With less than a month remaining in the high school football season, each outcome grows increasingly crucial in determining a national pecking order. The lack of a playoff system -- or any established ranking method whatsoever -- serves only to heighten the importance of each game. Teams face unprecedented scrutiny, a spotlight that should intensify as the postseason wears on.
Similar to the BCS shakeup, the prep scene also experienced a weekend to remember. Among the notable happenings: Allen (Texas), Lakes (Wash.) and Central Catholic (Pa.) all fell from the ranks of the unbeaten. Armwood's defense was picked apart by 5-5 Lakewood Ranch (Fla.). Gaffney, Good Counsel and Bishop Gorman rolled, while Grayson (Ga.), Hamilton (Ariz.) and Gilman (Md.) narrowly survived.
Entering the final stretch, this much is clear: The time to impress is now. Here are this week's rankings.
Previous rank: 1
Last game: 42-6 win over St. Xavier (Ky.)
Next game: Nov. 25 vs. Butler (Ky.)
Trinity pummeled its opponent for the third consecutive playoff game, ousting St. Xavier 42-6. It was another trademark outing: Dalyn Dawkins racked up 226 rushing yards, and the 'Rocks led 29-0 entering the fourth quarter. For the postseason, they've now outgained opponents by an almost inconceivable margin: 1348-369.
That speaks volumes about Trinity's depth, a rare luxury in the prep circuit. Bob Beatty, the Shamrocks' 12th-year coach, summed it up during an interview with SI.com on Saturday morning.
"A lot of high school football teams can put four or five different good players on the field at a time," he said. "I feel like we can put 30."
It shows. And as Trinity's pursuit of a national title continues, additional content will follow. For now, here's Beatty's take on his team's relentless mindset.
"The thing that makes this group so different is the hungriness they have," he said. "By Thursday, it looks like about 110 ADHD kids bouncing off the walls."
Previous rank: 2
Last game: 42-3 win over Paramus Catholic (N.J.)
Next game: Nov. 24 at St. Joseph Regional (N.J.)
On a Don Bosco roster brimming with talent -- with four U.S. Army All-Americans and seven players with Division-I scholarships -- sophomore Jabrill Peppers might be the best of the bunch. The 5-9, 150-pounder stated his case on Friday, galloping for a career-high 216 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He's already received offers from Rutgers and South Carolina. For good reason: He has 14 touchdowns in the past five games.
More importantly, the Ironmen turned in their most complete performance since Oct. 8 against St. Edward (Ohio), a big step toward reclaiming the No. 1 ranking. They'll have two more chances to prove their worth: Thanksgiving Day at St. Joseph Regional (9-1) and the Dec. 2 Non-Public Group 4 final versus Bergen Catholic (7-2).
Previous rank: 4
Last game: 33-3 win over Dorman (S.C.)
Next game: Nov. 25 vs. Boiling Springs (S.C.)
For all the all of the praise given to Gaffney's offense, particularly the aerial tandem of Joey Copeland and Quinshad Davis, it's time to show the defense some love. If Friday's 33-3 rout taught us anything, it's this: Dan Jones' defense is of championship caliber.
After allowing 50 yards and a field goal on the opening drive, Gaffney limited Dorman to 72 yards for the remainder of the game. Cavaliers' feature back Raymond Smith -- 1,811 yards, 30 touchdowns in '11 -- was held to just 58 yards, and for the season, the Indians now have 37 turnovers (19 interceptions, 18 fumbles) and 37 sacks. They've been one of the most opportunistic units in the nation.
If defensive lineman Jaylen Miller and Co. can be similarly stifling in the final two rounds of Class 4A playoffs, Gaffney could secure a top three finish -- and potentially a mythical national title.
Previous rank: 5
Last game: 44-30 win over Cy-Woods (Texas)
Next game: Nov. 25 vs. La Porte (Texas)
For the first time in 2011, Katy's defense looked vulnerable. Cy-Woods amassed 361 yards -- including an 81-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage -- and, at times, moved the ball seemingly at will. Gary Joseph's group struggled: A unit that allowed 28 points since Oct. 13 allowed 30 in a span of a few hours.
