With the regular season now in the rearview, the high school hierarchy finally starts to shake up. Games become do-or-die: Wins can propel a team to new heights, while a loss can undermine everything previously accomplished.
Next week, dozens of games feature high stakes. Here are five to keep an eye on.
• Allen vs. Trinity (Texas 5A Division I, second round). Two unbeatens -- and Top 15 teams -- take the field in a highly anticipated playoff bout. Last year, the Eagles and Trojans also met in the second round. Trinity won a 37-35 thriller.
• Gaffney vs. Dorman (South Carolina 4A Division I, quarterfinals). Two of South Carolina's premier programs face off, a rematch of Gaffney's 35-14 victory on Aug. 26. The Indians will still be out for revenge: The Cavaliers ousted them from the '09 postseason.
• Katy vs. Cy-Woods (Texas 5A Division 2, second round). A high-octane offense against a suffocating defense. Who wins? We'll find soon find out. Cy-Woods averages 42.4 points per game. Katy surrenders 5.3.
• St. Xavier vs. Archbishop Moeller (Ohio Division I, quarterfinals). If this matchup is anything like the Bombers and Crusaders' Sept. 23 contest, fans are in for a treat. Moeller took that game 27-24, escaping when St. X missed a field goal as time expired.
• Skyline vs. DeSoto (Texas 5A Division I, second round). Skyline (11-0) has hovered outside the rankings all season. DeSoto (10-1) dropped out following a 23-21 loss to Longview. The winner likely enters the Top 15 -- and becomes a favorite to reach the 5A Division I semifinals.
Check back later in the week for additional coverage, including a primer for each marquee matchup. Now, onto this week's rankings, beginning with a takeover at the top...
Previous rank: 2
Last game: 55-0 win over DuPont Manual (Ky.)
Next game: Nov. 18 vs. St. Xavier (Ky.)
For the ninth time this season, the Shamrocks amassed more than 500 all-purpose yards. For the second time in two playoff games, they shutout their opponent. And for the first time in 2011, Trinity takes control of the Power Rankings, supplanting Don Bosco as the frontrunner in the national title hunt.
Bosco remains undefeated, enjoying a bye before its Nov. 18 rematch with Paramus Catholic. But Trinity's success is impossible to ignore. Statistically speaking, here's how the two stack up.
The numbers are clear: With similar strengths of schedules, Trinity has been significantly more dominant than its New Jersey counterpart. Its average margin of victory is more than 10 points higher than Bosco (41.9 to 31.5), and its offense has been unparalleled. The three-pronged attack of Travis Wright, Dalyn Dawkins and James Quick has racked up 3,928 yards and 54 touchdowns, combining for 329 and six scores in Friday's 55-0 triumph.
That's not to say that the Ironmen, can't -- or won't -- retake the top spot by postseason's end. But following another perfect performance, the Shamrocks are the newly christened team to beat.
Previous rank: 1
Last game: 56-8 win over Clifton (N.J.)
Next game: Nov. 18 vs. Paramus Catholic (N.J.)
Don Bosco's defense has been terrific, justifying its preseason hype. Its offense has been efficient, rushing for 18 touchdowns. Here's the problem: Greg Toal's group routinely struggles against inferior opponents, distilling confidence in the Ramsey-area power.
Bosco always find a way to win, a fact that can't be overlooked. It's captured 43 consecutive games -- the third longest streak in the nation -- and will likely cap another perfect season with victories over Paramus Catholic and St. Peter's Prep or Bergen Catholic; all teams the Ironmen have already beaten.
But if Bosco is going to reclaim the top, it needs to prove what Trinity already has: From the opening kick through the final whistle, it can deliver a complete, unrelenting performance. That starts on Friday.
Previous rank: 3
Last game: 54-6 win at King (Fla.)
Next game: Nov. 18 vs. Lakewood Ranch (Fla.)
