EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


October 6, 2013

Two thumbs up for new playoff system

Sports We’re a bit past the halfway point in the newly-revamped Massachusetts high school football regular season, and if the early returns mean anything, many of the system’s detractors have run for cover.

Now, we’ll hear plenty around Turkey Day, about how tradition has taken a pounding, but in my eyes for now, the expanded playoffs and shortened regular-season sprint are just what this state needed.

Teams with one and two losses still have plenty to play for. Three-loss teams are working out the formulas for their ways to muscle in to that last “at-large” bid. And even the teams that have struggled can look to a November against teams of similar ability, not blowouts against some overwhelming Super Bowl-bound foe.

Players are keeping their heads up, even in defeat, knowing there is a tomorrow, and coaches are pouncing on that.

Case in point, I give you Tom Ryan and his gritty Methuen Rangers after Friday night’s emotional 17-0 loss to Haverhill.

You had to be at Nicholson Stadium to understand these stakes were high. These two cities are nurturing a wicked rivalry -- one that spilled over the line last year in hoops/hockey but stayed clean Friday night -- and it was a competitive and entertaining game.

On this night, the Hillies made the key plays and prevailed, but that wasn’t about to taint Ryan’s optimism.

“No matter what happened tonight, we’re still playing for a league title in my eyes (Saturday, at Tewksbury, 1:30),” said the first-year Ranger boss and ex-Redmen defensive coordinator.

With tight time and space restrictions Friday night, we didn’t get much time to focus in on the Rangers, but Methuen’s defense was as good as the Hillies’ until the final five minutes.

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