Even Vegas would struggle with this pick
If Vegas decided that betting on high school football was a good racket to get into – please ignore the immorality and illegality of that idea – the men in charge would have a remarkably tough time setting up this year’s Rhode Island Division I Super Bowl odds.
I sure wouldn’t be confident putting my money on anybody.
Cliché as it may seem, it’s anybody’s championship to win, and that’s not just the talk of somebody looking to stir up conversation. It really is wide open.
With just the Thanksgiving games to be played between now and the Division I semifinals on Tuesday, Dec. 3, the four playoff teams still aren’t set and we’re barely any closer to knowing who’s going to win this thing than we were on Sept. 3.
Here’s what we know: Barrington is the No. 1 seed, Hendricken is the No. 2 seed, Portsmouth is the No. 3 seed and somebody out of the Cranston East/Cranston West/La Salle trio will be the No. 4 seed.
There are only two league games left – East vs. West and La Salle vs. East Providence – and six of the nine teams in the division are still in playoff contention.
Moreover, for the first time since 2009 and just the second time since 2006, no team in the division finished undefeated. Usually a team that hasn’t lost is a pretty easy choice as the favorite, but we don’t have that option this year.
Instead, we have a bunch of teams that have beaten each other and enough to uncertainty to make your head hurt.
To complicate matters even more, there are three games in particular that ended dramatically and probably should have gone the other way – Barrington’s 41-37 win over Cranston East, Barrington’s 7-6 win over La Salle and La Salle’s 22-21 win over Cranston West.
Had those outcomes been reversed, we’d have an entirely different view of all four of those teams. As it is, it’s all just muddied.
Take Barrington. The Eagles finished at 7-1, and are the top seed going into the playoffs. So are they the favorite?
They have a marquee win over Hendricken, a 7-0 victory that really defined their season. But then they followed that up with a loss to Portsmouth, and really, they’ve haven’t once looked dominant except for when they played Tolman, and everyone looks dominant against Tolman.
They won four games by two touchdowns or less, and three of those wins were by a touchdown. They could have very easily lost to Cranston East or La Salle, and maybe even Hendricken. That 7-1 record? With a couple bounces, it could be 4-4.
So if not Barrington, then is Hendricken the favorite? The Hawks steamrolled everybody on their way to a 6-0 record – looking like an easy favorite to pick – but then lost the Barrington game and needed some late-game heroics to avoid a loss to La Salle last week. They ended the season 7-1.
In two weeks, Hendricken has gone from the team to beat to a team that has regressed to the mean. The Hawks still have more talent than anybody else, and they’re more battle-tested than anybody else, but two weeks have shown us that they’re far from invincible.
Portsmouth might be considered the favorite, with solid wins over Barrington, Cranston East and Cranston West, plus a dominating win over La Salle. Yet, the Patriots – almost inexplicably – lost to South Kingstown in the middle of the season. At 6-2, it was still a solid campaign for the Patriots, and they would have been in a three-way tie with Barrington and Hendricken if not for the loss to the Rebels.
Do we put more stock in Portsmouth’s quality wins? Or it’s non-quality loss?
Cranston East, at 4-3, needs to beat Cranston West on Thanksgiving to get into the playoffs, while 3-4 West needs to beat East by at least 10 and hold the ’Bolts to under 34 points – thanks to tie breakers – in order to reach the postseason.
The ’Bolts boast arguably the best offense in the state, and had they beaten Barrington (a game they lost in part because of a clear blown call at the end of the fourth quarter), they would be in the playoffs already and would have a shot at the No. 2 seed.
West is the hottest team in the division, holding the only three-game winning streak at the moment. It played Hendricken and Barrington tough, should have beaten La Salle and has one of the best defenses in the state. Anybody sleeping on the Falcons, if they sneak into the playoffs, hasn’t been paying attention to their turnaround and just how good a team they’ve become.
Then there’s La Salle at 3-4, needing a West win on Thanksgiving and some help in the points allowed department to make the playoffs. The Rams are the biggest long shot left, but they should have beaten Barrington and nearly beat Hendricken. They could easily be 5-2.
That’s six teams, all with realistic arguments as to why they could win the whole thing.
Hendricken will host Portsmouth in one semifinal, while Barrington will host one of the Cranston schools or La Salle. Hendricken should probably be considered a favorite over Portsmouth, but should Barrington be a favorite? If it plays La Salle or East, it’ll be playing a team that it should have lost to in the regular season. If it’s playing West, it will be in for a defensive battle.
Keep in mind that no No. 1 seed has ever lost in a Division I semifinal. If there was ever a year for that streak to break, I think you’re looking at it.
The best bet? Don’t bet at all. Just sit back and watch it all unfold. It’s going to be a dramatic finish. Someone is going to emerge from the pile with a title in hand and a great story as to how they got there.
I just have no idea who that’s going to be.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.