After two straight seasons of missing the postseason by two-tenths of a point, one might think that the move to a division populated by smaller schools would help Seneca Valley’s chances of making the postseason. Think again. Seneca Valley’s new home in the 2A West region is a region like no other before. It may be the toughest high school football division ever in the State of Maryland.
On Wednesday, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association released the new alignment of schools for the 2017 season. While it is not-unexpected that Seneca Valley, Damascus, and Poolesville would move to 2A, the schools 1,100 enrollment fits with that division. What was unexpected were the other schools which have also been placed in the same division.
While the new 4A West looks very much the same as it did last year with Northwest, Quince Orchard, and Richard Montgomery remaining the big dogs, but recent power Montgomery Blair and cellar-dweller Northwood both moving to the 4A North, and Wheaton moving up from 3A. The region also includes Clarksburg, Einstein, Whitman, Wootton, Walter Johnson, Gaithersburg, Bethesda Chevy-Chase, Churchill, and Kennedy.
The new 3A West region, however, is made up of 11 teams, three from Montgomery County (Seneca Valley, Damascus, and Poolesville), three from Frederick County (Oakdale, Walkersville, and Middletown), four from Carroll County (Liberty, Century, South Carroll, and Winters Mill), and one from Washington County (Williamsport).
Of those 11 teams, there are two reigning state champions; Damascus who have won the 3A title in back-to-back seasons and Walkersville who won the 2A title last season. Both teams had undefeated 14-0 seasons last year.
“Looking at it, the 2A West is now the hardest region in the state,” said Seneca Valley Head Coach Fred Kim. “It is even hard to get into the playoffs because of the talent and history of the programs in the division.”
Seven of the 11 teams in the new 2A West racked up eight wins last year.
“There are 26 state championships in this division,” said Kyle McFadden, co-founder, and editor at MarylandSportsAccess.com, “two reigning state champions with 14-0 records, six combined state championship since 2011, and seven teams with more than eight wins in 2016. Having two reigning state champs in one division has never happened before. I don’t think any other region in the past can compare to this one.”
The MPSSAA hasn’t changed the system for teams to earn points to determine the standings which gives points for defeating opponents. For instance, 8.0 points for defeating a Class 4A team, 7.0 for beating a Class 3A team, 6.0 points for defeating Class 2A team, and 5.0 points for a win over a Class 1A team. Teams will also get bonus points for each win that a defeated opponent has in the season.
If you beat a team and you are the only team to beat that team you get more points than if you beat a team that hasn’t won any games. If you play good teams and beat them, you get more points.
The other thing that hasn’t changed is the basic pool of teams which Seneca Valley, Damascus, and Poolesville will play. They will also continue playing teams from Montgomery County which means, other than the two games on each schedule when they play each other, they will be playing 3A and 4A caliber teams.
“We will still be playing 3A and 4A teams,” said Kim.” We will still play Northwest. It is a challenge, we have about 1,000 students in the school, and we play Northwest which has 2,300 students. It is a great rivalry, and we love playing them every year, but it makes it a challenge to play them.”
The challenge is that if you lose to that much bigger school, even though it is a great rivalry, you get 0.0 points. If the goal is to win a state championship, there is no real upside to playing Northwest or Gaithersburg because the risk may be greater than the reward.
For instance, last season Seneca Valley went 8-2 and did not make the playoffs. The Screaming Eagles missed the playoffs by two-tenths of a point in the standings to Linganore. The Linganore Lancers with a record of 7-3 finished with 84.20 points, and Seneca Valley accumulated 84.00 points. Linganore received an extra .20 of a point because they played defeated Indian River High School. Indian River High School is in Delaware and the Delaware high school football season had only played nine games by the end of the Maryland state high school season. Linganore beat Indian River 61-0. Indian River had only won two games all season, but based on the MPSSAA rules, Linganore gets 2.2 bonus points from those two Indian Head victories.
Forget that Seneca Valley had a better record, 8-2, compared to Linganore’s 7-3. Or, the Seneca’s margin of victory this season is 30 points, while Linganore’s margin of victory was just 19 points. Also, the MPSSAA doesn’t take into account that Seneca Valley’s schedule includes three 4A schools, while two of Linganore’s three losses are to 2A schools (Middletown and Walkersville). Linganore’s victory over an out of state team gave them the .2 points to make the playoffs.
“It makes it tough because there are teams from separate counties,” said Kim. “We don’t all play each other. I think if we all played each other it might be a little different. But since we all play our county schedules it makes it's very challenging. You might lose one game and not make the playoffs. 10-0 might have to get you in.”
It won’t just be the football programs that will move division; it will be all sports which is one of the reasons why it is hard for the powers that be at the MPSSAA to create even regions throughout the state, across all sports.
“You always hope that there is some sort of parity and equity, but the problem is that it is not just football based because some schools are traditionally better at other sports such as basketball, of soccer, or field hockey,” said Kim. “It is really hard to say we have to split up the regions in fairness to football. I completely understand why that is necessary, but when it comes to football, our region is not equitable compared to others in the region, especially the new 3A West.”
Linganore will remain a Class 3A school this season, eventually lost to Damascus in the first round of the playoffs 21-7. By the way, the newly realigned 3A West has only one team that had more than eight wins last season, Tuscarora who went 8-3 and lost to Oakdale (now in the 2A West) 40-28 in the first round of the playoffs last year.
According to McFadden, the 2A West is the powerhouse region in the state. “I am hard pressed to think of another region in the state’s history that comes close to the historical power of the teams in this region.”
“Defending 2A Champ Walkersville returns 15 of 22 starters, including nine of 11 defensive starters. Walkersville did not allow more than eight points per game. Then you have Damascus; you know what Damascus has they are back-to-back 3A champs.” McFadden said he expected both Walkersville and Damascus to be 10-0 in the regular season again this year.
In sizing up the rest of the 2A West, McFadden said, “Oakdale is going to be solid. You can’t count out Middletown; they won three straight 2A state championships in 2011, 2012, 2013. The oddballs are the two Carroll County teams, Liberty went 9-1 last year and Century went 8-3 last year, and South Carroll always has a decent program, but Carroll County football is not as competitive as Montgomery County and Frederick County. Liberty was 9-1 and played Middletown in the first round of the playoffs and Middletown was alright, but not great last year. Liberty has one of the best seasons in school history, and yet, Middletown blew them out of the water, 48-0 — on Liberty’s field. Meanwhile, Century played Walkersville in the first round, and Walkersville killed them, 48-7.”
Based on the history, a Carroll County team will probably make the playoffs and take one of the four spots with a record of 9-1 or 8-2 playing weaker competition all season than a Seneca Valley team will play all year.
“If you win eight games you will have to rely on a tie breaker to make the postseason,” said McFadden. “If you win nine games you will probably make the playoffs. It is really compelling and intriguing to have a region like this, from a high school football fan’s perspective. Having two defending state champs in one region who will potentially meet up with each other in week 12 is kind of exciting.”
“It is going to be a challenge,” said Kim. “There are going to be some good teams that don’t get into the playoffs, unfortunately. It happened last year. I guess if we want to win a championship, we have to beat everybody.”
After all, that is what champions do.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.