Chris Dugan's Sports Column
A high school football season like no other
High school football in this corner of the state used to be a rather predictable affair that required little effort from fans to be comfortable with and understand.
A warm blanket, a cup of hot chocolate and two hours to spare on a Friday night were all you needed to enjoy a game.
The only thing that left fans baffled was the puzzling Gardner Point System that the WPIAL uses to break ties among potential playoff teams.
Then along came the 2013 season and everything changed. The average fan’s loyalty and patience have been put through the ringer.
They have been playing high school football in Washington County since 1902, and in Greene County since 1905, and never has there been a season quite like the one that reaches the end of its regular season tonight.
Instead of that warm blanket and cup of hot chocolate, fans would be wise to take along a few other things to games:
Up-to-the-minute rosters and standings – These seem to change daily, depending on which players are eligible. Washington’s record went from 7-1 and in the WPIAL playoffs as of Monday morning, to 6-2 Monday evening, to 1-7 and out of the playoffs Tuesday morning. By Thursday afternoon, the Prexies were back at 6-2. They are back in the Class AA playoffs and will be hosting a first-round game Nov. 1.
A calculator to keep up with all the points – Whether it’s improved passing games, the spread offense, a lack of depth on rosters or simply bad defenses, never there been a greater divide between the haves and have-nots. South Fayette scored 49 points in the first quarter of a game against Burgettstown. Fort Cherry scored 46 points in the first-quarter and 67 in the first half against Serra, when the Rangers scored a touchdown on each of their first six plays. That’s six plays and Serra’s defense didn’t make a single tackle.
Fort Cherry also has played games that ended with scores of 59-34 and 49-33, and Ringgold played a 52-36 game.
It’s a wonder we haven’t had a scoreboard blow up from overuse.
A copy of the WPIAL’s Mercy Rule – Remember when high school football scores used to be 12-6, 14-8, and 20-12? Those are typical first-quarter scores this season.
South Fayette has a 74-7 win. Fort Cherry has an 86-19 victory. Beth-Center won a game 80-0.
Over in Fayette County, Frazier defeated Geibel 81-0. That also was the score at halftime.
The WPIAL has a Mercy Rule that kicks in during the second half when a team is leading by at least 35 points. This is a way to keep the scores closer in blowouts. It hasn’t helped in some games, so coaches and officials have opted to change the rules. In both the Black Hills and Tri-County South conference – the area’s two Class A leagues – there have been games played with five-minute quarters and a running clock during the second half.
Some extra money for a second trip to the concession stand – It used to be that you could count on high school football games lasting about two hours. You could easily make it home from a road game in time to catch the 11 p.m. news on television. Today, with the all the high-scoring, passing and modern timing rules, games often last more than three hours.
I covered one game – no overtimes involved – that didn’t end until 10:34 p.m. It made me think about a McGuffey-Beaver game I staffed many years ago. Kickoff was at 7:30 p.m. There was only one pass thrown in the first half, and it was on the final play of the second quarter. Halftime began at 8:05 p.m.
The only people who can be enjoying three-hour high school football games are those in the organizations who operate the concession stands. You can sell a lot of hot chocolate in three hours.
An up-to-date schedule – We’ve learned this year that the teams listed on the schedule might not show up for the game. Geibel forfeited Tri-County South games against Beth-Center, West Greene and Jefferson-Morgan, citing a lack of healthy players. Imani Christian dropped its football program in mid-August, causing its Black Hills Conference rivals to scramble to fill open dates on the schedule. Some did, some did not.
West Greene officials were informed by Geibel that the Gators were forfeiting their Oct. 18 game barely 48 hours before the scheduled kickoff. In what was the best save made in Western Pennsylvania this year by anyone not pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, West Greene athletic director Bill Simms was able to find an opponent (North Star) to replace Geibel and save the Pioneers’ homecoming.
Jefferson-Morgan wasn’t so fortunate. The Rockets were scheduled to play Geibel Saturday. J-M’s season ended last week, after only eight games.
All the craziness of the season has almost made us forget that Wash High running back Shai McKenzie – the most heavily recruited player from Washington County in three decades – suffered a season-ending knee injury Sept. 13. That story has been overshadowed by all the off-the-charts craziness of this one-of-a-kind season.
Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.