This is the final poll ... before the final poll.
So, we'll not only spell out how we voted, we'll take a look at how our ballot might look depending on the only games left: regional and state tournament actoin, the Monsignor Martin championships and the Harvard Cup playoffs.
Every week nine voters participate in The News' large and small school polls. The poll is published each Tuesday in the Sidelines of the Scholastic Spotlight.
And here's this week's:
1. North Tonawanda (10-0) [last week: 2] - I started talking over our vote for No. 1 with Mary Jo Monnin, and I could hear myself arguing for NT even though I didn't realize I was. This is a veteran team, a multi-faceted, deep team which just pulled off something extremely impressive at the Ralph. Coach Eric Jantzi calls them a special bunch of kids, and I tend to agree. I think they are poised for a deep run in the state playoffs.
As for NT vs. Sweet Home, it comes down to two excellent teams, but one is a veteran squad and one was still coming together as late as Saturday's second half. That showed in the finals. Between two teams that have all sorts of weapons, the edge goes to the one which has been together longer, which means they play better together. A 47-point win our former No. 3 (and the poll's former No. 2) doesn't hurt either.
I was on the record as picking NT by a field goal over Lancaster; if there was going to be a team winning by multiple touchdowns, I thought it would have been NT -- after all, we've had NT ahead of Lancaster all season. But noone could have imagined what happened Saturday.
No. 1 is between NT and Sweet Home. As was the case last year, these next few weeks will decide it.
2. Sweet Home (10-0) [last week: 1] - They didn't lose the top spot, NT earned it. If the Panthers lead wire-to-wire over Grand Island, would they still be No. 1? Possibly. But if you are Sweet Home you have to like the way things turned out -- the Panthers may have matured and come together as a team as much in one half as it did all season.
3. Grand Island (6-4)  - Avenged the first two losses and hung with Sweet Home to the fourth quarter. A fabulous finish for the Vikings.
4. Orchard Park (7-2)  - Just a reminder; Orchard Park lost, 21-7, at North Tonawanda in the semifinals. The other loss was 9-7 at Lancaster in Week Five.
5. Lancaster (9-1)  - Falling hard at The Ralph means they fall hard in this poll, but it's really only two spots. I was tempted to move OP past them after Lancaster edged Depew and Niagara Falls in Weeks Seven and Eight.
6. Hamburg (7-2)  - We'll keep this Class A tough guy here ...
7. Williamsville South (7-2)  - and this Class A toughie here.
8. Canisius (5-5)  - Again. St. Joe's is a top 10 football team and they are playing some great football. They are on our ballot. But in the Monsignor Martin schools' cases, you cannot throw out the head-to-head matchup! (I rarely use exclamation points, so I must be fired up.) Especially when it is the end-all, be-all, head-to-head matchup that is considered the best school-wide rivalry in Western New York, where all the rowdies and all the alumni and everyone else shows up. Canisius wins that game over Joe's, one in which they moved the ball much more methodically and effectively, and many of our pollsters continue to have amnesia about it. The Kearney comparison (Canisius lost there in a close one, St. Joe's won their fairly big) is legitimate, but it lost a little steam after Kearney went out early in the Section VI playoffs (Class C playoffs! - look, an exclamation point again), AND it doesn't trump the head-to-head matchup.
For St. Joe's to be ranked in the top 10 and NOT Canisius is ridiculous. That means people are voting for St. Joe's and not Canisius, and that is ridiculous.
Now, ranking teams in a poll and predicting games are two different things. The resumes of the teams, in my opinion, mean that Canisius must be voted for, and that it should be voted higher than St. Joe's.
With that said ...
9. St. Joe's (6-4)  - These guys could very well win at The Ralph on Thursday night. Whoever does will get a bump in the poll. How big of a bump? Depends how the teams play and how the winner wins. Right now there is nothing on the MMA duo's resumes that demands they be ranked higher than they are right now. Canisius beat Jamestown, which lost at unranked Lockport in the AA quarterfinals; St. Joe's beat Niagara Falls, which lost at Lancaster in the AA quarterfinals; neither Jamestown or Falls got close to being on this ballot.
10. Riverside (7-1)  - As the poll shows, several voters have Riverside higher than I do. If the Frontiers win two games, they could get a bump as well. The one loss was by one point in their opener to Burgard. But how far could they move up? Could they beat Class A toughies like GI or Hamburg or South? Could they beat Canisius or Joe's? Orchard Park or Lancaster? For now my answer is obviously no, and, as I've been saying all season, there is unfortunately no evidence (i.e. no nonleague games) to support any arguments about where the Frontiers fit outside the Harvard Cup.
The next best? I'll go with St. Francis and Iroquois. Not sure who I'd even throw in a second-and-five ... Falls? Lockport? West Seneca East? There's noone outside our current top 10 who will jump on the final ballot unless Lafayette or Bennett shocks the world.
1. Southwestern (10-0)  - In our Monday morning quarterback poll, Southwestern's win is getting less juice than Eden's performance in the loss. But that just shows how tough a test the Trojans passed. It would take a hard fall in the playoffs -- and a long run by someone else -- for them to fall from this spot.
2. Cheektowaga (10-0)  - If they play like they did in the first half against Alden and don't have a letdown like they did in the second, the Warriors should be a tough out in the states.
3. Eden (9-1)  - These guys should get their own day at the Corn Festival. Great job in the final. The What If? of the sectionals: What if Eden had Bermingham against Southwestern?
4. Cassadaga Valley (7-2)  - 7-6 loss to Eden and respectable loss to Southwestern keeps them here.
5. Randolph (9-1)  - Look ma, no passes! We think the non-airborne Cardinals would be a load for any small school to handle.
6. Maple Grove (8-2)  - We said the winner at The Ralph will get a boost on the ballot, but an extra point behind does not a big gap make. That means the Dragons remain chasing right after Randolph here.
7. Alden (7-3)  - Bad first half, good second half in B final was the kind of inconsistency we saw from non-Cheektowaga Class B all year: Lackawanna's the best! Depew's the best! East Aurora's the best! Alden's the best!
8. Burgard (7-1)  - The already-clinched Bulldogs lose to Lafayette in regular season finale and they pay for it here. They can make some of that room back up with what would be a stirring championship run -- starting with a rematch with the Mighty Violets.
9. Cardinal O'Hara (6-3)  - The win over Fredonia is good, but the resume doesn't call for them to be much higher than this. Will Thursday night change that? I'll tell you Friday.
10. Cleveland Hill (7-2)  - With Eden playing Southwestern so close, the Golden Eagles' blowout drags them down a little more.
Who's not here that should be? East Aurora? Depew?
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taggedHigh school football