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Prep Talk: Football season is far from over but some are in must-win mode

Week four of the scholastic football is pretty much in the books, sans Monday’s weather-related makeup game at Maple Grove.

This means the season is at the half-way point for Section VI teams. Some squads still are in good to great shape in regards to potentially qualifying for the postseason. Others, however, not so good although for some the playoff dream is still far from over.

That includes rebuilding Tonawanda, which is coming off a 0-9 campaign.

The Warriors may be a young team, but they’re much improved. They could very well be more than a handful for opponents the next couple seasons since they return several starting sophomores. That said, they’re still focused on the now, and they’re hungry.

Tonawanda has won two straight division games, including a 27-0 win over Alden on Friday in which it yielded a total of 7 yards, according to coach Joe Kelly. Couple that with a 7-6 win over 2017 playoff participant Newfane, and the Warriors (2-2) are indeed playing good football.

What could doom their postseason quest is a 0-2 start – Class B-3 division losses to Burgard and Dunkirk, the latter by two points.

“I tell my kids every game is a playoff game,” Kelly said. “You have to win every game in order to have a chance.”

That and receive a little help along the way from others.

The fact the Warriors are even in the postseason conversation for Class B, which as usual figures to be a bear of a bracket, is a sign of how far they’ve come in a short time.

In Classes A and B, the top two finishers in each of the three divisions of the respective classification make the playoffs. The final two spots go to the best third-place finishers in each division based on the following seeding criteria: league record, point differential, fewest points allowed in league play, strength of schedule in league play and coin toss.

The top four in each of the two Class C divisions make the tournament, which begins during Week Eight.

Class AA and D play eight-week regular seasons with the top four in each division advancing to Section VI semifinals.

Panthers roaring to No. 1?

Another team that has come a long way seeming out of the blue is unbeaten Pioneer.

The Panthers will likely ascend to No. 1 in the Buffalo News’ small schools poll later this week following its 33-14 win over top-ranked small school Cheektowaga.

Pioneer made the playoffs last year but lost in the quarterfinals to Lackawanna on the road. The goal for this edition of the team was to make the postseason again but go deeper. The key, coach Jim Duprey figured, would be getting off to a better start after last year's 1-2 beginning.

The Panthers have done that and then some during their first 4-0 start since 2012.

Should the Panthers handle their business the rest of the way, the road to the Section VI Class B final could very well go through Yorkshire.

Pioneer does not want to think that far ahead.

“We wondered what we were going to be going into these two weeks against Maryvale and Cheektowaga,” Duprey said. “We felt good we were going to be competitive but this is a good start and it’s great for the kids.

“It’s been fantastic and everything you can dream but it can’t be the end be. You have to make sure the kids are grounded and focused. … We’re not looking past our next opponent. That is our only goal, beat Lew-Port.”

With Pioneer in first in Class B-1, the Week Seven game between rivals Maryvale and Cheektowaga figures to be another high-stakes meeting. The past two seasons, the winner of that game has captured the division title with the loser earning either a No. 4 or 5 seed for the postseason. That’s not a guarantee this season, although both have good point-differential and would make the playoffs if the tournament began this week. The loser of that game potentially will be on the road should it slip into the tournament.

Class B-2 looks like it could wind up having three playoff qualifiers with Albion currently unbeaten. Olean’s 14-13 overtime win over Medina on Friday gives it a leg up on the Mustangs in the postseason quest. Both teams have a division loss. As does Lackawanna.

A good team will be relegated to a consolation bowl.

Around the classes

-- In Class AA, a lot has changed since Williamsville North defeated Clarence in a Week Two overtime thriller. Neither has won with North dropping close decisions to defending champion and current front-runner Lancaster (4-0) and Bennett (3-1, 3-0 in division). Bennett also beat Clarence, which is now winless in the division. The Red Devils need to win out and hope the results from other division games work in their favor. Lancaster, Orchard Park and Bennett are unbeaten in the division. Clarence still needs to play OP.

-- In Class A-1, this is looking like it’s West Seneca West’s division to lose. The defending state champions have yielded just one TD through four games. Jamestown’s win over previously unbeaten Niagara Wheatfield on Friday gives the Red Raiders a hold of second place in the division. Ken West only has one division loss but could be the odd-team out.

-- In Class A-2, Grand Island is unbeaten in the division with wins over second-place McKinley and winless Sweet Home. Williamsville East has one league loss but stands in third because it has a worse point differential than McKinley.

-- In Class A-3, South Park and West Seneca East both are unbeaten and meet this Friday at All High. Starpoint stands in third. It’s possible all three make the playoffs. South Park and Starpoint still must play each other.

-- In Class C North, Cleveland Hill controls its destiny as the division leader owns wins over second-place Wilson and third-place Gowanda. The race for fourth should be interesting with JFK’s comeback win over fourth-place Silver Creek last Friday jumbling the bottom of the division.

-- In Class C South, this is Southwestern’s division to lose. The Trojans’ 4-0 start includes all of their victories being division variety.

-- In Class D, Clymer/Sherman/Panama is ranked first in the state and unbeaten with a resounding win at Maple Grove. All the teams make the playoffs in this four-team division.

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