Here’s my column from Monday’s paper about how Class A teams finally have a level playing field — for now — in their run for sectional and/or state titles…
To prepare for its biggest game in 11 seasons, the Somers football team became those new, proud parents of twins: They had twice as much to accomplish in half the time. They practiced in full pads one day instead of two. The spent a half-day in shells rather than a full one, reserving the other half for a helmets-only walk-through.
Forget about installing new defenses to counter Cornwall’s spread offense. These Tuskers could barely relearn what they knew, much less expand on it, despite coach Tony DeMatteo holding double-sessions on the eve of a state quarterfinal.
“I’m not saying we would’ve beat Cornwall, but we had no chance the way it was set up,” DeMatteo said.
Hurricane Sandy had something to do with it, but the superstorm cost the Class A champ one day of preparation, not three. Starting practice four days late way back in August had been the real culprit. It cramped the playoff schedule and then led to grumblings from other corners of the state when storm-related postponements began to impact Cornwall as well.
Whoever emerges this season from the crowded, competitive and always compelling Class A heap likely won’t putter along with its physical and mental tank on “E,” and won’t be cast as some accidental villain in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
The next two seasons, the calendar will allow teams to start practice in late August yet still complete a seven-game regular season and three-tiered playoffs for the sectional and state titles by Thanksgiving weekend. For Section 1, it means starting practice Monday along with the other sections, which have started their regular seasons a week earlier in recent years thanks to opening practice four days earlier.
The reprieve is temporary (2013 and 2014) for something that has become a serious point of contention between coaches and administrators. For contenders bent on conjuring sectional or state championship dreams, that is now moot.
Playing deep into November is now a real possibility.
“I don’t know how the other teams in the state are going to be, but without a doubt whoever wins the section this year will have a much better chance to advance,” DeMatteo said.
The evidence is telling. In the five times Class A teams in Section 1 have slogged through a condensed sectional tournament, a state finalist has never been produced, let alone a state champion. The sectional winners have posted a 2-5 record in those years with only Harrison (2005) and Ossining (2007) even advancing past the state quarterfinals.
In the other 15 instances since the state tournament began in 1993, Section 1 has produced three Class A state champs and eight state finalists. In fact, Section 1 champs were knocked out in the state quarterfinals the same number of times (three) in those 15 years as they had been in the five years playing a condensed postseason.
“It’s our own fault. I don’t blame anyone else,” Rye coach Dino Garr said. “It hurts the kids and it’s not right.”
Section 1 executive director Jennifer Simmons said the section had tabled discussions of realigning its football start date with the remainder of the state, but it would gather information the next two years. Section 1’s coaches remain fearful of a 2015 return to three-games-in-11-days hell in 2015 and plan to actively pursue a solution.
In recent years, they had an option to reduce the Class A playoff field to four, but pushed for the condensed playoff as the lesser of two evils. (Section 1 has 28 teams in Class A.)
Despite some dissension, the coaches met in the spring and voted unanimously to support the regular start date after an impassioned speech by DeMatteo, their longest-tenured member. They also held a parent meeting to discuss the safety perils of playing a condensed playoff schedule.
That changed with the return to a regular start date, but the debate will stew these next two years. It may remain unsolved, but for now, Class A’s best can dream of Syracuse again.