It's that time of year again. As the calendar turns to October, as temperatures dip and the playoffs inch nearer, each game takes on added importance. Each win is celebrated. Each loss magnified. The top teams face ruthless scrutiny, with each result affecting their championship dreams.
Perhaps most exciting, given the current cluster at the top, there remains potential for a late season shakeup. Next week alone, four games contain national title implications.
• Oct. 6: Miramar (Fla.) at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.)
• Oct. 7: DuPont Manual (Ky.) at Trinity (Ky.)
• Oct: 7 Our Lady of Good Counsel (Md.) at DeMatha (Md.)
• Oct. 8: St. Edward (Ohio) at Don Bosco Prep (N.J.)
In fact, in the coming weeks, several tantalizing showdowns loom. Seven of the Top 15 face at least one Top 100 opponent this month, led by St. Edward (Ohio), which faces three (Don Bosco, St. Xavier, Archbishop Moeller). November kicks off the playoffs. But October could settle much of the championship debate before the postseason begins.
This week served to heighten anticipation. Each member of the SI.com power rankings won, including Bishop Gorman, which jumped two spots after taking down California powerhouse Servite. For the season, the Top 10 now owns a combined record of 53-1.
Aquinas' matchup with McArthur was delayed two hours by inclement weather, with kickoff pushed until 9:00 p.m. The game was well worth the wait. The Raiders rolled 56-13, with Fred Coppet collecting 134 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first half.
Next week shouldn't be so easy. Miramar, Aquinas' Oct. 7 opponent, is also undefeated, coming off a 20-0 blanking of Cypress Bay (Fla.). Max Lescano could have a tough time finding receivers. Tracy Howard, Miramar's lockdown corner, is a five-star recruit considering offers from Miami, Alabama and LSU.
It's time to take heed of safety Kyle Sakowski. Often overlooked on a unit brimming with D-I talent, the senior keyed Bosco's comeback against Bergen Catholic -- its ninth consecutive win over its rival -- with two crucial interceptions in the fourth quarter. The first led to Elijah Shumate's go-ahead score. The second sealed the victory with 2:05 remaining.
The season now hinges on next week's showdown with St. Edward, a matchup of strength against strength. The Ironmen's loaded defense must stop diminutive 5-5 running back Dwayne Aaron, who rushed for 335 yards in his last two games.
For the first time all season, the Eagles looked surprisingly vulnerable on Friday. They led Lewisville just 14-10 at half, threw for a mere 110 yards and allowed Rodrick Williams, the Farmers' senior tailback, to race for 75 yards in the first half alone. It was an uncharacteristic showing. The Texas 5A favorites seemed completely out of sorts.
In the second half, however, Allen bounced back beautifully. It outscored Lewisville 31-3, triggered by Jonathan Williams' 53-yard scamper to begin the third quarter. He finished with 220 yards on 15 carries, fully resembling the back that eclipsed 2,000 yards in 2010.
He'll need to maintain that level of production. Five of the Eagles' final six games are on the road, and three of their next five opponents are 4-1 or better. If head coach Tom Westerberg and Co. can escape unscathed, they could potentially supplant Aquinas and Bosco atop the rankings.
It's a shame that Armwood and St. Thomas Aquinas don't play each other. Despite Aquinas' top overall ranking, Armwood could make a case as the best team in the state, boasting an undefeated record and an average margin of victory of 34.4. Its defense has been tremendous: Following another shutout, it hasn't surrendered a point in 10 consecutive quarters.
Now that Matt Jones, Alvin Bailey and Darryl Richardson are fully healthy, look for the Hawks to make a charge. Though they struggled early, each scored against Jefferson, including Bailey's dazzling 83-yard option keeper.
If there's a high school equivalent of The Big Three, it consists of Trinity's Travis Wright, Dalyn Dawkins and James Quick. All underclassmen, they've helped the Shamrocks average 43.5 points, scoring at least five touchdowns in each of their six games. Their stats for the season are below.
Despite the 'Rocks stiff early season schedule, challenges loom ahead. If they can take down both DuPont Manual (6-0) and Moeller (6-0), they'll have run the table against a national championship worthy slate.
Gaffney received a well-deserved bye on Friday, following a stretch of six wins in six weeks. The Indians have rolled decisively, taking each contest by 21 points or more.
Quarterback Joey Copeland and wideout Quinshad Davis are the headliners, but don't dismiss Gaffney's defense. The unsung unit has forced 15 turnovers to date, propelled by defensive backs Cobby McDowell and Marquis Brannon, who've combined for seven interceptions.
With a 31-28 victory over Servite, the Gaels continue to prove that they're the best one loss team in the nation. Servite is 32-3 since 2009, and their takedown is potentially the biggest out-of-state win in Gorman history. The result proves they're more than a Nevada power. They have the talent to compete with anyone in the country.
Though Kline Fielden drilled the game-winning 39-yard field goal, Shaquille Powell was the hero. He totaled 123 rushing yards, 55 receiving yards, two touchdowns and a momentum-shifting interception in the third quarter. He's weighing offers to Notre Dame, Arizona State and San Diego State, among others.
Now, expect Gorman to resume its dominance. It should be favored in its final four regular season games -- at Pahrump Valley (Nev.), at Spring Valley (Nev.), Western (Nev.) and Bonanza (Nev.) -- by a minimum of four touchdowns each.
The Good Counsel offensive juggernaut claimed another victim on Saturday, dismantling Red Lion 34-14. The Falcons scored 27 unanswered points after falling behind 14-7, spearheaded by Kendall Fuller, Stefon Diggs and junior Dorian O'Daniel. O'Daniel, who rushed for 1,180 yards and 23 touchdowns as Wes Brown's replacement in '10, racked up 133 yards and two scores, cementing his status as a top-tier recruit.
Don't miss next week's date with DeMatha, a battle of Maryland heavyweights. The two programs have combined to win each of the last seven WCAC titles, and both of the Falcons' two losses since 2007 have come at the hands of their rivals. Expect another hard-hitting, emotionally draining classic.
If any doubts linger about Buford's place in the top 10, it's because the Wolves have feasted on a schedule of cupcakes. Of the seven teams they've beaten, four have .500 or sub-.500 records, and two hold claim to just one win.
But the Wolves are manhandling the competition. The offensive line -- anchored by stalwarts Vadal Alexander, Reid Ferguson and tight end Kurt Freitag -- is as imposing as any front in the nation. The defense is stifling: The 13 points allowed Friday were the most of any game this season.
Still, Oct. 21 can't come soon enough. That's when Buford travels to Greater Atlanta Christian for its regular season finale, a likely matchup of Class 2A unbeatens. The outcome should put Buford's 7-0 start in perspective.
After a three week absence, Katy reenters the Top 10 with a 55-3 thrashing of Strake Jesuit. Questions emerged after Adam Taylor -- who rushed for 1,553 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010 -- was lost for the season with an ACL tear. Rodney Anderson has answered the call. The freshman exploded for 471 yards over the past four games.
The biggest headlines on Friday, however, belonged to quarterback Brooks Haack, wideout Jordan Thompson and head coach Gary Joseph. Haack passed for six touchdowns to break the school record set by Andy Dalton, while Thompson piled up a record 217 receiving yards. Joseph notched his 100th win since taking over the program in 2004, a span in which Tigers have won two Texas 5A championships (2007, 2008).