Playoff paths couldn't be more different
The Bishop Hendricken football team won’t say it publicly – or even off the record to me – but I have a sneaking suspicion that they’ll be big Cranston East football fans come Thanksgiving Day.
Once the Hawks get their Thanksgiving game against Toll Gate out of the way on the Wednesday night prior to the holiday, they’ll want to refocus their attention and well wishes to one of their chief competitors for a Super Bowl crown. For one day, Hawks should become Thunderbolts.
At least they both wear green.
Here’s the deal – Hendricken and Cranston East have both clinched playoff spots already. In fact, all four playoff teams are set in Division I with La Salle, Hendricken, East and Portsmouth.
The seeding, though, is not set. Undefeated La Salle is locked in at the top spot, but after that it’s a little convoluted. It all comes down to East versus Cranston West on Thanksgiving. East is 5-2 and barely beat 0-8 South Kingstown last week. West is 3-4 and has won three consecutive D-I games. It’s usually a very competitive game, and this year should be no different.
If East wins, then Hendricken, East and Portsmouth will all be tied for second place at 6-2. The first two tiebreakers are head-to-head and quality points, but all three teams have beaten each other and all the same teams. So with that tiebreaker out the window, the Hawks would win the second tiebreaker – points allowed – and get the No. 2 seed.
That would leave East and Portsmouth tied for third place, and since East beat Portsmouth, the ’Bolts get the No. 3 seed. The Patriots would be fourth, and everything would fall in to place for Hendricken.
In that scenario, the Hawks would host a semifinal game with East, a team that Hendricken beat 21-14 during the regular season.
That’s what Hendricken wants. Trust me.
But throw ‘wanting’ out the window for a second. It’s also something that Hendricken might need. I even have proof (get ready for this stat): since Division I changed its playoff format in 1998 to allow four teams into the postseason – as opposed to simply taking the top two in the division – no non-No. 1 or 2 seed has ever won the Super Bowl.
Let that sink in. No team that was seeded third or fourth has ever won the Division I Super Bowl. In the 14 years that the four-team playoff system has been around, a No. 1 or No. 2 seed has won every single year.
I’d say getting the No. 2 seed is pretty important.
Putting that aside for a moment, though, East beating West is also advantageous to Hendricken in another way.
Portsmouth would play La Salle in the other semifinal. The Rams will probably win, but I wouldn’t guarantee it. Portsmouth played La Salle better than any of the other contenders this year (La Salle won 42-25), and the Patriots have the offensive weapons to contend with the Rams.
It would be an upset, but it wouldn’t be a complete and utter shock if the Patriots beat La Salle.
So if East wins on Thanksgiving, not only would Hendricken have its most desirable and likely Super Bowl path – a home semifinal game with East – but it would have an outside chance of not seeing La Salle altogether. For those scoring at home, those are all good things.
Then there’s the other alternative, which is West beating East on Thanksgiving.
That would not be so good for the Hawks.
In that scenario, East would drop to 5-3 and would be the No. 4 seed. That would leave Hendricken and Portsmouth at 6-2, and Portsmouth would win the tiebreaker over the Hawks thanks to a head-to-head victory.
The Patriots would get the No. 2 seed – and the home playoff game – while Hendricken would get the No. 3 seed. The Hawks would have to travel to play Portsmouth, where they lost 39-13 during the regular season.
That’s not a good thing. I’m not saying a Hendricken win is impossible at Portsmouth, just less likely than getting a win in scenario No. 1.
And, on the other side, East beating La Salle wouldn’t be nearly as likely as Portsmouth beating La Salle. The Rams and ’Bolts played this year and it was a 41-13 La Salle romp.
There’s also this stat in La Salle’s favor (regardless of the East-West outcome): a No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 4 seed in the D-I semifinals. Not once.
Realistically, La Salle is probably going to the Super Bowl.
Here’s the bottom line – If East beats West on Thanksgiving, Hendricken gets the No. 2 seed and a home game against a team it has beaten, and it will have a great shot to play in the Super Bowl against La Salle. As everybody saw last year, in a one-game season, upsets can happen. Hendricken could win its third straight Super Bowl.
If West beats East on Thanksgiving, Hendricken gets the No. 3 seed and a road game against a team that it lost badly to during the regular season. In that scenario, the Hawks would have to pull two upsets to win the Super Bowl, and they would have to defy history and become the first No. 3 seed to ever do that.
That’s the reality of the situation, cut and dry.
So basically, if you’re a Hawks fan, player, coach, alum or just one of those weird bird enthusiasts who loves taking pictures of Hawks, Thanksgiving Day football means something this year, even if Hendricken won’t be on the field.
Cranston East – a team Hendricken might meet five days after Thanksgiving in a Division I semifinal game – holds the key to the title. East needs to beat West.
It’s quite a scenario. Root for the ’Bolts one week, and if all goes well, try to beat them the next.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.