 'em, which is good," Funke said. "That's what we want."
The pick 'ems don't end with Section VI. All the teams in the Monsignor Martin Association (which also starts its playoffs this week) and the Harvard Cup have suffered losses heading into Week Nine. Here's a look at this weekend's semifinal matchups:
Class AA: If West Seneca West (7-1) and Williamsville North (6-2) are to make it to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time, they'll have to win a big game on the road against some old pros.
West Seneca West, in the playoffs for the first time since 1985, heads to North Tonawanda (7-1). West has gotten great play from lineman Rick Miller, Chris Pawlowski, Ryan Tune, and the Indians need to be ready for what could be the deepest, most balanced team in the bracket. NT has built some major momentum after losing its opener to Orchard Park.
Up-and-down Williamsville North, which got great efforts last week from the Gronkowski brothers (Rob and Chris) to beat Niagara Falls and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1996, heads to Orchard Park (7-1). The Quakers are seeking their fourth straight berth in the championship game.
Class A: If one had to pick a favorite from among the entire Section VI field, Sweet Home (7-1) would likely be it. The Panthers won the title in 2002 and got a wake-up call in Week Seven when they lost to Grand Island. Sweet Home had a resounding playoff-clinching win over Williamsville East last week. However, if there's a team that can match the Panthers' offensive firepower (Section VI leading 291 points), it might be Iroquois (6-2). RB Steve Mamak and the Chiefs average 22.75 points per game, the second highest in Class A.
Hamburg (7-1) is a win away from its first championship game, having used big plays from a cast of characters to win its first title in 10 years. Lew-Port (6-2), which lost last year's final to Grand Island, hits the road having made the playoffs on a tiebreaker despite a Week Eight loss to Starpoint.
Class B: In what is traditionally the deepest and strongest class, Southwestern (7-1) and Olean (7-1) are back in the playoffs despite losing All-Western New York players Dustin Bowser and James Wright, respectively.
The best matchup of the semifinals could be Southwestern at Tonawanda (7-1). The Trojans are running nearly as well as they did with Bowser by handing the ball to Steve Mancari, who set a Section VI record with 49 carries last week.
The Warriors would love to give their crowd at Clint Small Stadium something to cheer about after losing the T-NT game to North Tonawanda. Tonawanda is not only hungry, it's healthy. "If we have this kind of effort the rest of the season," coach Chuck Tilley said of a 28-14 loss to NT, "we're going to win a few playoff games. We're not going to see another team that good. And the most important thing was that none of our kids got hurt."
Olean, which is 7-0 against New York teams (it lost its annual game with Bradford, Pa.), is aiming to repeat its championship ways (2001-02) as it hosts Albion (7-1). The Purple Eagles' lone loss was at home to Amherst.
Class C: The edge would seem to go to the teams from the South Division, who combined for a 14-2 record while the North teams were a collective 10-6. The only Section VI team able to defend its title is Portville (7-1), which heads to speedy Cleveland Hill (5-3), the 2000 champion, in a rematch of last year's title game won by the Panthers, 7-6. Silver Creek (5-3) hasn't won a title since 1991 while Falconer (7-1), the hottest team in the class, last won a championship in 1994.
Class D: This historically balanced quartet has played in the Class D final a total of 25 times, but none of them have won a title in the last five years.
West division champion Ellicottville (7-1), seeking its first title since 1991, hosts Panama (5-3), whose last title came 10 years earlier. Maple Grove (5-3), which won in 1998, heads to Pine Valley (6-2), which won in 1995, in a rematch of a Week Six thriller won by Pine Valley, 31-29. Pine Valley's Taylor Vanzile and Maple Grove's Devin Raynor make it a marquee matchup of RBs.
Monsignor Martin: In both leagues, the games between the teams seeded second and third are fittingly much better matchups.
The only local loss for St. Joe's (6-2) has been to St. Francis. Run-and-pass quarterback Naaman Roosevelt (two TD passes, four TD runs over last two weeks) has been a highlight machine as the Marauders have won three straight, including a 22-15 win at Timon/St. Jude (5-3) in Week Seven.
Walsh (6-2) makes the long trip up to Cardinal O'Hara (4-4) for the second straight week after being thumped, 53-14. The Hawks are surging behind freshman RB Reggie Garner (seven TDs in the last three weeks) and sophomore QB Phil Alagna, who was steady at the controls against Walsh in just his first career start.
No. 1 large school St. Francis (6-2) hosts Canisius (4-4); the Red Raiders won the teams' Week Six game, 35-0. St. Mary's (4-4), which is seeking its third straight League A playoff title, plays a Nichols (1-7) team the Lancers beat, 35-6, in Week Four.