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Race tightens for the Grid Picks Cup

Coming into Week 8 in the chase for the Bob Ford Memorial Cup, there’s one thing that is for certain: With only three or four weeks remaining, the race is too close to call.

Justin Carlucci, who was ahead by two games last week, dropped back into a first-place tie with TJ Engle.

And here comes the reigning champion, “Hot” Rod Heckman, galloping toward the front. His pickers’ best 13-1 Week 7 bumped him up into sole possession of second place, and only one game back of the leaders.

“In my 30 plus years here, I don’t recall a Grid Picks race this close,” said Heckman. “Everybody is still alive for the title. It’s going to be a crazy finish.” Heckman reflected about the manner in which Bob Ford would make his weekly picks.

“Bob would get his list of games and before I could even read them all, he would have his picks circled and returned. He was that confident in his picks every week.

“That’s one of the things I miss about him. He would circle his picks, bring his list over and say, ‘Where are everybody else’s?’” Who’s to debate Bob Ford’s method? Every year he was at or near the top right to the final week of the season.

In good position, Chuck Hixson, Brad Hurley, and Pat Matsinko are all locked together at three games behind.

It’s almost unfair to say that the remaining four pickers are bringing up the rear because a strong Week 8 can thrust any one of them into the middle of the pack, and back in contention for the lead. Yours Truly, is teetering on the edge of the Pundit Pit, but I remain only five games off the pace with Emmett “Bossman” McCall, who climbed out of the Pit this week.

Two pickers have taken up residence in the Den of Darkness. Mike “No Hope” Haines has been in a free fall since his early season surge, and Sam “The Gambling Man” Matta, who lost four games last Friday, are now tied for last. On the bright side, they are a mere six games out of first place.

This week, nearly half the games are unanimous picks, so they will have no bearing on the standings. The others can jump or bump the standings of faces at the top of this page.

Olympians and Raiders to rumble

The local Grid Picks Cup Game of the Week has Jim Thorpe traveling to Tamaqua to take on the Raiders. Both teams are not having their customary good seasons. Just a few years back, they were powerhouses who met twice, once on the regular season and again in the playoffs. Their competitive history is long, and JT Coach Mark Rosenberger and Tamaqua mentor Sam Bonner have been there through much of it. Throw out this year’s records. Bonner’s boys will be ready, but the overall nod goes to Rosenberger’s Olympians to win this game in a close one.

Tide and Tigers to tussle

Pottsville carries its 6-1 record to New Tripoli tonight to battle undefeated Northwestern in another featured Friday night game. The Crimson Tide have been on a roll, having won five in a row, including last week’s 43-8 drubbing of a good Wilson team. Of course, Justin Holmes and his talented Tigers are having a magical year, with their high-powered offense and an opportunistic defense. The consensus pick here is Northwestern to remain unbeaten, but no one will be surprised if the Tide hands the Tigers their first loss.

Bet the Bombers and Bulldogs

Two area teams are unanimous picks to win in Week 8. Look for Palmerton to improve to 7-1, and the Bulldogs of Northern Lehigh to put together a modest two-game winning streak and climb to 5-3 with a win at home against Pen Argyl.

Marian, Lehighton, Panther Valley, and Pleasant Valley are all picked to be not so fortunate, although Chuck “Need Some Luck” Hixson likes the Panthers to upset Tri-Valley on the road, and Mike “Needs Some Help” Haines tabs the Indians at home to knock off Saucon Valley.

Infantry vs. Air Force

An intriguing out-of-area game pits the Bangor Slaters against the Wilson Warriors on Saturday afternoon. Bangor likes to ground and pound, as evidenced last week when they rushed 51 times in a dominating performance against Lehighton. On the contrary, Wilson likes to fire 30-to-40 passes a game to its big play, speedy wide receivers. If the Slaters control the line of scrimmage and move the chains, they’ll keep the Warriors’ high-scoring offense on the sidelines, and that’s the majority pick here.

Here we go!

Going into Week 9, there will be changes at the top with Engle, Carlucci, and Heckman having key differences in their picks. TJ likes Northwestern to beat Pottsville, but JC and “Hot” Rod have tabbed the Tide to topple the Tigers. Carlucci gains a game on both if Southern Lehigh upends Blue Mountain.

Hixson, only three games out, is throwing all his chips on the table this week. If Panther Valley, Pocono Mountain West, Nazareth, Wilson, and Whitehall all win, he could make the greatest leap in Cup history; but if they lose, he might find himself completely out of contention.

Yours Truly is much closer to falling into the Pit than to winning the picker’s prize. I played it pretty safe, so I’m hoping at best I keep my nose past McCall, Haines, and Matta.

Soon we’ll be heading down the stretch. After this Week 8, who might be alone at the top and who will take the biggest drop? “Carolina” Engle, “The Voice” Carlucci and “Hot” Rod Heckman drive to get ahead of the line going into Week 9, and let’s see how many will fall farther behind!