With the Hawks on bye this week, it's time to put their season in perspective. Coach Sean Callahan's defense has been historically good, putting up numbers (or a lack thereof) that haven't been seen in decades.
Here's a chart comparing this year's Armwood unit to the best in Florida high school history, stats coming courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times.
Don't expect a letdown anytime soon. After an off week, the Hawks face Lakewood Ranch (6-6), a team that has been outscored 275-227.
Previous rank: 4
Last game: 52-27 win over West Ashley (S.C.)
Next game: Nov. 18 vs. Dorman (S.C.)
The Indians were explosive against West Ashley, scoring on all five first half possessions. Joey Copeland accounted for 228 yards and six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing), and Quinshad Davis piled up 99 yards and two scores. The trend continued: No foe has come within 22 points of Gaffney all year.
For the first time in more than a month, however, there was cause for concern. The defense allowed 140 rushing yards, a bad harbinger heading into Friday's bout with Dorman. The Cavaliers have defeated the Indians in four of their past five meetings, and seem to have found their stride following a 0-3 start. Their running game is unmistakably potent: Dorman running back Raymond Smith has rushed for 1,753 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Previous rank: 5
Last game: 63-7 win over Houston Madison (Texas)
Next game: Nov. 18 vs. Cy-Woods (Texas)
In Katy's opening round matchup with Madison, quarterback Brooks Haack threw his first interception of the season. He now has one pick in 153 pass attempts, dropping his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 28-to-1. One of the most impressive streaks in the 2011 prep circuit finally comes to an end.
It's disappointing, to be certain. But Haack's pick was the lone blemish in an otherwise spotless performance. Nine Tiger ballcarriers combined for 297 yards and seven touchdowns, and the defense surrendered just 130 yards. The 63-7 result was another reminder: Two weeks into November, Katy remains the top team in Texas.
Record: 13-1 (includes forfeit win over Western (Nev.))
Previous rank: 6
Last game: 56-20 win over Arbor View (Nev.)
Next game: Nov. 18 vs. Palo Verde (Nev.)
It all comes down to this. After dispatching of Arbor View for the second time in three weeks, Bishop Gorman prepares for the NIAA 4A Sunset Region final against Palo Verde, unbeaten (11-0) to date. It's the fifth consecutive season they've met in the playoffs, with the Gaels winning three of the previous four.
The backfields should dictate the tempo, as the Gaels and Panthers boast a pair of prolific rushing attacks (Gorman: 3,514 yards; Palo Verde: 3,020). But don't sleep on Gorman wideout Ryan Smith. The 5-7 junior is Anu Solomon's favorite target, and has a receiving touchdown in each of the team's last nine games.
Previous rank: 7
Last game: 47-7 win over St. John's (Washington, D.C.)
Next game: Nov. 18 vs. Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.)
It's official: Wes Brown has become the nation's top uncommitted running back. The 6-1, 200-pounder galloped for 226 yards and four touchdowns against St. John's, upping his season totals to 1,225 and 19 scores. He's been unstoppable of late: Over the past three games, he has rushed for 579 yards, averaging more than 14 per carry.
Brown will look to shoulder the load in the WCAC final, facing a Gonzaga team that upended DeMatha (Md.) last week. Despite the buildup, it might not be close: When Good Counsel and Gonzaga played on Sept. 23, the Falcons cruised 49-7.
Previous rank: 8
Last game: 49-13 win over Temple (Ga.)
Next game: Nov. 18 vs. Jefferson County (Ga.)
Another game, another easy victory for Buford. The Wolves topped Temple 49-13, a contest they dominated from the outset: Virginia commit C.J. Moore returned a fumble for a score on the second play from scrimmage, and Buford led 35-6 at half.
Things could get more competitive next week. The untested Wolves face Jefferson County (8-3), a group that won its last five games by a margin of 179-47. If anything, expect feature back Andre Johnson -- a 5-11, 220-pound bruiser -- to see playing time well into the second half.
