Last Monday, I wrote that several of the nation's top teams were separating from the pack. Don Bosco Prep (N.J.), St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) and Allen (Texas) -- the top three again this week -- established themselves as clear favorites, the class of this year's championship hopefuls.
That may still be the case. But the drop off doesn't happen after Allen. Following statement victories from a number of contenders, it's clear that several others belong among the nation's elite. It begs the question: Where does the separation happen? After five teams? Ten? Fifteen?
That's yet to be determined. Trinity (Louisville) and Armwood (Fla.) seem to have entered the prep pantheon, and Trinity (Texas) is painstakingly close, winning its last two games by a combined 128-0. Our Lady of Good Counsel (Md.), Gaffney (S.C.) and Buford (Ga.) are also charging, and could ascend the ranks as early as next week.
For now, the hierarchy remains intact. But just barely: The previously invincible Ironmen revealed chinks in their armor during a thrilling win at Manatee (Fla.).
Previous rank: 1
Last game: 22-16 win at Manatee (Fla.)
Next game: Sept. 23 at Ridgewood (N.J.)
Breathe easy, Don Bosco fans. The preseason favorites remained undefeated, and atop the power rankings, after leaving Bradenton, Fla., with a 22-16 win over Manatee. Despite trailing 10-9 in the fourth quarter -- the team's first fourth quarter deficit in two years -- the Ironmen escaped thanks to 64-yard bomb from Mike Yankovich to Leonte Carroo and a six-yard score from Jabrill Peppers. For the 37th consecutive time, Don Bosco emerged victorious.
It's another memorable road win for Coach Greg Toal, adding to his resume over the past few seasons (He's won at Gilman (Md.), Prattville (Ala.) and De La Salle (Calf.) since 2008). It's also Bosco's second win against a top 100 opponent in a span of six days, a feat that shouldn't be overlooked. But the slim margin raises questions, something that's especially pressing under center: Yankovich went just 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) for 120 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
For another week, the Ironmen are No. 1. And though the offense needs work, the defense lived up to its billing: The Hurricanes gained just 41 yards on 38 carries, a paltry 1.08 rushing average.
Previous rank: 2
Last game: 34-0 win over Cypress Bay (Fla.)
Next game: Sept. 23 vs. De La Salle (Calif.)
Following a bye, Aquinas prepares to host De La Salle, a showdown of two of the nation's powerhouse programs. Since 2007, they've combined for a remarkable six state titles. And they're both heavy favorites again in 2011.
The game could be decided in the trenches. Jelani Hamilton and Bryan Cox Jr. -- the Raiders' quarterback-mauling defensive ends -- spearhead a pass rush that tallied 35 sacks in 2010. They'll need to apply similar pressure to slow the Spartans' attack, a unit that appeared to find its stride during a masterful performance at St. Mary's.
Previous rank: 3
Last game: 42-23 win at Longview (Texas)
Next game: Sept. 23 at Plano (Texas)
If any team is capable of challenging Allen over the next month -- a formidable task -- it might just be this Plano bunch. They're 3-0, have outscored opponents 153-45 and return running back Rakeem Crawford, a senior averaging more than 8.1 yards per carry.
An upset still seems unlikely. The Eagles stomped the Wildcats 30-13 last September and had no trouble breaking Plano's defense: Alec Morris and Co. racked up 468 yards, more than 300 coming in the second half.
Previous rank: 4
Last game: 40-7 win over Tampa Bay Tech (Fla.)
Next game: Sept. 23 vs. Leto (Fla.)
Rumored to return Friday against Tampa Bay Tech, Armwood running back Matt Jones sat out to rehab his knee. So did starting quarterback Darryl Richardson. And for the second consecutive game, Armwood showed it was more than capable without them. The Hawks rolled to 30 unanswered points, and backup tailback Wade Edwards dashed for a 69-yard touchdown to cap the victory.
Regularly slotted behind Bosco, Aquinas and Allen, Armwood has been quietly brilliant. It's knocked off Cypress Bay (Fla.) and Bishop Gorman (Nev.), the latter of which has gone 3-0 (and outscored opponents 170-7) since. The Hawks' defense, anchored by linebacker Eric Striker, has also throttled the competition, and limited the Titans to 63 passing yards last week.
Armwood's full potential remains a mystery. But if fulfilled, it's one that could have major ramifications on the national title chase.
Previous rank: 5
Last game: 17-7 win at St. Xavier (Ohio)
Next game: Sept. 23 vs. Indianapolis Cathedral (Ind.)
For all the praise that's been heaped upon Travis Wright and the offense, Trinity's defense deserves its due. Friday's 17-7 triumph over St. Xavier was the Shamrocks' most impressive performance to date, and in large part, that's because they demonstrated just how suffocating their unheralded unit can be.
Running back Conor Hundley, a returning all-state running back, was held to 55 rushing yards. The Bombers totaled 92 yards through three quarters. Trinity's defense has now allowed just six touchdowns through four games, silencing a quartet of traditional Tennessee and Ohio powers.
St. X Coach Steve Specht said it best. "When you're scoring 55 points and 60 points, your defense is going to get overlooked," he told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "But (Trinity's defense) is a special group of kids."
