And in one weekend, everything changes.
In previous columns, I've mentioned the playoffs propensity for upsets. It's a time when contenders face unprecedented tests, when underdogs can become legends. For many athletes, those not moving on to the next level, it's a final chance to leave a legacy on the gridiron. Strange things can happen.
That surfaced over Thanksgiving: Three of the Top 10 -- and seven of the Top 25 -- lost. Instead of counting their blessing, many contenders cursed them. Among the afflicted:
• No. 4 Katy lost to La Porte (Texas), 9-7. In their previous two meetings, in '08 and '09, Katy won by a combined 79-7. This time, the Bulldogs stifled the Tigers, surrendering just 144 yards and forcing eight punts.
• No. 8 Euless Trinity fell to Martin (Texas), 19-7. After being eliminated by the Trojans in four of the past five seasons, the Warriors flipped the script, limiting Trinity to just three first downs.
• No. 19 Hamilton dropped to Desert Vista (Ariz.), 45-19. The result is shocking for two reasons: Not only did the Huskies beat the Thunder, 35-10, on Oct. 6, but the outcome ends the nation's longest active winning streak at 53 games.
No. 10 Mallard Creek, No. 13 Camden County, No. 20 Longview and No. 22 Servite were also beaten, sending their respective states into disorder. In an unpredictable two-day span, the national hierarchy was entirely shaken.
In a way, however, chaos bred clarity: The top tier has stabilized. Trinity (Ky.), Don Bosco Prep and Gaffney have elevated to a class of their own, a trio of prep powers that control their own destiny. All three can capture state championships in the next week. All three, in many respects, remain the only true contenders for a national crown.
After a week full of surprises, here's how the Power Rankings stand.
In a 49-6 blowout of Butler, Trinity looked every bit the nation's most complete team. Running back Dalyn Dawkins was spectacular, rushing for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver James Quick silenced any injury concerns, racking up 84 yards and three scores. Travis Wright threw no interceptions, and the defense was relentless, holding the Bears scoreless in the second half. For the 13th time this season -- in defeating their sixth opponent with at least nine victories -- the Shamrocks showed no apparent weakness.
Bob Beatty and Co. have just one game remaining in 2011, a Class 6A title showdown with unbeaten Scott County (14-0). A win not only secures Kentucky superiority -- it likely clinches a mythical national championship.
In recent weeks, amid my persistent questioning of Bosco's erratic offense, I've neglected to recognize the dominance of its D. Darius Hamilton, Yuri Wright and Co. have been terrific, outperforming even their lofty preseason expectations.
Taking into account Thanksgiving's shutout of St. Joseph, here's how the unit stacks up to other notable Greg Toal coached defenses, including the 2009 national champs.
The numbers are more than impressive -- they're title worthy. And if Bosco is similarly suffocating against Bergen Catholic -- coupled with a misstep from top-ranked Trinity -- the Ironmen could recapture their Power Rankings stronghold.
Friday's beatdown of Boiling Springs reinforced everything we've come to expect from Gaffney. It boasts the country's best aerial duo, Joey Copeland and Quinshad Davis. It has a ravenously opportunistic defense, generating 2.9 turnovers per game. It possesses a deceivingly dangerous running game, with C.J. Miller -- a 5-9, 160-pound senior -- galloping for 1,065 yards and 13 touchdowns. Put simply: It has all the makings of a potential champion.
Here's the problem: If the Indians can't get by Byrnes (12-2), the defending Class 4A champ, none of it matters. Though Gaffney has struggled with the Rebels historically -- they've lost three of five meetings dating back to '07 -- don't expect Dan Jones and Co. to back down. During their Sept. 16 contest, the Indians cruised 35-13 -- and outscored Byrnes 21-3 in the second half.
Last week in this column, I questioned Armwood's staying power. The Hawks had just survived a scare from Lakewood Ranch (5-6), an outing in which they looked strikingly vulnerable. The defense surrendered 31 points. The team seemed ripe for an upset.
