By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — The PIAA District 1 playoffs are set to begin the weekend of Nov. 8-9 and it marks one of the most exciting times in the area, because it shows how much teams improved and how some teams have regressed.
One team that bears serious watching as the Class AAAA playoffs begin is perennial area powerhouse North Penn. The Knights had an uncharacteristic dip last year, failing to make the postseason. And it began rocky again this year, losing their first three games.
But North Penn’s 0-3 was unlike other 0-3 starts for most teams. No, Knights’ coach Dick Beck would schedule the Eagles if he could—so he went the high school version, opening the season against three monsters—La Salle (a 34-7 loss), Archbishop Wood (49-3 loss) and St. Joseph’s Prep (35-6 loss).
Alabama wasn’t available.
Something has to be said about Beck and his choice to play the best. It brought out the best in his team. The Knights have since reeled off seven-straight victories, thanks to the play of senior quarterback Austin Shearer and sophomore tailback Nyfease West, who didn’t play against La Salle, Wood or Prep.
Facing another huge challenge won’t be as heavy an obstacle when the Knights (7-3 overall), the No. 11 seed, open the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA playoffs against defending District 1 champion and state runner-up Coatesville (9-1), the No. 6 seed, on Friday night at 7 p.m.
“I think we have to keep playing the way we’ve been playing. Our quarterback has been playing really well; his last three games we’re his best games this year,” Beck said. “I think we found our identity in those first three games. We dumbed things down and made things a little simpler. I know you learn from playing great teams like La Salle, Wood and Prep, but you also walk the fine line of being 0-3.
“Even though you fall to 0-3 against good teams, our confidence was super low. We didn’t play well and you walk the edge of losing some kids, because we lost so bad. Our seniors deserve a lot of credit. They’ve been really resilient and this looks like the end product through those tough times. But I think we’re playing with house money now. We’ll be the underdog playing against the defending Eastern champion and state runner-up. We know if we don’t play our best, we won’t have a shot. We’ll just have to get over the shock of seeing Coatesville in person, because they’re huge. We have to continue doing our thing and do what we do well.”
Coatesville will be without Penn State-bound star Daquan Worley, who is gone this season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in a 42-20 victory over West Chester East on October 25. Worley is projected to play cornerback at Penn State. In eight games for the Raiders, he had rushed for 1,254 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Garnet Valley is the No. 1 seed in the district, which is wide open, but watch for the Jaguars, along with Pennsbury, Rustin and North Penn to make a deep playoff push.
“We had a great time during the regular season and the kids worked really hard,” Garnet Valley coach Mike Ricci said. “Now we use this time to set new goals and we’ll go from there. The playoffs are exciting because in District 1, all 16 teams are very good. I think any team could beat anyone. Our word is ‘oneness’ and no one is bigger or greater than anyone on this team than anyone else. What’s made us successful is we lean on each other and work together in everything we do.”
District 1 Playoff Matchups
(Higher seeds are home for the first three rounds)
Class AAAA (Championship weekend Dec. 6-7)
1. Garnet Valley (10-0) vs. 16. Council Rock North (7-3)
2. Rustin (10-0) vs. 15. Perkiomen Valley (8-2)
3. Pennsbury (9-1) vs. 14. Upper Darby (8-2)
4. Neshaminy (9-1) vs. 13. Unionville (8-2)
5. Downingtown West (8-2) vs. 12. Spring-Ford (8-2)
6. Coatesville (9-1) vs. 11. North Penn (7-3)
7. CB West (8-2) vs. 10. Plymouth Whitemarsh (8-2)
8. Abington (8-2) vs. 9. Upper Dublin (9-1)
Class AAA (Championship weekend Nov. 29-30)
(Higher seed is the home team for the first round)
1. Pottsgrove (10-0) vs. 8. Phoenixville (4-6)
2. Glen Mills (7-3) vs. 7. Springfield (Delco) (6-4)
3. Henderson (6-4) vs. 6. Bishop Shanahan (5-4)
4. Academy Park (7-2) vs. 5. Interboro (5-4)
(Higher seed is the home team)
1. Imhotep Charter (7-1) vs. 4. Springfield (Montco) (5-4)
2. West Catholic (7-2) vs. 3. New Hope (8-1)
(Higher seed is the home team)
1. Bristol (8-1) vs. 2. Delco Christian (7-2)
3. School of the Future (3-5) vs. 4. Jenkintown (3-6)