Previous rank: 6
Last game: 64-0 win at Irving (Texas)
Next game: Sept. 23 vs. Heritage (Texas)
Check out the recap for last week's Trinity-Irving game. What stands out most? That 12 Trojan ballcarriers combined for 410 rushing yards? Or that Trinity won without attempting a single pass?
Though the latter seems unfathomable, credit belongs to the ground game. Coach Steve Lineweaver doesn't have a platoon of running backs, he has an army. And all continue to be effective: Led by Joel Kimpela, the Trojans averaged 12.1 yards per carry.
Trinity drubbed Richland (Texas) 64-0 on Sept. 9. It recorded the same outcome against Irving. If the Trojans replicate their success against Heritage -- 4-0 in 2011 -- look for them to leap a few spots in the rankings.
Previous rank: 8
Last game: 35-0 win at St. Mary's (Calif.)
Next game: Sept. 23 at St. Thomas Aquinas
De La Salle must have dusted off any rust during its opener with Bellarmine Prep (Calif.). Following a bye, Coach Bob Lacodeur's boys punished St. Mary's, tallying 256 rushing yards while allowing just 159 total yards on defense. It was a ground-and-pound performance reminiscent of the '09 and '10 Spartans, teams that rushed for 4,369 and 4,162 yards, respectively.
The result heightens anticipation for Friday's aforementioned showdown with Aquinas, the game of the week -- and possibly the year. The winner secures a spot among title frontrunners. The loser likely eliminates itself from contention.
Looking for an X factor? Try De La Salle quarterback Bart Houston. The four-star passer has thrown for just 164 yards through two games, a far cry from his 1,922-yard total in 2010.
Previous rank: 10
Last game: 71-12 win at Wetumpka (Ala.)
Next game: Sept. 23 vs. Opelika (Ala.)
Last season, Prattville lost two games to Wetumpka by a combined three points, the latter eliminating it from state 6A playoffs. The Lions exacted revenge on Friday. They pounded the Indians, winning 71-12 in a full-fledged, relentless beatdown.
Justin Thomas and the offense stormed to a 40-0 lead. The defense notched four interceptions in the first half alone. For good measure, Coach Jamey DuBose even opted for an onside kick with the game well out of reach.
After early struggles, Prattville has regained preseason form: It's outscored opponents 148-26 since its heartbreaking loss to Aquinas on Aug. 27.
Previous rank: 9
Last game: 35-3 win over Valley Forge Academy (Pa.)
Next game: Sept. 23 vs. Gonzaga (Washington)
Coming off an ankle injury that derailed most of his junior year, running back Wes Brown has resumed torching defenses in 2011. The 6-1 speedster has racked up 267 yards and five touchdowns in the past two games, providing the Falcons with a dangerous weapon opposite Stefon Diggs. Add explosive junior Kendall Fuller to the mix, and perhaps no team has three more potent offensive threats.
Good Counsel may also be the biggest beneficiary of Don Bosco's dramatic win at Manatee. The transitive property doesn't apply to high school sports, but the narrow outcome makes their Sept. 2 win over the Hurricanes all the more striking.
Previous rank: NR
Last game: 35-13 win at Byrnes (S.C.)
Next game: Sept. 23 at Greenville (S.C.)
Gaffney's early season domination can no longer be ignored. Following a 35-13 drubbing of Byrnes -- last year's South Carolina Class 4A champs -- the Indians have shed their image as upstarts. At 5-0, they've become a bona fide top 10 team.
The quarterback-receiver tandem of Joey Copeland and Quinshad Davis is routinely giving defenses fits. They connected for 137 yards and two scores against Byrnes, and have now hooked up for 676 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.
Next five: Harrison (Farmington Hills, Mich.); Katy (Texas); Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas); Buford (Ga.); Mallard Creek (Charlotte)
• Harrison (Mich.) played well in its 34-7 win over Oxford (Mich.). It just didn't play as well as Prattville, Good Counsel or Gaffney, all teams that bypassed the Hawks in the rankings. But Jake Vento continues to shine: He collected 324 yards of total offense, three touchdowns and an interception in the win.
• Another game, another shutout for Buford (Ga.). Through five games, the Wolves have allowed a total of 14 points. They're well-stocked with college talent: linebacker Dillon Lee (Alabama), cornerback Paris Head (Vanderbilt) and cornerback C.J. Moore (Virginia) all are D-I commits.
• The Dorial Green-Beckham watch continues. The nation's most exciting player hauled in another 12 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns in Hillcrest's (Mo.) 31-21 win over Camdenton (Mo.).
• Ditto for Jameis Winston. The top prep quarterback decimated McAdory (Ala.), accumulating 208 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and four touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) in a 48-14 Hueytown rout.
• Kevin Kelley and Pulaski Academy (Ark.) continued their winning ways. The Bruins sparked a 26-0 second half run to upend Lake Hamilton (Ark.) 38-28.
• Keep an eye on DeSoto (Texas), Bellevue (Wash.) and Union (Okla.). The teams are a combined 10-0, and are poised to enter the rankings should anyone slip.