It wasn't all that long ago that the Pioneer Athletic Conference was less respected than Rodney Dangerfield among District 1 football circles.
Friday night's impressive performance by the league in district tournament opening-round action may have signaled that, as Bob Dylan might say, the times they are a-changing.
Highlighted by Perkiomen Valley's 26-6 victory over previously unbeaten No. 2 seed Bayard Rustin in a 1-AAAA opener, the PAC-10 collected three first-round wins.
That also included Spring-Ford's 43-21 win at No. 5 seed Downingtown West in Quad-A action and Pottsgrove's 49-7 victory over fellow league squad Phoenixville in a Triple-A opener.
"I think Friday night was a step in the right direction for our league,' PV coach Scott Reed said.
"It was a great night for the PAC-10 in terms of getting respect,' echoed Pottsgrove coach Rick Pennypacker.
The Vikings had showed what they were capable of back in Week 1, when they took apart eventual 1-AAAA No. 10 seed Plymouth-Whitemarsh 33-0.
Though losses to both Spring-Ford and Pottsgrove thwarted their hopes of a league title, they bounced back with a first-rate effort in their "second season.'
Quarterback Rasaan Stewart went 20-for-32 for 224 yards and three touchdowns — all to Clay Domine, who racked up nine receptions for 112 yards — and also ran for a team-high 89 yards as PV (9-2) notched its first Quad-A district victory.
Ryan O'Donnell (61 yards), Mark Bonomo (47) and Kurran Holland (35) also made key contributions to a ground attack that amassed 241 yards and Dakota Clanagan had five receptions for 58 yards to help the Vikings rack up 466 total yards. The PV defense, meanwhile, held Rustin (which had averaged 37.9 points over the previous nine weeks and had rung up 60 against Octorara in the regular season finale) to a season-low point total.
"The big difference was that we had nothing to lose,' Reed said. "It actually feels good going into these playoffs as an underdog. It truly feels like we have nothing to lose, which allows us to play fearless. We made big plays, got some great stops by our defense and took advantage of two turnovers.
"It was very exciting for our kids. The Spring-Ford and Pottsgrove games were very disappointing losses, but playing both of them made us better prepared to take on Rustin. The (Rustin) win gave us a little bit of redemption and validation that we do have a good football team. When you stop and think about it, we've lost two games this season, but, man, we were defeated by two very good football teams.'
Spring-Ford got the District 1-AAAA ball rolling last year with a memorable run to the district final, where the Rams fell to eventual PIAA runner-up Coatesville.
After not having won a district game in program history prior to last year's tourney, the Rams are now 4-2 in District 1 play under fourth-year coach Chad Brubaker.
"Our kids were not intimidated by the stage,' Brubaker said. "I think that's where being there before and having some success helps. We really felt like our kids were ready to play. We held back on a lot of new ideas over the final weeks of the season, so our kids were excited by the new things we were planning to do.'
No. 12 seed Spring-Ford (9-2) got a 231-yard, five-TD outburst from senior tailback Jarred Jones, a super starting quarterback debut from Matt Daywalt (10-for-13, 136 yards, 1 TD) and a 35-yard TD grab by Gary Hopkins on offense, while linebacker Jake Leahy and corner Brandon Barone each collected interceptions and the defensive front of Mason Romano, Robby Varner, Alec Vagnozzi and Tim Rudderow got consistent pressure to disrupt the Whippets' high-octane hurry-up offense.
"We were most happy with the effort of our kids on both sides of the ball,' Brubaker said. "Our kids were exhausted after the game; the past three weeks they had played one series in the second half. We were worried about conditioning, but there was no letdown in terms of effort.'
There was certainly no letdown for the PAC-10 champion Falcons (11-0), as Marquis Barefield ran for 116 yards and four touchdowns, Mike Fowler hauled in a 28-yard scoring strike from Riley Michaels and linebackers Tyrone Parker and Jeff Adams led a defensive effort that allowed just 103 total yards and forced three turnovers.
"Our kids are never happy just being here; they want to win it all every year,' Pennypacker said. "That is the expectation of the players and coaches. It's a one-game season, and we approach it that way every week.'
Phoenixville, which has qualified for the 1-AAA tourney for the past three years, Methacton (7-4) — which enjoyed its winningest season since 2000 — and Boyertown (7-4), whose hurry-up offense set a plethora of records this fall, are also part of the PAC-10's gridiron resurgence. Take into account that the Warriors' four losses (to Rustin, Perkiomen Valley, Pottsgrove and Spring-Ford) were to teams with a combined mark of 39-5, with three of those losses occurring when those squads played each other.
AROUND THE AREA
Spring-Ford's Jarred Jones went over the 4,000-yard career mark in Friday's win, but a large share of that credit goes to the offensive line of Chase Stine, Josh Boyer, Zach Smiley, Tyler German, Mason Romano and Robby Varner. ... After catching just 17 passes through the first eight weeks, Perkiomen Valley's Clay Domine has exploded with 21 catches over the past three games. ... Speaking of racking up huge receiving numbers, Hill School's Grant Smith finished the season with area-bests of 66 receptions and 1,078 yards. ... Perkiomen Valley quarterback Rasaan Stewart is 75 rushing yards shy of 1,000 for the season. ... Owen J. Roberts' junior defensive end Will Dawson has five sacks over the past five weeks and six overall. Spring-Ford's Mason Romano leads the area with 8.0 sacks, with Boyertown's Tyler Zilen at 7.5.
DISTRICT 1 DOINGS
Is there a hotter team in District 1-AAAA than North Penn? The Knights defeated defending district champ Coatesville 31-0 in Friday's first-round game, improving coach Dick Beck's record to 11-0 in district openers. North Penn has won eight in a row since an 0-3 start and will visit third seed Pennsbury (10-1) in a quarterfinal that will seem more like the District 1 final. ... In the other three 1-AAAA quarterfinals, top seed Garnet Valley plays host to Abington, Spring-Ford travels to fourth seed Neshaminy, and Perkiomen Valley visits seventh seed Central Bucks West. ... In District 1-AAA semifinal action Friday, top seed Pottsgrove plays host to Academy Park and third seed West Chester Henderson visits second seed Glen Mills.
St. Joseph's Prep defeated La Salle College High 30-20 Saturday to win its first Philadelphia Catholic League title since 2005. ... Former Boyertown coach Ron Zeiber guided Hempfield to a 17-7 victory over Central Dauphin in Friday's District 3-AAAA tourney opener. ... Former Pottstown coach Brett Myers guided Middletown to a 6-4 mark this season. ... South Fayette's Brett Brumbaugh threw for a WPIAL single-game record 472 yards in Friday's 31-7 win over Seton LaSalle. ... Aliquippa's Terry Swanson and Dravon Henry became the first WPIAL teammates to eclipse the 4,000-yard career rushing mark Friday.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Clay Domine, Perkiomen Valley
Senior wideout put up season-highs of nine catches, 113 yards and three touchdowns to help the No. 15 seed Vikings knock off No. 2 seed Bayard Rustin 26-6 in Friday's District 1-AAAA Tournament opener. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Domine had TD grabs of 35, 9 and 21 as PV opened a 20-0 lead after three quarters.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Scott Reed, Perkiomen Valley
Directed the Vikings to a 26-6 victory over No. 2 seed Bayard Rustin in Friday's first round of the District 1-AAAA Tournament for the program's first Quad-A postseason victory. The PV offense rolled up 466 total yards, while its defense held the previously unbeaten Golden Knights to a season-low point output.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.