Previous rank: 9
Last game: 30-17 win over Keller Central (Texas)
Next game: Nov. 19 vs. Trinity (Texas)
Allen advanced in dramatic fashion against Keller Central, trailing 17-13 before storming back to win. It has now been behind five times in the fourth quarter, successfully rallying every time. Arkansas commit Jonathan Williams was this week's hero: He rushed for 117 yards and notched two touchdowns in the final 12 minutes.
The stage is now set: Allen (11-0) versus Trinity (11-0) Thursday at Cowboys Stadium. The Texas blue-bloods have won three of the past four state titles, and delivered a 37-35 classic in last year's 5A Division 1 playoffs. Expect another thriller -- and a strong showing from Eagles' quarterback Alec Morris.
Previous rank: 10
Last game: 20-16 win over Flanagan (Fla.)
Next game: Nov. 18 vs. South Plantation (Fla.)
Miramar's bid for perfection continues against South Plantation, the Patriots' Class 8A playoff opener. Both programs are experiencing newfound success: Miramar seeks its first undefeated campaign in school history, while South Plantation seeks its first eight win season since 2006.
Both teams have capable aerial attacks, but passing yards should be hard to come by. Five-star Tracy Howard, senior Marrell Jackson and Wisconsin-bound Hugs Etienne all take the field in a prep cornerback showcase.
Next five: Mallard Creek (Charlotte), Lake Travis (Texas), Trinity (Texas), Camden County (Ga.), Carmel (Ind.)
Other notables: Bentonville (Bentonville, Ark.), Grayson (Loganville, Ga.), Bellevue (Bellevue, Wash.), Skyline (Dallas), Central Catholic (Pittsburgh), Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.), Longview (Longview, Texas), Servite (Anaheim, Calif.), Westlake (Westlake Village, Calif.), De La Salle (Concord, Calif.),
• Servite survived another upset bid. A week after edging Mater Dei, the Friars held off Santa Margarita (Calif.), outlasting the Eagles 43-42 in overtime. Down 42-35, Manaitovini Pauu ran for a three-yard touchdown, and quarterback Cody Pittman hit Ainslie Johnson for the game-winning two-point conversion. Pittman did it all: 21-of-23 passing for 246 yards and two touchdowns, and 18 carries for 102 yards and a score.
• Carmel (Ind.) staved off Ben Davis (Ind.). Following an emotionally charged win over Warren Central, the Greyhounds kept their 5A title hopes alive. Carmel beat Ben Davis 11-9, exhaling when the Giants failed to complete a two-point conversion in the waning seconds.
• Lake Travis (Texas) is charging hard. Perhaps no team in the nation is hotter than the Cavaliers. Last year's 4A Division I champs, they've rattled off 17 consecutive wins, outscoring opponents 544-166 in '11. It was more of the same on Friday: Lake Travis routed McCallum 58-7, scoring 51 points in the first half.
• St. Xavier (Ohio) strikes again. Steve Specht's group knocked off Colerain (Ohio) for the second time this season, winning by a margin of 28-15. The Bombers advance to the Division I quarterfinals and continue their dominance over the Cardinals: They've won five of their last six meetings dating to back to '07. This time, Griffin Dolle led the charge. He completed his first eight passes and finished with 117 yards and three touchdowns.
• Prattville (Ala.) finally lived up to its billing. Inconsistent for much of the season, the Lions restored the roar in Friday's 13-3 victory over Daphne (Ala.). Their defense was stifling, limiting Auburn commit T.J. Yeldon to 110 all-purpose yards (90 rushing, 20 receiving).
• Glades Day's Kelvin Taylor became Florida's all-time leading rusher. The son of former Jaguars and Patriots' tailback Fred Taylor, Kelvin left a lasting stamp on the Sunshine State record books. He tallied 388 yards and four scores against South Fork (Fla.), bettering his career total to a new-high 8,975. He passed another NFL great atop of the list: Escambia High's Emmitt Smith (8,804 yards).