At the end of seven weeks, just five teams remain unbeaten in Section 1 football. Four of them will begin this weekend’s playoffs seeded atop their respective classes and as presumptive favorites — an inevitability, especially in the power-ranked world of Section 1, where the best often play the best long before the postseason. In fact, with one exception, the No. 1s, New Rochelle, Rye, Nanuet and Dobbs Ferry, are not only unblemished, they have already beat the No. 2 and 3 seeds sitting behind them.
Although that evidence would suggest otherwise, I believe one challenger in each class has serious upset potential.
The Class C and D finals are scheduled for Pace University on Oct. 31. The Class AA, A and B games will be held at another new venue, Dutchess Stadium, on Nov. 7. Here are teams I not only believe can advance there, but win:
Class AA: Clarsktown North
The 6-1 Rams suffered their only loss to — you guessed it — New Rochelle on an absolutely miserable night to play football. Rain-soaked turf and oil-slick footballs wreaked havoc on both teams. The weather diminished the New Rochelle passing game, which has been a force just about every other week this season. But it also plagued the run-first, run-second Rams.
All year, Clarkstown North has been arguably Section 1’s best defensive team, allowing just 41 points in seven games. That defense held New Rochelle to just 38 yards in a second half shutout, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a fumble-filled first half in the 12-6 loss.
Unlike other potential challengers, that defense gives the Rams a chance to win Class AA. They’ll need a clean game from a dominant run offense that is not built for comebacks to do it.
Class A: Eastchester
At 7-0, the Eagles are arguably the story of the season. The program has been galvanized after the loss of former player Nick DePippo. The players’ helmets are adorned with stickers displaying DePippo’s No. 31, which has been shouted and written everywhere from their pregame huddles to their tweets.
But Eastchester has not earned the right to challenge Rye because of that alone. The Eagles can win Class A because they move the football like someone doused it in flames. The offense has scored 250 points in seven games despite the first-string mostly sitting after halftime. The quarterback-receiver combination of John Arcidiacono and Andrew Schultz is one of the area’s best. The defense has hardly been a slouch, allowing just 48 points.
Compared to Rye and Class A’s other top teams, Eastchester has been largely untested. If the Eagles continue to advance, that could work in their favor. They are the only No. 2 or 3 seed in any class that has not already lost to the No. 1, so they are a relative unknown.
Class B: Westlake
When the Wildcats win, they dominate. They earned their five victories by a combined score of 206-13, including a 40-point win over fifth-seeded Putnam Valley.
Physically, Westlake might be best built to challenge burly Nanuet, which won their head-to-head meeting 12-0 on Sept. 26. The Wildcats had chances to score early and late, but they allowed a key defensive touchdown to snap a scoreless tie in the second half. The dynamism in their passing game with Thomas Castro and receivers Will Snyder and Michael Hernandez could be a difference-maker against the Golden Knights. If they are toppled, it won’t be by a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense.
Class C: Woodlands
The Falcons won Class C two of the last three years for a reason. Coach Mike Meade and his staff have been adept at developing new stars and improving from within during the season. This year, the team’s focal point has been quarterback Amari Bilal, who missed most of last season with a leg injury.
Woodlands lost to Dobbs Ferry 20-14 on Sept. 19, but don’t let the result fool you. Remember: The Falcons entered the playoffs 2-4 last year and had lost 34-0 and 27-13 to Rye Neck and Bronxville, respectively. They then beat both en route to a Class C title.
By that standard, reversing a one-touchdown regular season loss to Dobbs Ferry would barely register as an upset. In fact, of the top challengers in each class, a Woodlands win would be the least surprising.