District play­offs kick off tonight

New PIAA clas­si­fi­ca­tions make for a busy night across Ch­ester County

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Nate Heck­en­berger nate­heck­en­berger@gmail.com @nheck­en­berger on Twit­ter

Thanks to an ear­lier-than-nor­mal start to the foot­ball sea­son, the District 1 play­off brack­ets were set be­fore Hal­loween.

Now, 42 of the 76 District 1 foot­ball pro­grams will kick the tires on the PIAA’s sec­ond no­table pre­sea­son change, ex­pand­ing from four classes to six.

The Ches-Mont league will have nine of its 14 teams in the post­sea­son. Two (Coatesville and Down­ing­town East) are com­pet­ing in Class 6A, while seven (Bishop Shana­han, Great Val­ley, Sun Val­ley, Unionville, West Ch­ester East, West Ch­ester Hen­der­son and West Ch­ester Rustin) are in 5A.

The road in 6A stayed ba­si­cally as chal­leng­ing as in year’s past, with North Penn and Ne­shaminy at the top once again. Class 5A is much more way open, with no ap­par­ent pow­er­house dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, and ev­ery first-round road team’s record is .500 or be­low. The Na­tional Di­vi­sion was 12-1 against Amer­i­can Di­vi­sion teams this fall, and there are three in­ter-di­vi­sional games in the 5A first round.

Here’s a quick look at why each team in each lo­cal matchup could win, Fri­day, start­ing with 6A. from a four-year se­ries be­tween 2006-09 that the two teams split, 2-2. East has fig­ured some­thing out of­fen­sively since the week seven loss to Coatesville, and it has re­volved around get­ting its best ath­lete, Jeremy Jen­nings, touches. Jen­nings had just seven of­fen­sive touches the first seven games, but since, he’s car­ried the ball 27 times for 334 yards and five TDs, adding eight re­cep­tions for 144 yards and another score. He opens things up for Dan Li­au­daitis, who led the area with 242 car­ries and was sec­ond with 1,145 rush­ing yards. De­fen­sively, East was tops in the league in points against (12.7) and yards al­lowed (212.6) per game. The front four will make it tough sled­ding for the run-first In­di­ans. Like Abing­ton, Soud­er­ton hails from the Sub­ur­ban One and has four losses to play­off teams. The In­di­ans’ of­fense still has its wing-T roots, and Koby Kahn is a big, phys­i­cal full­back who has ran for 100 yards seven times this sea­son. East has been stingy on de­fense but it has not been its tra­di­tion­ally op­por­tunis­tic self this fall. The Cougars have only cre­ated 10 turnovers, which is way down from their norm, and they are mi­nus­seven in the turnover ra­tio. Soud­er­ton’s best chance is manag­ing first downs, not al­low­ing big plays and hop­ing the Cougars’ turnover woes fi­nally catch up to them. (139.2) per game. The Van­guards have an ex­pe­ri­enced se­nior QB, Gabe Boc­cella, and se­nior re­ceiver Ishy Ah­mad. Boc­cella has been ef­fi­cient, throw­ing for 1,070 yards and 12 TDs with only four in­ter­cep­tions. Ah­mad is Boc­cella’s big­gest tar­get, and his 596 re­ceiv­ing yards are the third-high­est to­tal in the league. Sun Val­ley would likely pre­fer the game get into a shootout with its abil­ity to pass and Hen­der­son’s lack­lus­ter air at­tack. The Warriors are also mi­nusthree in the turnover bat­tle. The In­di­ans will have the ex­pe­ri­ence ad­van­tage as head coach Pat Clark en­ters his 13th post­sea­son game, while WC East coach Dave Gueriera guided the Vik­ings to their first post­sea­son trip since 2006. Unionville led the Amer­i­can Di­vi­sion in points (13.5) and rush­ing yards (119.7) al­lowed per game, boast­ing three shutouts. The Vikes’ have been up and down with its run game and has been ef­fec­tive, but not ex­plo­sive, in the pass­ing game. Of­fen­sively, Dante Graham has emerged with 235 rush yards and five TDs the last three games to pair nicely with Jack Adams (596 rush yards, eight TDs) in the Unionville back­field. Joe Zu­bil­laga gives Clark the phys­i­cal run­ner from the Qb po­si­tion he likes to em­ploy, and Alex Gor­gone is healthy and mixes in as more of a thrower. This is the first time since ’06 that the Vik­ings’ de­fense has held op­po­nents under 25, let alone, 20 points per game. Giv­ing up 16.5 points each con­test is good for fourth in the Na­tional and the Vik­ings have two shutouts and are plus­five in turnovers. Ju­nior run­ning back Jared Cooper has had his fair share of big games, tal­ly­ing 1043 yards on the ground with 10 TDs. In WC East’s six losses it’s av­er­aged just under 100 rush yards, while put­ting up 174.5 in the four wins. The game will be won in the trenches, as nei­ther team throws overly great, though JD Car­roll is a weapon in the pass­ing game that Unionville does not have. Unionville and WC East are sep­a­rated by one point in of­fen­sive scor­ing, so a race to three scores might do it. Shana­han has the feel of a 5A con­tender in the district but got a tough quar­ter of the bracket. If they can get past Rustin, a very stingy Academy Park, the re­turn­ing 3A district champs, will likely loom. The Ea­gles will rely on the ex­pe­ri­ence of se­nior quar­ter­back, Nick Skul­ski, the sec­ond­high­est rated passer in the Na­tional. Bren­dan Dear­ing leads the Na­tional in re­cep­tions (38), yards (780) and in­ter­cep­tions (five). The Ea­gles spread it around, mo­tion­ing dif­fer­ent po­si­tions ev­ery play and of­fen­sively av­er­age just under 30 points a game. Rustin has strug­gled against fast spread of­fenses, giv­ing up 29 to WC East, 27 to Great Val­ley, 29 to Ken­nett and 41 to Coatesville. The Golden Knights are not as strong up front as they have typ­i­cally been on ei­ther side of the ball, and Shana­han has size to go with its ath­leti­cism. The Golden Knights have righted the ship for the most part af­ter start­ing the sea­son 0-4. They have run for 300 yards or more three times in the fi­nal six games, scor­ing just over 30 points a game in that span. Rustin has played with Ty Pringle and Bran­don Fra­zier in the same back­field just four times this sea­son, but if both are out there and healthy, that is a for­mi­da­ble task to take on. The pair has to­taled 1,254 and 18 TDs on the ground. Rustin played seven play­off teams this fall, while Shana­han played five, both teams fac­ing a pair of 6A foes. Shana­han had some of the best de­fen­sive num­bers the first half of the sea­son, but as the com­pe­ti­tion has steep­ened, the Ea­gles’ de­fense sur­ren­dered 26.4 points per game in the sec­ond half. As good as Skul­ski has been, he is also tied for the third-most in­ter­cep­tions (nine) in the area.

NATE HECK­EN­BERGER — FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Aaron Young is the key to Coatesville’s elec­tric of­fense, and the Red Raiders will play host to Abing­ton in the first round of the 6A play­offs.

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