Three games this weekend could go a long way in determining the playoff fates of four area football teams.
One is a matchup of state-ranked and unbeaten Class D teams, another is a rematch of last season's Section Four Class C title game, and the third is among Section Four's fiercest rivalries.
Bainbridge-Guilford (4-0, 3-0 Division VII), ranked 19th in Class D, travels to top-ranked Walton (4-0, 3-0 Division VII) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. At the same time, Sidney (3-1, 1-0) visits Chenango Forks (3-2, 0-1) in a key Division V game.
At 7 p.m. today, Oneonta High (1-2) travels to rival Norwich (3-1) for their annual rivalry game. Both teams are 1-0 in Division III.
The Yellowjackets could all but assure themselves a Class B playoff spot with a win over the Purple Tornado.
"They're going to come right at us," said OHS coach Adam Hoover, whose team lost, 15-12, to Norwich last season. "They're going to be physical and they're going to pound us. Their offense, like ours, is not fancy. But you don't have to be fancy if you can execute."
The key to Oneonta's success likely will fall on senior Bryce Wooden's sturdy legs. The Yellowjackets' top ground gainer had 194 rushing yards two weeks ago in Oneonta's 35-31 Division III victory over visiting Chenango Valley.
But this past Saturday, Wooden was limited to 66 yards on 20 attempts in a 35-14 loss to unbeaten Greene.
"When we run Bryce, it's not a whole lot of fancy stuff," Hoover said of the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder. "He's tough and fast and we want to get him running downhill. (Greene) did a good job of slowing him down."
Hoover said his defense will try to contain Norwich quarterback Seth Thomsen, who is more likely to beat teams with his legs than his arm.
Norwich's loss this season came by a 12-6 score against Sidney three weeks ago. Norwich bounced back with victories over Chenango Forks (20-7) and Windsor (36-14).
Sidney's path to a second straight Section Four Class C playoff berth might hinge on Saturday's outcome at Forks.
"What comes to mind isn't that team, it's that program," Sidney coach Jeff Matthews said of the Blue Devils, who've won sectional titles in all but one year since 2001. That streak includes Class B state championships in 2003 and 2004. "Right now, they haven't done exactly what they want, but their focus isn't on each individual game. Their focus is on getting back to the playoffs, winning sectionals and moving in on states. We know they're getting better every week."
Greene (5-0, 2-0) appears to be a safe bet for one of Division V's two playoff spots, having already beaten Forks. With Sidney downing D-V rival Unatego, 20-0, last week, the Warriors would be in prime position to take the second spot with a win over Forks.
Sidney also could avenge its lone losses from an 8-2 campaign a year ago, including a 44-16 drubbing by Forks in the Section Four Class C final.
"Every week, we're getting better and better," junior Nate McDonald said after throwing a touchdown pass and scoring on an interception return at Unatego last week.
The Warriors have beaten Norwich, Lansing and Unatego by a combined score of 62-12 since opening with a 73-14 loss at Johnson City.
With eight teams making the playoffs in Class D this season, B-G and Walton appear to be well on their way to the postseason. Still, Saturday's game will be big in terms of seeding for the playoffs and determining the Division VII champion.
"They're a very, very powerful football team," Walton coach Jim Hoover said of the Bobcats. "That (Billy) Holden boy is one powerful ballcarrier. Talk about gang tackles _ you don't bring him down with one guy. When he runs that quickie up the middle, he's just deadly and he's quick for a big kid.
"He's not the only one they have," he continued. "They have some other good runners, and that quarterback (Corbin Palmer) throws well. They have a couple of good receivers and their line comes off the ball well."
Hoover said after Saturday's 38-14 victory at rival Delhi that Walton junior Trevor Spencer, a starter at running back, might not play. Spencer injured an ankle against the Bulldogs.
The Warriors have plenty of capable runners, though, among them Mike Beers, Nick Shiels and Bob Albro. Beers, a junior, banged his way for a game-high 75 rushing yards on 10 carries Saturday, and the speedy Shiels averaged 10 yards on four attempts. Additionally, the 200-pound Albro scored on a 17-yard run in the third quarter.
Shiels also caught touchdown passes of 55 and 62 yards from classmate Dalton Kaminsky.
"We should probably throw a little more," Hoover said.
After his team's 26-15 win over Oxford last Friday, Bobcats coach Tim Mattingly said he's well-aware of Walton's ability to pass the ball this season.
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.