But something else, and more telling, was on display in Katy's 5A Division 2 second round win: the Tiger offense. Brooks Haack and Co. outperformed one of Texas' most dynamic units, and freshman Rodney Anderson raced for 215 yards and two scores. That explosiveness -- and striking resiliency in the face of adversity -- only bodes well for Katy's national chances.
Previous rank: 3
Last game: 35-31 win over Lakewood Ranch (Fla.)
Next game: Nov. 25 vs. Hillsborough (Fla.)
In a largely unpredictable weekend, perhaps no outcome was more unexpected than Armwood's 35-31 escape over Lakewood Ranch. Entering the contest, the Hawks' defense allowed 36 points for the year. On Friday, they allowed 31 points in a game. The .500 Mustangs pushed the Hawks to the brink, leading 31-28 with three minutes remaining in the fourth.
Armwood survived. Alvin Bailey delivered a season-saving 65-yard punt return, and linebacker Antonio McCullough sealed the victory with a subsequent interception. But where stability reigned a week ago, questions now abound. Among them: Will the Hawks regain regular season form? Will future opponents mirror the Mustangs' strategy, one that saw McKenzie Hathaway rush for 127 yards? Most pressing, with offensive lineman Jack Lightsey under investigation by the Florida High School Athletics Association, will Armwood's 2011 accomplishments even stand?
Record: 14-1 (includes forfeit win over Western (Nev.))
Previous rank: 6
Last game: 35-7 win over Palo Verde (Nev.)
Next game: Nov. 26 vs. Liberty (Nev.)
Bishop Gorman's in-state dominance is truly something to behold. Following Friday's victory over Palo Verde in the Sunset Region final, the Gaels are now 10-0 against Nevada opponents. They've outscored them 620-53.
Even more impressive, junior quarterback Anu Solomon has thrown for 2,250 yards and 34 touchdowns, tossing at least one score in 13 of 14 games (and 23 of 24 dating back to last year). Fifteen different receivers have made catches.
Previous rank: 7
Last game: 42-0 win over Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.)
Next game: Season complete
Good Counsel captured its third consecutive WCAC championship, blanking Gonzaga 42-0. It was déjà vu -- on more than one count. Here's how closely this year's Falcons resemble last year's squad.
The numbers are almost identical. But this season was different in one major way: Good Counsel clinched its first undefeated campaign in school history, cementing the legacy of Wes Brown and Stefon Diggs. The BCS-bound prospects both exited in style. Brown rushed for a game-high 132 yards and three touchdowns, and Diggs opened the scoring with a 70-yard end around.
Previous rank: 13
Last game: 28-21 win over Allen (Texas)
Next game: Nov. 25 vs. Martin (Texas)
Here's the scenario: There's 2:04 remaining in Trinity's second-round clash with Allen -- a rematch of last year's 37-35 classic -- in front of 40,000 fans at Cowboys Stadium. Trinity leads 28-21. Allen has the ball at the Trojans' eight-yard line. Fourth and eight. Eagles' quarterback Alec Morris handles the snap, hesitates for a moment and then plunges into the heart of Trinity's defense...
He's stuffed at the goal line. Turnover on downs. For the second consecutive season, Trinity -- a Class 5A powerhouse -- eliminates Allen in the waning seconds.
It's no fluke. The Trojans have become the Steelers of Texas preps, a perennial contender under almost any circumstances. They won state titles in '05, '07 and '09, and, with this victory, are positioned to make another deep playoff run. A remarkable 356-yard, two-touchdown outing from senior Joel Kimpela only reinforces the notion: In 2011, nothing has changed.
Previous rank: 8
Last game: 31-0 win over Jefferson County (Ga.)
Next game: Nov. 25 vs. Elbert County (Ga.)
