Some teams have been affected in a big way by the coronavirus pandemic and the required quarantine protocols.
For example, look at Hartington-Newcastle.
The Wildcats beat Randolph 66-36 in their season opener, then saw their next two games — against Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family and West Holt, respectively — canceled because of COVID-19.
So, the Wildcats have played one game so far this season, while Cross County — which has dealt both Clarkson/Leigh and Howells-Dodge their lone losses thus far — has already played four games.
But if all goes smoothly this week, Hartington-Newcastle will play a game for the first time in three weeks when it hosts Plainview on Friday.
“It will be 21 days in between games for us. That’s way too long,” coach Corey Uldrich said.
But will the Wildcats even get to play this week?
The Cedar County News reported that Plainview — Hartington-Newcastle's scheduled opponent Friday — had to close school Wednesday because of a surge in COVID-19 cases and won't be able to play Friday's game.
So unless they can find a replacement opponent, the Wildcats' 21-day drought could be extended.
Then there are teams like Allen, which had five starters affected by quarantine up until its game against Mead two weeks ago. The Eagles had to cancel their opener with Osmond and, with the quarantine protocols, never had a chance to fully practice as a team from Aug. 10 until last week before the Bloomfield game.
Speaking of Osmond, the Tigers have had the unfortunate luck of having their opener canceled by their opponent, then have a game moved to Saturday because of their opponent, and their game this week was previously scheduled for Thursday.
A typical Friday to Friday game-week grind is tough enough during an eight-week regular season, plus the playoffs. Five days instead of seven between games doesn’t sound like a major difference, but it certainly is in terms of healing, rest and preparation.
Here’s hoping the schedule settles down into a routine for some of these teams.
Let’s get to this week’s picks, preceded by last week’s summary.
Last week's results
Record: 8-2 last week, 24-6 (.800) through three weeks. (Last week’s record was a game better than the week prior, yet the win percentage stayed the same. How does that work?)
How city teams fared: Lutheran High Northeast faced by far its toughest test to date when it needed a fourth-quarter rally at Guardian Angels Central Catholic. But it was again a struggle for Norfolk High and Norfolk Catholic against statewide ranked opponents. The Panthers couldn’t slow down ninth-ranked Lincoln East on the road (East 34-21 predicted, 55-13 final), while the Knights couldn’t sustain their early momentum against fourth-ranked Ord (Ord 27-21 predicted, 28-14 final).
Highlight: No. 2 Pierce has outscored its projected point total by at least a touchdown every week, including last week’s 48-13 pummeling of a previously ranked North Bend Central (29-26 predicted).
Lowlights: The only two losses I took last week were when Howells-Dodge and Neligh-Oakdale lost to the Nos. 1 and 2 teams, respectively, in the Lincoln Journal Star’s rankings for Class D1. The Jaguars (38-28 predicted) missed some scoring chances at Cross County (28-0 final), while the Warriors (44-40 predicted) ultimately couldn’t keep up at Burwell (53-28 final).
Other results (predictions in parentheses): Oakland-Craig 30, Crofton 13 (37-19); Wayne 14, Columbus Lakeview 11 (34-20); Elkhorn Valley 50, Wisner-Pilger 44 (32-20); Wakefield 50, Stanton 14 (42-28).
Disclaimer: Now that most teams have played three weeks of the season, we’re starting to see contenders separate themselves from the pack.
This week's picks
Papillion-La Vista (1-2) at Norfolk (1-2): The Panthers have been outscored 97-13 in the past two weeks. It goes without saying that needs to change for Norfolk to have a chance in any game, even against a team with a matching record through three weeks. The Monarchs haven’t struggled quite as much in back-to-back losses, which include a 21-16 setback to Omaha Creighton Prep. Norfolk 20, Papillion-La Vista 17.
Norfolk Catholic (1-2) at No. 1 Oakland-Craig (3-0): How tough of a stretch is this for Norfolk Catholic? This is the final of three straight ranked opponents, and in two weeks, the Knights host Wayne. But they have hung tough the first two weeks, and Crofton proved that the Oakland-Craig defense is human by actually scoring points. Does Norfolk Catholic have enough firepower for the upset? Oakland-Craig 39, Norfolk Catholic 26.
Ashland-Greenwood (3-0) at No. 3 Wayne (3-0): Fourteen penalties and three turnovers might suggest the Blue Devils indeed got caught by Columbus Lakeview looking ahead to fellow top-five Ashland-Greenwood. Wayne has had a concerning pattern early on with lackluster performances, but in between those two, the Blue Devils looked solid against West Point-Beemer. This is the beginning of a crucial three-game stretch that includes trips to Battle Creek and Norfolk Catholic. Wayne 27, Ashland-Greenwood 22.
No. 6 Crofton (1-1) at David City Aquinas (3-0): The good news for the Warriors is they’re coming off giving defending state champion Oakland-Craig one of its closest contests in the past 16 games, which should give them confidence going forward. The bad news is Crofton now faces the No. 2-ranked team in Class C2. Aquinas 24, Crofton 14.
No. 1 Wakefield (3-0) at No. 5 Lutheran High Northeast (3-0): A week ago, I wrote that “Lutheran High hasn’t exactly played Wakefield” in its season-opening schedule. Now, the Eagles get their chance against the new No. 1-ranked team in a rare Saturday afternoon contest. There’s something about this game that brings out the best in the visiting Trojans, who have scored 70 and 54 points in the past two years against the Eagles. Wakefield 50, Lutheran High 36.
No. 2 Clarkson/Leigh (2-1) at No. 9 Stanton (2-1): Two weeks ago, this was going to be the matchup of top area running backs who missed their junior season in Tommy McEvoy of the Patriots and Sutton Pohlman for the Mustangs. Clarkson/Leigh still has a ton of playmakers, as East Butler found out last week, while Stanton still has a versatile offense led by Pohlman. However, this one might come down to which defense steps up. Clarkson/Leigh 30, Stanton 24.
Niobrara/Verdigre (2-1) at No. 7 O’Neill St. Mary’s (3-0): A week ago, the Cougars needed a 30-point fourth quarter to come back and beat Madison. If they need another comeback, it probably won’t happen against the high-powered offense that the Cardinals have this year. St. Mary’s 50, Niobrara/Verdigre 24.
No. 8 Elkhorn Valley (3-0) at No. 10 Laurel-Concord-Coleridge (2-1): This one might be a contrast of offensive styles if the teams haven’t strayed from what they did in their season openers. The Bears, typically a spread team, have resorted to their big offensive line and running back Evan Haisch for a traditional rushing attack. In contrast, the Falcons are content to spread the ball around to Adam Miller and company with Braedyn Ollendick as the trigger man. It will come down to which team can control the tempo of the game. Elkhorn Valley 44, LCC 22.
New York Giants (0-1) at Chicago (1-0): You mean to tell me that, after the Bears paid Nick Foles all that money, that Mitch Trubisky is still the Bears’ quarterback and Trubisky also engineered a fourth-quarter comeback on the road? I know it was against the Lions, who have developed a penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but still. Chicago 27, N.Y. Giants 17.
New England (1-0) at Seattle (1-0): Has Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels been waiting to have a true running threat at quarterback like he had in Denver with Tim Tebow once upon a time? Cam Newton’s rushing numbers in the opener might suggest that. But given a choice, I’d still take Russell Wilson any day over Newton. Seattle 31, New England 27.