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Heckman grabs the lead in Grid Picks Cup race

Watch out Times News pickers. He’s made his move and he intends to leave us choking on his dust.

“Hot Shot” Rod Heckman stormed past Sam Matta to take a two-game lead in the race for the Bob Ford Memorial Grid Picks Cup. With a stellar 13-2 mark in Week No. 7, Heckman - the odds-on-favorite to take over the king’s throne until next year - will be tough to overtake as we near the final weeks of the race.

“I’m not too excited about moving into first place,” said Heckman. “The only time it matters is if you’re in first is after the last week of the season, but now that I’m there, I’m going to try and stay there.”

So the question must be asked to the former Cup champion and perennial top three finisher. ‘What’s your mojo? What makes makes your crystal ball see more winners than ours?

“My method isn’t complicated,” he said. “I compare scores with common opponents … my son is on BRC’s crew that covers football games …, He looks at the games with me and we try to come up with the picks together.”

Behind Heckman, Brad Hurley is beginning to back up his pre-season trash talk. Along with Pat Matsinko, he tied Heckman with a week’s best 13-2 record to put him in a second place tie with Matta. Yours Truly is still keeping pace and is four games off the lead.

The big news at the back of the pack is Emmett “Mr. Football” McCall clawed his way out of the Pundit Pit and promises to never again fall in to the Depths of Darkness, which is currently resided by Kyle Magda. The rookie is learning quickly that he’s in a race with veteran pickers and his brutal 6-9 week gave McCall and TJ Engle the opportunity to pass him by five games. It’s still too early, but Magda is certainly in position to never see the light of day again.

Tigers, Dawgs and lots of underdogs

The predictions for Week No. 8 do not favor our local teams except for Northwestern and Northern Lehigh. The Tigers welcome the 5-2 Bangor Slaters tonight which is expected to be close to the end. The thought here is that Northwestern has a more diversified attack and if it can get a lead it might be able to force the Slaters out of their comfort zone, which is running the football.

Northern Lehigh is picked to win its seventh game. The ‘Dawgs will be hosting Tamaqua.

Meanwhile, in addition to Tamaqua, Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Marian, Palmerton, Panther Valley, and Pleasant Valley are all local underdogs. McCall and Chuck Hixson have tabbed the Colts to win and if the Bears knock off the Freedom Patriots, Hixson can move up in the pack.

Hornets, Blue Eagles in big one

My pick for the Out of Area Game of the Week has 7-0 Emmaus going to Nazareth to put its unbeaten record on the line against the 6-1 Blue Eagles. The Hornets have won their last three games by combined scores of 142-26, while Nazareth has won its last three by a whopping 153-14. The consensus pick here is for Emmaus to stay undefeated, but Hurley, Matsinko, Matta, and Yours Truly can gain ground on Heckman if the Nazareth pulls off the minor upset. Both teams have routed common opponents, but if Heckman’s method of picks prevails, then Emmaus wins because they beat Freedom while Nazareth dropped its game with the Patriots by a touchdown.

“We’ve gotta take him down!”

These are the fighting words of Pat Matsinko referring to a collective determination to knock Heckman out of the king’s throne. If Nazareth beats Emmaus and Easton triumphs over Liberty, Pat “The Mat” can gain two lengths on Hot Rod.

Matta needs a comeback week to remain in striking range. He too likes Nazareth and also picks Central Catholic to beat Whitehall, which could make or break his run to regain first place. I’m putting my place of contention in some jeopardy if ACC, Nazareth, and Easton don’t come away with victories, so my fingers are crossed.

The Schuylkill Haven-Pen Argyl match up can be an important swing game this week with the staff spilt right down the middle with their picks.

Home stretch

With five weeks to go in the race for the Cup, the favorite has made his mark. It appears to be a five-man race at this point with five games of separation from first through fifth place. The risk for those of us in the chase to overtake Heckman is to pick against him.

Sink or swim ... A moment of truth ... A pivotal point ... A critical juncture. A ….

You get the message. There’s still plenty of time and yet for the race to go down to the wire, the results from Week No. 8 just might be a turning point and a crucial crossroad. We’ll see who’s in line for the lead and who falls too far behind when we come into Week No. 9!