If Buford hasn't been adequately challenged in 2011, don't blame the schedule. Buford, quite simply, might be that good. The Wolves have won every contest by at least four touchdowns, and are averaging a staggering 45.5 points. They allow a mere 4.75.
If nothing else, few teams play a truer brand of smashmouth football than Jess Simpson's bunch. Following Friday's 31-0 triumph, Buford has rushed for 1,067 yards -- in the past four games alone.
Previous rank: 11
Last game: 42-10 win over Myers Park (N.C.)
Next game: Nov. 25 vs. Page (N.C.)
Mallard Creek cracks the Top 10 for the first time in '11, advancing to the Class 4A regional final with a rout of Myers Park. The Mavericks exploded in the second half, racking up 35 points during a nine-play span. The usual suspects led the charge: Jela Duncan ran for 191 yards and two touchdowns, and Minnesota-bound receiver Jamel Harbison added rushing and receiving scores.
Perhaps more significant, the Mavericks' quest for perfection became significantly easier. Butler (N.C.), the two-time defending state champion, was upended by Greensboro Page 40-26. The result eliminates Mallard's biggest roadblock, and makes it an overwhelming favorite to finish 15-0.
Next five: Miramar (Miramar, Fla.), Lake Travis (Austin), Camden County (Kingsland, Ga.), Skyline (Dallas), Carmel (Carmel, Ind.)
Other notables: Grayson (Loganville, Ga.), Bellevue (Bellevue, Wash.), Bentonville (Bentonville, Ark.), Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.), Longview (Longview, Texas), Westlake (Westlake Village, Calif.), Servite (Anaheim, Calif.), De La Salle (Concord, Calif.), Prattville (Prattville, Ala.), Allen (Allen, Texas)
• Skyline (Texas) looks like a national title contender. The Raiders improved to 12-0 following a 41-31 win over DeSoto (Texas), advancing to the third round of the Texas 5A Division 1 playoffs. Dual-threat junior quarterback DeVante Kincade had a career day: 15-of-21 passing for 264 yards and two touchdowns, and 23 carries for 92 yards and three scores.
• Timberview (Texas) notched the upset of the weekend. The Wolves stunned Marcus (Texas) 27-21, progressing to the Texas 5A Division II regional finals for the first time since 2007. The victory is coach Mark Walker's biggest to date, and continues the team's sparkling turnaround. Last year, Timberview was 3-7. This year, it's 10-2.
• Upper St. Clair could be the class of Western Pennsylvania. Even without star quarterback Dakota Conwell -- unavailable with an ankle injury -- the Panthers topped previously undefeated Central Catholic 28-14. Junior Pete Coughlin, a diminutive 5-9, 155 pounds, made his first career start and accounted for 270 total yards (209 rushing, 61 passing) in the victory.
• Bellevue is the best in Washington -- again. Entering Friday's bout with Lakes (Wash.), many (including me) hypothesized that the Lancers had passed the Wolverines as the top team in the Evergreen State. Think again. Bellevue bested its rival 35-14, regaining its annual role as the Class 3A frontrunner.
• Trouble could be brewing in Trinity (Ky.). Despite another glowing on-field performance, Bob Beatty's boys received some unsettling news: James Quick, the junior wideout with 1,206 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns, was diagnosed with a knee injury. His status for Friday's game against Butler (Ky.) is currently uncertain.
• St. Xavier (Ohio) avenged an early season loss. In a rematch of September's 27-24 showdown -- a game decided by a controversial timeout -- St. Xavier outlasted Archbishop Moeller (Ohio) 35-21. Senior tailback Conor Hundley was the hero: He rushed for 135 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown scamper to break a 21-21 tie in the fourth.
• Wayne Hills (N.J.) won amid controversy. Wayne Hills cruised to a 48-21 over Paramus (N.J.), propelling the Patriots to the North 1 Group 3 championship. The question is: Does any of it matter? Nine players are accused of beating two students, each charged with two counts of aggravated assault.