The goal of Western New York football teams is always to reach The Ralph and that's what this weekend is all about.
There are 12 games this weekend, all with trips to Ralph Wilson Stadium on the line.
The Section VI semifinals will set the sectional championship field, while the final day of the Monsignor Martin Association's regular season will determine who will receive byes to its semifinals.
Here's the rundown:
*Class AA: There are two very contrasting semifinals here. In tonight's 7:30 p.m. matchup, you have possibly the biggest favorite of the entire weekend in undefeated and No. 1 large school Orchard Park. The Quakers, who have yet to be challenged this season, host a Niagara Falls team which remains outside the large school top 10 despite its quarterfinal dethroning of last year's champion, Clarence.
History tells a similar story. While Falls has never made it to the stadium, OP has played at The Ralph more than any other school -- 17 times -- and has the most championships with 11.
Saturday's 2 p.m. semifinal provides perhaps the best meeting of storylines which would reach a great next chapter at The Ralph. AA North champion and No. 8 large school Kenmore West hosts AA South runner-up and No. 6 Jamestown, with both programs starved for a championship berth.
Kenmore West has only reached the stadium once -- in 1996 (they lost, 28-14, to -- surprise, surprise -- Orchard Park). Jamestown has been there much more recently, in 2000, but the Red Raiders' faithful would love to end that drought. On those sectional championship lists that has OP on top, Jamestown is tied for second in titles (nine) and third in appearances (14).
The Red Raiders will have junior Dennis Drew back at quarterback after he was suspended two games for violating the school's athletic code; freshman Zach Panebianco led Jamestown to home wins over Clarence and Lockport.
*Class A: Can North Tonawanda or Bennett get in the way of a Ralph repeat from last year? Sweet Home won its fourth straight sectional title last year by beating South, 48-15, and both teams take undefeated records and top five poll positions into this weekend (Sweet Home is No. 3, Will South No. 5).
No. 7 large school NT (7-1) hasn't lost since falling to McKinley in Week One, and it has toughed out impressive home wins recently against Starpoint and last week in overtime against Amherst. Will South (8-0), which hosts the 7 p.m. kickoff, has also stepped up as its schedule has gotten tougher in the last few weeks, coming back to beat Amherst, then beating McKinley in the quarterfinals. Quarterback Trent Ferguson returned from injury in last week's win over the Macks.
No. 10 Bennett heads to Sweet Home at 2 p.m. Saturday with a strong offensive line in front of running backs Javon Fogan and Noah Jenkins, who have combined to rush for 824 yards in the last two weeks. The Panthers have been pushed this regular season more than others in recent memory, but senior quarterback Jordan Johnson -- a dangerous running threat -- has been there to push back.
*Class B: There are two fantastic matchups here, including the only semifinal meeting of undefeated teams -- No. 3 small school Pioneer (8-0) at No. 1 Alden (8-0) -- and the only rematch among top 10 teams as No. 6 Cheektowaga hosts No. 2 Depew. In Week One, Depew broke open a tie game at halftime (12-12) to beat Cheektowaga, 41-19.
*Class C: Two rematches of varying degrees here. No. 8 small school Southwestern takes on No. 4 Fredonia tonight in a rematch of last year's sectional final. Fredonia beat the Trojans, 12-10, at The Ralph to end the longest win streak in Western New York history (38 games). On Saturday, No. 7 Cleveland Hill takes on unranked Akron; Cleve Hill beat Akron, 28-7, in Week Three.
*Class D: Both of tonight's semifinals are rematches from Week One: No. 5 small school Maple Grove beat Portville, 36-0; No. 10 Randolph edged Frewsburg, 27-25.
*Monsignor Martin: The top two teams in this year's one-division, six-team format earn byes to The Ralph, which will host the league's semifinals for the first time Nov. 10.
*St. Joe's (6-2, 3-0) can sew up the top spot Saturday afternoon with a win over visiting Bishop Timon-St. Jude (7-1, 2-1), which is coming off a big come-from-behind win at Canisius last week. That evening, St. Francis (5-3, 2-1) hosts Canisius (3-5, 1-2) at 7.
At buffalonews.com, PrepTalkTV previews the kickoff of the playoffs with a rundown from Class DD to AA.
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