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How The News voted: Final poll (and who you would vote for)

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.

Here is the complete final poll, the one that determined Sweet Home and Southwestern as this year's poll champions.

We have one vote in each poll. Here are our ballots from Week One, Week Two, Week Three, Week Four, Week Five, Week Six, Week Seven, Week Eight, Week Nine and Week 10.

And here's this week's, the grand finale:

Large schools

1. Sweet Home (13-0) [last poll: 2] - Two state champions in both large-school classifications -- for the second year in a row. Still unbelievable. And it leads to an unbelievable choice, because there can only be one No. 1 on this poll.

Last year pollsters -- including The News -- voted 7-2 in favor of Orchard Park. Last year's decision was a little easier, maybe because OP was in the larger class, maybe because OP had largely the same seasoned crew from the previous year, maybe because OP held the top spot all season. I think that overall, OP played tougher teams (Binghamton and Monroe-Woodbury in particular) than Sweet Home did last year. But there are still people who think Sweet Home would have beaten OP last year, and I sure would have loved seeing that game.

But enough about last year.

I would love seeing this year's Sweet Home and NT teams play as well. But our pick is the Panthers. Their playoff road was more dominant after it beat Grand Island at The Ralph. It beat a supposedly better-than-last-year Aquinas team even badder than it beat the Little Irish last year. Two big wins followed on their way to the state championship.

On the other hand, NT had a close call with Webster Schroeder, which wasn't regarded as Section V's best team, and is probably regarded behind Aquinas. There were some breaks that went NT's way, like Baldwinsville's star running back sitting out the first quarter due to a team rule violation, and New Rochelle's quarterback getting knocked out of the state final very early.

Now, none of that stuff matters for NT. They are the state champions. Even if those players played full games, I still think the Lumberjacks find a way to win. But it's just that in making a decision like this, you have to look at that sort of stuff.

2. North Tonawanda (13-0) [1] - The last time we voted was following the games at The Ralph, and we put NT above Sweet Home based on its blowout of Lancaster vs. Sweet Home's hard-fought win over Grand Island.

We wrote: "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."

We stand by that. The thing is, when Sweet Home came together, it really came together. It played a near-perfect game against Aquinas, one of the best programs in the state. I'd say at that point Sweet Home earned back its No. 1 spot (we had them there for most of the year).

What would happen if the teams played? Man, what a game. If the enrollment numbers are true, we'll find out how next year's teams shape up the way you should -- on the field.

But those will be brand-new teams. For this year, we'd take Sweet Home because -- as NT's Darrik Bloomfield showed in the final -- one playmaker can make a huge difference. The thing is, Sweet Home has more playmakers than NT: Ralph Neasman had a Bloomfield-esque game at The Ralph, Pat McMahon had one against Aquinas (Mikal Coleman did as well), Jahaan Williams had one against Whitesboro, D.J. Nettles had one against Burnt Hills.

WIth the way the Lumberjacks played so together, depended on each other so much, had so many different players come up with impact plays, and carried out masterful game plans by their coaches, we just can't see them losing.

Well, we still can't. But we had to fill out this poll :-)

3. Grand Island (6-4) [3] - Their spot here is solidified by handing our No. 1 its toughest two games of the season.

4. Orchard Park (7-2) [4] - They played NT (on the road) just about as tough as anyone, and as we wrote a few times late in the season, we thought that if they played Lancaster again they'd flip around the 9-7 road loss from Week Five.

5. Lancaster (9-1) [5] - We think the top five definitely has to be the top five; there's a definite dividing point here.

But the next five look familiar.

6. Hamburg (7-2) [6] - Same spot as last poll ...  

7. Williamsville South (7-2) [7] - ... and also the same spot as last poll. Call it a tribute to Class A and No. 1 Sweet Home. These two never got their shot against the Panthers, but that's not anyone's fault but the Bulldogs' and the Billies'. 

