Well, Mr. Heckman.
After a season-worst 9-6 record, “Hot” Rod Heckman has calmed down enough to allow Brad Hurley to fall just two games behind the favorite in the race for the Bob Ford Memorial Grid Picks Cup. The leader’s three backs is Pat Matsinko. Sam “The Man” Matta found gas in his tank and, with a week’s best mark of 11-4, got back into the running. He is also three behind Heckman.
Unless the top four pickers have all suffered significant losses over the next few weeks, Yours Truly counts itself officially out of the race. Five games back, my target is to be no worse than fifth – which would be my best result since entering the race umpteen years ago.
The rest of the field – Mike Haines, Chuck Hixson, Emmett McCall, TJ Engle Kyle Magda – seem to be playing pretty much the chain with no legitimate hope of threatening the leaders.
A week ago, however, there was some good news for the bottom eaters, as Magda tied for the best Week 10 record with Matta. Unfortunately for him, he’s so far into the Pundit Pit that he’ll need full-fledged stadium lights illuminating the way to have any chance of finding an escape route.
The Norths have it
This week, the choices seem pretty easy – at least on paper. The 15 games we decide on are all playoff games, and with higher seeds hosting lower seeds, most of the choices seem obvious.
Let’s start with all the Norths – Northwestern, Northern Lehigh, North Schuylkill and Northampton are all picked to advance to the next round of the District 11 playoffs. Of all the “North” favorites, I think Northwestern is the most vulnerable, with Jim Thorpe having a chance to upset the Tigers. During the regular season, the Olympians took Palmerton, Notre Dame and Northern Lehigh until the last minutes or seconds, and won those games before being defeated.
That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Josh Snyder’s 8-2 Tigers advanced to the D11 Finals with their beasts in the backfield — quarterback Cade Christopher and tailback Dalton Clymer — in the lead. The pair have combined to rush for nearly 2,000 yards this season.
Raiders, Bombers on the other hand
Palmerton, led by All-Everything quarterback Matt Machalik, is the favorite against Tamaqua, but this could be one of those first-round upsets by Sam Bonner’s Raiders. Two weeks ago, they were locked in a 20-20 second-half tie before the Bombers scored 16 unanswered points to win, 36-20. The Raiders are a tough team to figure out. They can put points on the board, but the problem has been keeping good opponents out of the end zone.
I think the Bombers win here, but it’s never easy to beat the same team twice, so if the Raiders were to win, it wouldn’t be a big surprise.
Bears host zephyrs
Perhaps the most improved football program in the region is Pleasant Valley. Coach Blaec Saeger has his Bears 7-3 this season, earning them a Class 5A District 11 home semi-final against the Whitehall Zephyrs. With only four teams in bracket 5A, the winner advances directly to the championship game against Pocono Mountain West or Southern Lehigh. The Zephyrs are only 5-5, but they are playing a very tough schedule – facing Parkland, Emmaus, Freedom, Nazareth and Northampton. Although they’ve lost their last two regular-season games by wide margins, they’re a unanimous choice to beat the Bears — mostly based on schedule strength.
The Slaters visit the Vikings
Another game where the strength of the schedule comes into consideration is Bangor vs. Allentown Central Catholic – my pick for the out of bounds game of the week. The 7-3 Slaters can certainly defend their best record against the 5-5 Vikings, but then again, the consensus choice is for the ACC to win this one because of their better opponents. However, it wouldn’t shock me if Bangor prevailed in this 4A match. The Slaters can run the ball as well as anyone with quarterback Eric Striba, who has rushed for 1,027 yards this season, and running backs, Noah Hillis and Ashton Kluska, who have over 1,100. yards.
keep it close
Nine of this week’s 15 games are unanimous picks and won’t make a difference in the standings.
The goal of the three coaches chasing Heckman this week is to stay within striking distance until the next week or two when the teams enter title games and the picks get tougher. Hurley and Matsinko can’t gain ground on Heckman, as their picks for Week 11 are identical. Matta, however, usually makes a bold choice or two and this week is no different. He’s counting on the Raiders to upset Palmerton and on Catasauqua to defeat Palisades – if that were to happen, he’d be moving within a game of the lead.
Heckman is still the favorite to win it all, but he can’t afford another 9-6 record. Hurley, Matsinko and “Surprising Sam” Matta – a back picker in recent years – can all still catch Heckman, but time is running out. Next week is the guaranteed last week of Grid Picks – although there may be a 13th week added if there are any home teams still alive in the playoffs. Like a long shot at the start of the season, Matta spins his upset wheel again this week, hoping the arrow points to the Raiders and Rough Riders.
The Cup is being prepared for the lap of honor around the Times News desk. With just a week or two to go, it looks like either Heckman, Hurley, Matta or Matsinko will take gold!