Head to head: Report card time

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Pelletier: Well would you look at that. I get to start, which means I get a few words in edgewise before Oakes’ pigskin pontifications begin.

You know, Oh-Wise-and-Gray-Haired-One, we are almost down to do-or-die (do-or-victory?) time here on the local gridiron. Five weeks are in the books, with only three (for most schools) remaining before a few teams are eliminated and we start on the march through the postseason.

In that vein, I want to know which teams have surprised you to this point. And, in the spirit of all things even, I want to know your pleasant surprises, but also which team(s) may, to this point, have underachieved and will have to do some quick turning around to salvage a season.

That Leavitt and Spruce Mountain remain on a collision course in Western C is hardly a shock, though are you surprised at how they’re getting there?

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A shock to some (though not to this sports editor, who predicted this from the start of the season) has been the emergence of Dirigo as the unbeaten front-runner in Western D.

What say you, scribe of scribes?

Oakes: Nothing surprises me. The theory of relativity and the invention of the light bulb didn’t surprise me, either, judging from your descriptions of me this week.

The teams I/we thought would be good are good. I told anyone who would listen that Leavitt would be Leavitt, and that they improve every week from September to November. Anybody who didn’t see that coming hasn’t been paying much attention over the years. If either of those teams has an Achilles’ heel, it’s that I want to see Leavitt run the ball consistently and Spruce Mountain stop the run consistently against good opponents before I commit to either of them beating a Winslow or Waterville.

That three-team dogfight in Class D West doesn’t surprise me a bit. (And really? You want a cookie for picking Dirigo to win a regional title in a boys’ sport? Don’t break the limb, man.) I’m mildly surprised by how dominant Lisbon has been against the first wave of competition. We’ll find out what it all means when the Greyhounds play Dirigo and Oak Hill back-to-back.

I’m impressed with Oxford Hills. The Vikings’ schedule doesn’t give them a great chance to reach .500, but they’ve turned a corner this season and made the Portland-area schools work for their supper. I’m surprised that Lewiston hasn’t won a game, but injuries have a lot to do with it. I thought Poland would hang in with Leavitt and Spruce Mountain a little longer after a promising start to the season.

Other than that, you’re right, things have played out almost exactly to form. Any individual players or trends surprise you between field hockey games and 1 a.m. baby feedings?

Pelletier: To be clear, the only person I am feeding at 1 a.m. is myself (insert “that’s what I meant” baby joke here). And I’ll pretend that field hockey comment was a compliment and move along.

The only trend that has me a touch surprised is that even though we are nearly through two years of the four-class system that was supposed to shake things up and make things more competitive, it really hasn’t.

I could go on (and have in the past) about how dividing schools into regions and classes strictly by size and not by tradition, and without taking into account geographic factors, is ludicrous. But we can revisit that on another day.

The simple fact is, the four-class system doesn’t seem to be helping the traditional “have-nots”, nor is it really allowing the “haves” play a more competitive and balanced schedule. 

To get back on topic, the trend I notice the most this season (and last) is the alarming number of blowout wins (or losses, depending on your side of the field) we’re seeing each week. If you look at just the 15 teams in our defined “area,” the disparity is striking.

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, despite Leavitt’s best efforts to tip the scales in the pass-happy direction, I am also seeing many more teams work with a power run game, thought not abandoning the pass like we saw through the late 90s. Teams are becoming more versatile, but overall, remaining true to their cores.

Though I know you (and I) are far from being what one might call “trend-setters,” are there any in particular you are following this season?

Oakes: That’s an alarming trend, but you and I both know that no matter what system the MPA employs, we’re going to have regular-season blowouts. It’s part of sports and part of life. Every fan, writer, coach or athlete can think of a system that might work, but it usually would involve overhauling the conference lineups every year.

And some of this is simply how the schedule worked itself out. We’re going to see some great matchups down the stretch. Leavitt playing Wells and Spruce Mountain back-to-back. Lisbon doing the same against Dirigo and Oak Hill. Thornton battling Cheverus and Bonny Eagle. Marshwood meeting York for the first of what are likely two showdowns for Class B West supremacy. Ditto for Waterville and Winslow in C East. Mt. Blue fighting through Gardiner, Brewer and Skowhegan and trying to earn a home playoff game. 

The trend I’m seeing this year that bothers me most, and for which there is likewise no easy answer: injuries. I’ve lost track of how many stars we’ve lost for weeks at a time, or how many coaches tell me they have four, five or six starters sitting out. Athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than ever, and that means crunching collisions and muscle tears galore. Schools are going to need to start examining tackling and stretching techniques, or it will continue. And it won’t be pleasant, or a surprise.

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