While the District 11 AAAA bracket says that Pleasant Valley and Parkland's game will be a semi-final contest, it will actually be for much more than that.
In fact, the game will represent everything the Bears and the Trojans have played for this season.
Pleasant Valley, the district's No. 7 seed at 8-3, will travel to Parkland this weekend to take on the sixth-seeded Trojans (9-2). Since the other two teams in the AAAA tournament, Scranton and Delaware Valley, are not District 11 teams, that means the Bears' and the Trojans' Friday night match-up will be the defacto District 11 championship game.
"This is a great opportunity for us," said Pleasant Valley head coach Jim Terwilliger. "Certainly this is where we wanted to be since the beginning of the season. Our kids have worked extremely hard to get to this point and we are excited to have a chance Friday night."
These two programs have had different experiences in the district playoffs to say the least. Parkland has won four District 11 titles since 1996, including 2007 when it was also the PIAA runner-up, and has played in two other championship games since 2002. The Trojans have failed to qualify for the playoffs just once (2010) since the district started taking eight teams back in 2006.
Meanwhile, Pleasant Valley's playoff experience (or lack thereof) varies greatly. The Bears' only post-season success came in 1999 and 2000 when they won back-to-back Eastern Conference championships. It wasn't until two years ago that Pleasant Valley played in its first district game since 1994. It wasn't until last Saturday that the Bears won their first district game since '94. Now they will be looking to win their first district title in the program's history.
"Parkland is well tested and they have been here before," said Terwilliger. "They play a tremendous schedule and are a great football team. We are getting our feet wet in this whole situation, so obviously when it comes to game experience Parkland has the upper hand.
"At the same time, I think our kids are playing well at the right time of the year. I believe we have a team that has a lot of heart and a lot of soul and understands work ethic and how to win big games. I'd like the opportunity to put our guys up against anybody."
Parkland has arguably been the district's best AAAA team since week three. After losing their first two games to Delaware Valley and Easton, the Trojans have won each of their last nine contests and have done so in dominating fashion. Over that time Parkland has beaten its opposition by an average of 29 points-per-game (41.3 to 12). The Trojans handed Whitehall one of its two regular-season losses (52-23) and, much like Pleasant Valley, avenged one of their defeats last week when they ran all over Easton 41-10.
Parkland lines up in the spread, but is a run-first team. Last week it was Jarel Elder that ran the show. The 5-7, 155-pound senior rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries (6.8 yards-per-carry). His yearly yard-per-carry average is even better that that, as he has totaled 956 yards and 11 scores on just 105 carries. That's an average of over nine yards-per-carry.
Fellow tailback Eli Redmond also sees plenty of opportunities. He totaled 14 carries, 68 yards and two touchdowns last week. On the year he has 682 yards and 11 touchdowns on 86 carries. That too is good for a staggering yard-per-carry average of 7.9.
Lastly, quarterback Tim Baranek likes to get in the mix with his legs as well. The 5-11 senior has rushed for nearly as many yards as he has passed (782 rushing, 859 passing) and has more touchdowns on the ground (nine) than he does through the air (eight).
"We have never seen a three-headed monster like Parkland's," Terwilliger said. "There is no way we can simulate that in practice either. Their two running backs, Elder and Redmond, are two of the fastest guys I have seen. And I think Tim Baranek is the best quarterback that we have seen on our schedule.
"We have a great respect for those three guys. If we want a chance we have to play extremely fast and we have to be able to contain those guys."
Fortunately for the Bears' defense, the unit gets to see a spread offense every day in practice. While it may not be a run-heavy offense, its set-up should be familiar.
"It helps us in the sense that we will be accustomed to what they do," said Terwilliger. "Alignments and assignments are everything, so we should be okay there. We just have to do our jobs to the best of our abilities and can not relax for a single play."
Terwilliger has preached about gaining big-game experience and playing in big games since he took over the program four yeas ago. This year, after playing teams like Wyomissing and Nazareth and competing for the Mountain Valley Conference title in the final weeks, his team may finally have all the experience it needs as it heads into Friday.
"I don't think you can ever have enough, but I have said since I got here that I want our kids to play in big games," said Terwilliger. "We have played in a lot of those this year. More than any other year. And that experience will certainly help us going into Friday night and hopefully it will get some of the jitters out. That comes from having played in big games and we have played in our fair share this year."