Big East Conference playoff picture getting murky

Saturday, September 28, 2019 | 10:56 PM

Just like they have in years past, the waters are getting murky in the Class 3A Big East Conference playoff picture.

After Friday night, No. 2 North Catholic (4-1, 4-0) is the only undefeated team remaining in league play. Four teams have three wins in the conference, and after Freeport (2-3, 2-3) started the season with three straight losses, it still finds itself in the thick of the conversation.

Only four teams will make the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs from the Big East Conference, and outside of North Catholic, five teams are vying for the remaining three spots.

A 26-17 win over No. 3 Elizabeth Forward showed No. 5 Derry (4-2, 3-1) is returning to the form it displayed last year on its way to the WPIAL championship game.

Then, there’s the Yellowjackets. They were in the same position last year when they lost their first three games and still found a way to win their final five conference matchups and secure a spot in the playoffs. So coach John Gaillot and his squad know what it will take to punch their ticket this fall.

“It’s very competitive,” Gaillot said. “You have to fight and claw. For us, we have to win out to be able to get in. That’s why we have to take it one game at a time.”

It won’t be as easy as it was last year for the Yellowjackets, when the top four teams were the only ones with five wins or more. This year, Deer Lakes and Burrell have established themselves as contenders for a playoff spot.

The Bucs (4-2, 3-2) only won two games last year. But they pulled out a convincing 16-14 win over Deer Lakes on Friday to make it three in a row and prove they deserve to be in the conversation.

“This is a great conference where you have a battle each and every week,” Burrell coach Shawn Liotta said. “We have a very good football team in Mount Pleasant that we have to prepare for next week, and that will be another challenge for us.”

After consecutive losses to North Catholic and Elizabeth Forward (4-1, 3-1) the Bucs have taken a turn, both defensively and offensively. They outscored their past three opponents 99-20 and have shown they can win in more ways than one.

Last week against Yough, junior quarterback Alex Arledge threw for 391 yards and five touchdowns. On Friday against the Lancers, Arledge only threw for 88 yards, but senior running back Mike Scherer carried the ball 33 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns.

“It shows how good we are as an offense,” Arledge said. “If the passing game isn’t there we can run it, so we’re on the right path right now and I think we have a bright future ahead of us.”

Although the Lancers (3-3, 3-2) lost to the Bucs, it doesn’t mean they are completely out of it. But with a playoff spot on the line, coach Tim Burk knows it’s going to be an uphill battle.

“It’s not fun being on the losing end,” Burk said. “But it’s different than last year because now you know we have a chance. Freeport is next week, and we have to be prepared for it. I tried to explain to our kids, this loss just muddies the water. This doesn’t end our season.”

Next Friday could clear up the playoff picture as Deer Lakes heads to Freeport, and Burrell travels to Mt. Pleasant to take on the Vikings, who have been on the verge of joining the playoff conversation.

They’ve come close in the past few weeks, losing to Derry by a touchdown and Deer Lakes by a field goal.

“I don’t think any conferences are good when someone just runs away with,” Burk said. “It just diminishes all hope, and this conference is a good conference. Everyone has a fighting chance, and you gotta come prepared each week.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .

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