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November 3, 2011

There is the pursuit of the playoffs ... and of a state title.

And then there's the pursuit of perfection.

This time of year, when the games get a little tougher and a lot more meaningful, it's always fun to find the teams that have managed to stay unbeaten through the first two months of the year.

Now comes the hard part.

Five of the ten teams in our Weekend Watch have yet to suffer a setback. We know at least one will - as unbeatens Stephenson and King go at it in a Georgia game. The other four (Martinsburg, DeSoto, and Glenbard West) will all have their hands full.

Only one - Glanebard West versus Lake Zurich - is a win-or-go-home playoff battle, but all figure to have a special (OK, we'll call it perfect) atmosphere.

With that, an in-depth look around the nation at some of the top games of the weekend:

Weekend Watch
No. 100 Martinsburg v Dover

LB Justin Arndt (6-0/203, Sr.)
WR Xavier Allen (6-3/189, Sr.)
When: Friday Nov. 4, 7:00 p.m.
Last Meeting: First-ever meeting
Rankings: Martinsburg (9-0), No. 1 in West Virginia
Dover (8-2), No. 5 in Delaware

Why it's big: Delaware versus West Virginia games usually are passed over, but this one is worth a look. Martinsburg has been a dominant team in its state the last few seasons and being nationally ranked has brought more attention to this game. Dover has been on the rise with a solid group of athletes on one of the better teams in the state.

Best matchup: The Dover receivers against the Martinsburg secondary. The strength of Dover is in its passing game. Quick and precise routes that get thrown to space and not the man will be a challenge for Martinsburg to keep pace with. The Martinsburg defense has been able to clamp down on many with an active defensive front, so putting pressure on Dover could help speed up the timing and help the secondary.

Dover wins if: It can keep possession of the ball. The offense has had streaks of three-and-outs and entire games where it has struggled to move the ball. If it is not able to stay on the field, its defense will be worn down by the solid offense of Martinsburg. The key to that will be the eliminating sacks and not getting behind the chains. Taking small chunks of yards and moving slowly down the field is vital.

Martinsburg wins if: It is able to set the tone early and punish Dover. Defensively, Martinsburg has only allowed 35 points all season. And while not many of the offenses it has faced will have the talent out wide that Dover does, all have had a tough time blocking an athletic defensive line and what may be the best linebacking group in the state. If that defense pushes around Dover, it will be an easy night.

Prediction: RivalsHigh is long a defense-first evaluation point - and that greatly favors Martinsburg. The explosiveness of the offenses are pretty even, but the reliability also favors Martinsburg in this game. While neither state is usually in the top half of the nation for high school football, this would be a good game to watch for fans in the Morgantown area. Dover will keep it close early and could give Martinsburg its first real scare of the season. The second half will allow Martinsburg to pull away.
- Martinsburg 30, Dover 16.

Weekend Watch
No. 59 King v No. 60 Stephenson

DE Kenderius Whitehead (6-5/210, Jr.)
ATH Blake Tibbs (6-2/191, Sr.)
DB Jarnor Jones (6-4/185, Sr.)
LB Raphael Kirby (6-0/213, Sr.)
RB Mike Davis (5-10/203, Sr.)
DT JaFar Mann (6-4/280, Sr.)
When: Friday Nov. 4, 7:00 p.m.
Last Meeting: Nov. 5, 2010 - King won 26-24.
Rankings: King (9-0), No. 7 in Georgia
Stephenson (9-0), No. 8 in Georgia

Why it's big: Outside of a playoff game, this is one of the biggest games in the country let alone state or region. Two teams inside the Top 10 in what may be the best state going right now, playing for playoff positioning and a Region 2-AAAAA title. The pair are evenly matched and have had similar success against the same opponents. The point differential between the two is narrowly separated with Stephenson winning games by an average of 35-13 and King is on a 32-15 pace.

Best matchup: Stephenson offense against the King defense, and vise-versa. This is going to be a great game as it will feature two teams that have a ton of talent on defense - and each have had moments that they have struggled on offense. It does not look like either team is going to blow out the other and it should be tight all game. A two-score advantage at any point in the game could prove to me insurmountable.