8. Canisius (6-5) [8] - We spent much of our time here last poll pontificating that Canisius had to be voted ahead of St. Joe's. And while that remains true, we just did not see enough to show that they deserved to be voted any higher than this spot. The Crusaders got shut out by Aquinas, which got overwhelmed by Sweet Home (and in turn gives a decent bump to Section VI Class A teams). Canisius lost to Kearney, who never made it through the Section VI Class C playoffs. Canisius beat Jamestown, which lost at unranked Lockport in the AA quarterfinals. Canisius beat St. Joe's twice, and the Marauders beat Niagara Falls, which lost at Lancaster in the AA quarterfinals. And neither Jamestown or Falls ever got close to being on this ballot.

Based on what I saw in two games against St. Joe's, Canisius sure can score and Eman sure can run and pass. They're a very good football team. We see very good football teams falling anywhere from spots six through nine as up-for-grabs in a way, but we're grabbing them and putting them here.

9. Riverside (9-1) [10] - With no opponents to even extrapolate matchups against (like everyone in Monsignor Martin -- including Canisius -- losing to Aquinas while Sweet Home destroyed them), we don't have much to go on here. We know the Frontiers are a fantastic team, but all we have to go on this season is that they lost their opener and avenged the loss in the final. If they go undefeated, does that move them up? Perhaps. I can't really say that. Based on recent history, Riverside would have lost to Aquinas (they did last year) and Harvard Cup large schools would lose to the better Monsignor Martin large schools (like they did last year when Canisius routed Grover and the previous year when Canisius beat Riverside). We did, however, move them past St. Joe's and we could certainly think they could beat St. Joe's.  

10. St. Joe's (6-5) [9] - The loss to Canisius knocks them down a peg, but we still favor them here over Iroquois and St. Francis.

Small schools

1. Southwestern (13-0) [1] - Not much to write about here. Wire-to-wire, 29 wins in a row and counting. 

2. Eden (9-1) [3] - Eden's dominating season and performance against Southwestern at The Ralph -- without one of their best players -- earns them this spot. And yes, even over a state champion.

3. Randolph (12-1) [5] - The Cardinals were the No. 1 small school after their 2005 state championship. You know, back in the days when Section VI didn't win four titles every year?

4. Cheektowaga (10-1) [2] - On the bright side of that regional thumping Hornell handed them? Hornell went on to win the state title. 

5. Cassadaga Valley (7-2) [4] - A 7-6 loss to Eden and respectable loss to Southwestern definitely keeps them here.

6. Maple Grove (8-2) [6] - Yes, they were a extra point away from Randolph. A point away from taking Randolph to overtime, that is. That, and that regular season loss to Frewsburg, definitely put them behind the Class B champion as well as Cassadaga Valley.

7. Alden (7-3) [7] - Starting with Maple Grove, the rest of this ballot is the same as the last one.

8. Burgard (8-2) [8] - No shame losing to the ranked large school in the Harvard Cup final; they'd be one spot higher, perhaps more, if not for the Lafayette loss.

9. Cardinal O'Hara (6-3) [9] - Excellent championship win over St. Mary's at The Ralph, but not stirring enough to move them up -- here we see spots 7-8-9-10 as being very tight, trying to gauge the city, Catholics and two different classes.

10. Cleveland Hill (7-2) [10] - Blowout loss at Southwestern in playoffs requires they be blown quite a bit away from Eden and Cassadaga Valley -- yeah, about this far away. Definitely like the Golden Eagles over East Aurora and Depew, however.

Don't like what you're reading? The comment space is below.

We'll have another live chat coming up next week -- our last of the calendar year -- where you'll also be able to fire away.

---Keith McShea

buffalonews.com/highschool     facebook.com/preptalkblog     twitter.com/bufnewspreptalk

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High school football | Poll
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About Prep Talk

Keith McShea

Keith McShea

Keith McShea has covered high school sports at The News since his hiring in 1999. The 1995 University at Buffalo graduate and Long Island native (North Babylon Bulldogs) covers — and live blogs — everything from scrimmages to state championships & helps head The News' All-Western New York selections.

@KeithMcSheaBN | kmcshea@buffnews.com

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