We've crossed the halfway point of the 2012-2013 high school football season and one thing is for certain, it hasn't disappointed. From Frewsburg's 20-point, second-half comeback against Cattaraugus-Little Valley to Southwestern's thrilling overtime victory over Salamanca; from Westfield snapping Southwestern's 29-game home winning streak to Sherman topping Westfield; from Sherman and Maple Grove racking up points and wins to Randolph, after dropping its first contest, battling its way back into the thick of things, it's been a thrilling four weeks of football.
And while in other classes around Section 6 teams have managed to create some cushion between them and the rest in the race to the postseason, here in the Southern Tier the playoff picture is muddled.
One thing remains crystal clear, however, it's going to be some finish.
Following is The Post-Journal's attempt, with the help of Dick Gallagher, editor and publisher of Western New York High School Sports, at lifting the fog enveloping the weeks ahead.
Class C South: A battle for supremacy
At the moment, it's more crowded at the top of Class C South than anywhere else in the section. Four teams - defending sectional champion Southwestern, Salamanca, Allegany-Limestone and Westfield/Brocton - are tied at 2-1 overall, with each having a pair of league games remaining over the next three weeks of the season.
Section-wide, parity reigns, but perhaps nowhere more so than in this class.
Thus far Allegany-Limestone has beaten Westfield, Southwestern lost to Westfield, Salamanca fell to Southwestern and Salamanca toppled Allegany-Limestone.
"This year is all about parity," Gallagher said. "There is a tremendous amount of parity. It's going to come down to who wants it more, who comes to play and who can avoid the injury factor."
With Westfield squaring off at Cassadaga Valley (1-2) and Salamanca traveling to Gowanda to take on a winless Panthers' team that has scored a mere eight points and allowed over 200 in just four games, the marquee matchup this week will be when Allegany-Limestone plays host to Southwestern on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
After suffering back-to-back losses - that hadn't happened since 2006 - and being held without a touchdown for eight quarters, the Trojans exploded for 19 points in the opening period alone and 39 in the first half to take a commanding, 39-14 lead over the Warriors, who had beaten Southwestern the year before.
But Salamanca, behind a stout offensive line and the arm of Tanner John, came roaring back to tie the game and the issue wasn't decided until Jake Pilling found Hunter Peterson for the game-winning 2-point conversion in overtime.
"We've won a couple of state championships," Southwestern coach Jay Sirianni said after the win, which put his team right back into position for the league title, "and we've won in overtime before, but this was a lot of fun."
Allegany-Limestone, meanwhile, held a slim, 6-0, advantage at half against host Cassadaga Valley before putting 21 on the board over the final two periods.
A victory for either team will put them in prime position for the league title. Allegany-Limestone will have a pair of non-league games and a week seven battle with Falconer (0-3) while Southwestern has a week six game with Cassadaga Valley and finishes up against Eden of Class B South. Also with a favorable schedule, however, is Salamanca, which has to get by Gowanda, Falconer and then Westfield.
"I think it'll come down to Allegany-Limestone, Southwestern and Salamanca," Gallagher said. "Salamanca and Allegany have a lot of confidence, but look at Southwestern's track record since Sirianni took over in 2003. Even though they have two upset losses this season, you still have to give the Trojans respect. To be the champ you have to beat the champs. Southwestern is the champs, so they have to be defeated and they can win it again because of outstanding coaching."
Class D: The chase is on
Gallagher notes that only 14 teams in all of Section 6 are undefeated, and one of those 14 are the Maple Grove Red Dragons, ranked No. 1 in the state for Class D by the New York State Sportswriters Association.
Last week the Red Dragons bested then-fellow undefeated Chautauqua Lake, 21-0, to take a one-game lead in the standings over Portville (3-1), Frewsburg (3-1) and 19th-ranked Chautauqua Lake (3-1).
"Maple Grove stands out," he said. "They have the line on both sides of the ball. ... They have the league championship locked up. They'll get the No. 1 seed, which means they'll play at home the first two games of the playoffs and then they have the title game. After four games (thus far this season), I'd say that Maple Grove is the class of Class D and if they play the way they're capable of playing they should win the section and compete for a state title."
This week, Maple Grove will welcome I-Prep/Grover (losers of 13 straight) to the Dutch Hollow Road. Frewsburg and Chautauqua Lake, meanwhile, will meet for a decisive game on Friday.
What's important to remember, however, is that all eight teams in the class make the playoffs. That makes each team dangerous, especially one like, for instance, Randolph and Pat Slater, who is the third all-time winningest coach in the Section 6 history.
"Portville is getting stronger and Frewsburg is a decent team but anyone that knows the Cardinals and Pat Slater," Gallagher said, "knows you don't want to play them in the playoffs because they get stronger as the season goes on."
Class DD: Sherman rising
Sherman's success this season is undeniable. The Wildcats, at 4-0, have scored more points than anyone else in the class (131) on the way to a perfect 4-0 overall record and a 3-0 league record.
Equally impressive is the fact that they are, according to the NYSSWA's latest poll, the 17th best team in the state (up from No. 20) in all of Class D.
"They are very well-coached, have great athletes and are a very good football team," Panama coach Chris Payne said of the Wildcats after they defeated his Panthers, 38-27, last weekend.
Sherman, which Gallagher wrote in his preseason preview of the class would be a major competitor for the league title, is living up to expectations.
In addition to wins over league foes Panama (they surrendered a 12-point lead only to battle back with 14 points in the final 4 minutes of play). Pine Valley and Clymer, the Wildcats also recorded an impressive non-league victory over Westfield, which the week prior had handed Southwestern its first home loss in nearly six years.
Continued solid play of this sort and Sherman could soon find itself vying for its first-ever sectional title at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Behind Sherman, at 3-1, is Clymer, last season's Class DD runnerup, and then Ellicottville (2-1) and Panama (2-1).
Class AA: Week Six looms
As many believed when the season began, week six is shaping up to be the most important of the season for Jamestown.
But first the Red Raiders will have to get by Frontier (1-2) this week (a preview of that game will run in Friday's Post-Journal). Should they do that, however, then Week Six will be when coach Tom Langworthy's team faces off against defending state champion Orchard Park at Strider Field for a game that will likely determine the league champion.
"Whoever wins the Orchard Park-Jamestown game will win the league title," Gallagher said. "The only team I can see beating Orchard Park is Jamestown."
All in all, it's shaping up to be quite a month of football ahead in the Southern Tier. And though the aforementioned teams seem to have the best chance at making a run and competing for league, sectional and perhaps state titles, anything can happen.
"Our best shot at a state title is Orchard Park and Maple Grove," Gallagher said, "but that's not to say another team couldn't do it as well. Who would have thought that Southwestern would make it to the state championship last year? You never know."