What a difference a game makes. Following a 23-0 blanking of Hillsborough, all is right in Seffner, Fla., again.
The defense held the Terriers to 120 total yards. Matt Jones, Alvin Bailey and Wade Edwards rushed for 262 and a touchdown. In 48 minutes, the Hawks transformed from flawed to formidable, dismissing any doubts about their Sunshine State supremacy. That's good news for Sean Callahan -- and terrible news for the rest of the Florida 6A bracket.
It's waiting time for Good Counsel, who wrapped up a perfect season with a 42-0 win over Gonzaga. The three-time defending WCAC champs, the Falcons are a Top 10 lock. The question is: As teams above them stumble, how high will they rise?
That's yet to be determined, though a top three finish isn't out of the question. Until then, monitor the recruiting battles for Stefon Diggs and Wes Brown. Diggs seems to be favoring Florida, Florida State and Virginia Tech, while Brown is considering Michigan, South Carolina and Colorado, among others.
The biggest beneficiary of this weekend's chaos, Miramar vaults to No. 6, its highest ranking of the season. The jump is well-deserved: The Patriots turned in their finest performance since Oct. 6 against St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.), with dual-threat quarterback Cam Hudge accounting for 159 yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one passing).
Even more encouraging, the defense held Cypress Bay scoreless save for a first quarter kick return. The Lightning had rushed for 1,935 yards in '11. They managed just 83 on Friday.
When Bishop Gorman takes the field Saturday against Reed, the Gaels' bid for a third consecutive NIAA 4A title, take a moment to admire Shaquille Powell's achievements. Over his last three seasons, he's been nothing short of astounding, something his career stats abet: 5,053 rushing yards, 417 receiving yards and 87 total touchdowns.
His brilliance may have masked Gorman's defensive fallacies, though, a notion that came to light in allowing 34 points to Liberty. It likely won't factor into its matchup with Reed -- the Gaels trounced the Raiders 62-21 during their last meeting in '09 -- but it could play a role in hurting the team's ultimate standing.
The Wolves notched the most impressive statistic of the weekend in their 49-13 whipping of Elbert County: In the first half -- one it dominated 21-0 -- Buford held the Blue Devils to just 1.1 yards per play. It won the possession battle by an even more eye-popping 19:24 to 5:36.
Buford has won every game by a minimum of 28 points, a feat only two teams in Class 2A history (Valdosta 1953, 1971) have ever successfully accomplished. And, at 13-0, it's certainly Top 10 worthy. But it bears repeating: Lacking a nationally competitive schedule, it's hard to make a case for moving the Wolves any higher.
It's amazing that Lake Austin has flown under the radar for this long. Last year's 4A Division I champs, the Cavaliers have done nothing but impress, averaging 49.5 points en route to a 13-0 record. Outside of Trinity's (Ky.) Wright, Dawkins and Quick, they possess arguably the nation's best three-pronged attack: quarterback Baker Mayfield, tailback Varshaum Nixon and wideout Zach Austin have combined for 4,128 yards and 50 touchdowns.
Looking ahead, don't be surprised if Lake Travis makes a top five push. With Mario Edwards and Ryan's (Texas) downfall, the road to a repeat becomes significantly easier.
There's something to be said for winning a state championship, an accomplishment -- as evidenced this week -- that's no easy task. There's something greater to be said for doing what Carmel did: Pounding Penn 54-0 for the title, the largest margin of victory in Indiana Class 5A history.
Carmel's triumph caps a dream season in Indy, one that witnessed its share of theatrics. After storming back to beat Warren Central on Nov. 4, the Greyhounds edged Ben Davis and Center Grove by a combined six points. Penn offered little resistance: Carmel outgained the Kingsmen 468-186, and led 26-0 at the half.
Amid the celebration, Kentucky-bound defensive end Langston Newton summed it up best.
"We rallied around each other all season," he told the