Stephenson wins if: It can get above-average play from its quarterback. The team runs a Wing-T offense and that puts a lot of decision-making responsibility on the quarterback position. Against an aggressive defense such as King's, this could be a tough game for moving the ball. While the majority of the plays are runs, if Stephenson can hit a pass or three, those calls could go for big gains. If the Jaguars have designs on making a playoff run, this will be a great test before they begin next week. King is a playoff quality team and this will be a test.

King wins if: It is patient. While it has not scored as many points on the season as Stephenson, it has been a more fluid offense. King has a solid defense, but one that has given up points in bunches at times, it will need to stay patient on both sides of the ball and let Stephenson be the aggressor and potentially the one to make the mistakes. If King plays this game as it did against Valdosta earlier in the year, it can get a win.

Prediction: While not a playoff game, it should have playoff atmosphere and playoff game speed as both teams will want to win the Region title. The two are very competitive and comparable to one another. Stephenson, as it does most years, has the talent advantage and that could give it the edge in the game. The Wing-T is still so deeply rooted in Georgia football that this could be a quick moving clock and make long possessions more valuable. The game is at King, but Stephenson will be the more hungry team. Look for the loser of this game to be more focused and advance further in the playoffs, however.
- Stephenson 20, King 15.

Weekend Watch
No. 57 Glenbard West v Lake Zurich

LB Jack Lynn (6-3/206, Sr.)
DL Tommy Schutt (6-3/305, Sr.)
OL Johnny Caspers (6-3/260, Sr.)
QB Justice Odom (6-2/195, Sr.)
When: Friday Nov. 4, 7:00 p.m.
Last Meeting: Nov. 21, 2009 - Glenbard West won, 21-17.
Rankings: Glenbard West (10-0), No. 2 in Illinois
Lake Zurich (8-2), No. 18 in Illinois

Why it's big: It's a second-round game that could be labeled as a semifinal game as the rest of this side of the bracket would likely be underdogs to either team that wins. There is a groundswell of support for Glenbard West as the best team in the state regardless of class. The sentiment out of Illinois the last few years is that the Class 7A team may be better than the best in Class 8A. The root of that problem is that Illinois has that many classes. As for this game, it would be a major statement game before a state final in a couple of weeks.

Best matchup: Lake Zurich running attack against the Glenbard West defensive front. When Lake Zurich is on, this is a tough team to beat. The problem has been that in several game this year the team has not been close to on. Glenbard West has a very physical defense that should be able to bottle up the rush attack in the middle of the field, but will it have speed to get to the edges?

Lake Zurich wins if: Zach Till and Mike Shields have a big game. The quarterback/running back tandem need to be able to stretch the defense east and west so that it can start pushing the ball on the interior to go north-south. Going against Glenbard in the middle of its defense is a no-win situation with Tommy Schutt clogging up running lanes. Zurich will need to be quicker to win.

Glenbard West wins if: Its quarterback, Justice Odom, has a good game. The defense may be the best in the state so that side of the ball figures to take care of itself. But the offense will need to score some points and that will flow through Odom. If the offense is not able to move the ball, it will be a low-scoring game and that could start to favor the option offense at Lake Zurich to bust a big play - even if it is a busted play that it may not have earned.

Prediction: This will only be a second-round game, but the atmosphere will be fantastic and controlling early emotions will be a challenge. Lake Zurich has been too unpredictable this season to think that this game will be any different so much of the play will be determined by Glenbard West. If the Hilltoppers can dictate the speed and the physicality of the game, it will not matter which Lake Zurich team comes out. Coach Hetlett has this team focused and figure the score to not be indicative of the domination.
- Glenbard West 27, Lake Zurich 14.

-- For more on Illinois football, visit EdgyTim.com

Weekend Watch
No. 16 DeSoto v No. 64 Longivew

DE Michael Richardson (6-2/228, Sr.)
DB Bryson Echols (5-10/175, Sr.)
RB Dontre Wilson (5-10/176, Jr.)
WR Eric Hawkins (5-11/175, Sr.)
DB Jordan Burton (6-1/190, Sr.)
When: Thursday Nov. 3, 7:00 p.m.
Last Meeting: Nov. 5, 2010 - Longview won, 38-35.
Rankings: DeSoto (9-0), No. 4 in Texas
Longview (8-1), No. 8 in Texas

Why it's big: This will sound familiar: Outside of a playoff game, this is one of the biggest games in the country let alone state or region. Two teams inside the Top 10 in what may be the best state going right now, playing for a District 11-5A title. While both are locked into their playoff paths - meaning it may not mean as much in that regard - it will still be a big measuring stick game for both teams nationally. Longview already has suffered a defeat to Allen early in the season; now it is DeSoto's turn to take on the Lobos. The common opponent can give a better evaluation of the two teams.

Best matchup: Longview rush offense versus DeSoto run defense. There was a lot made of the improved DeSoto defense through the first several weeks of the season, but that all turned south after a 56-50 shootout with Mesquite Horn. Longview can use its power running attack to test DeSoto at its weakest point - up the middle.

DeSoto wins if: Giving up all of those points were a wake-up call. On the season, no other team has been able to get over 17 points and DeSoto was up 26-0 at one point in that shootout. It could have turned into a great coaching point to show the Eagles what taking its foot off the gas can do. DeSoto's offense should be able to move the ball as it has on everyone all year, its defense will need to play better to win this game.

Longview wins if: This game gets into the 30s. The Lobos may have the best defense that DeSoto has seen all season. And while DeSoto has put up 40 or more against every team except North Mesquite, off a bye week it will be on the Lobos to keep the team in check and give itself a chance to score with DeSoto.

Prediction: This game while important to both, but feels like it means more to DeSoto and that is a big mental edge entering the game. This group wants to win and wants to prove that the results on the field can match the talent on the sidelines. The difference in this contest will be the balance in the DeSoto offense with two stellar running backs and a precision passing attack. Both teams will still have a long playoff road to improve national rankings but this should be a great game from all measurements.
- DeSoto 34, Longview 16.

-- For more on Texas football, visit TheOldCoach.com

Weekend Watch
No. 99 Oaks Christian v Moorpark

QB Grant Rohach (6-2/185, Sr.)
LB Brandon Hughes (6-2/204, Sr.)
DB Ishmael Adams (5-11/187, Sr.)
WR Jordan Payton (6-2/196, Sr.)
LB Carlos Mendoza (6-2/210, Sr.)
When: Friday Nov. 4, 7:00 pm
Last Meeting: Oct. 29, 2010 - Oaks Christian won, 21-14.
Rankings: Oaks Christian (6-2), No. 9 in California
Moorpark (5-3), No. 33 in California

Why it's big: The evaluations of Southern California have been pretty flat this season. This is a game that may be another indicator of whether there is much separation in the teams that are perceived to be on one level versus teams on another. Oaks and Moorpark have had similar battles with teams in the Marmonte League and have had close games against each other in the past.

Best matchup: Moorpark offense against the Oaks Christian defense. Moorpark has scored a lot of points against below-average defenses and has struggled to find the defense against the better teams in the league. Finding out which category Oaks belongs in probably will be determined in the first quarter.

Moorpark wins if: It can score 24 points. The defense for Moorpark appears as though it is tough enough to hold Oaks in check for the majority of the game. If it is able to mount four scoring drives - or break a play on special teams - it could drastically increase its odds of success. What is worrisome is that in losses to St. Bonaventure and Westlake, the team did not break 20.

Oaks Christian wins if: It can play a clean game on offense. It only scored 21 points in each of its two losses. If the team is held to that number again, it could spell another loss. Moorpark is not as good on offense as Bellevue and Westlake so 21 points could do it, but if the team relies on just 21 it could be playing with fire.

Prediction: This could be an ugly game to watch. Neither defense is spectacular and neither offense is explosive enough to take advantage. An ugly game could break out in a hurry. The talent lies on the Oaks Christian sideline, but if there has been one Oaks team in the last six years that Moorpark was going to get over on, it would likely be this one. A close game that will test the mettle of each team is expected. And a final that mirrors last year would not surprise.
- Oaks Christian 21, Moorpark 14.

Weekend Watch
Other Predictions (2011: 78-21)
Game of the Week: Warren Central def. Carmel, 24-20
No. 3 Gaffney def. Spartanburg, 43-16
No. 20 Harrison def. Brother Rice, 20-18
No. 31 Miami Central def. Belen Jesuit, 31-20
No. 98 Couer d'Alene def. Mountain View, 40-20
Have your game picked next week: E-mail Dallas Jackson
Submit your picks: Play the Pick'Em contest
Game of the Week record: 8-3
2011 Record for all games picked: 86-24



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