The margin for error is gone.
All ten of the teams that will start their journeys in the DIAA Football Tournament this weekend have suffered at least one loss, but they all know the next one means their equipment is about to have to be turned in.
There are three regular season rematches, including one that decided the Division 2 title a year ago.
The others feature a team that started 1-4 (Concord), one that needed a 4-game winning streak to qualify (Archmere), and a team that played only one other playoff team in the regular season, and didn't score a point against them (Tower Hill).
In a season that's been tricky to figure out at times, perhaps the straight-forward are the logical answers, but as Salesianum showed against Middletown in last year's opening round, past performances mean nothing, if you can't get the current result.
SEAN GREENE – WDEL Sports Director - Last Week 17-3 (85%), Season – 180-41 (81.4%)
No. 6 Salesianum (6-4) at No. 3 Smyrna (8-2) - 7pm Friday (WDEL)
Regular Season: Smyrna 18-10
SEAN GREENE – Smyrna 24-13. Andrew Watkins did not play in that first meeting, but he'll be on the field for the Sals. Liam Mara stepped into a starring role in the first game with a long touchdown reception, and he is coming off a 5 TD performance at Saint Mark's last week. Aiden Sanchez has taken over as the unquestioned leader at QB for the Eagles, who have Mekhi Jackson on the outside to stretch the Sals' defense. The key to this game will be Salesianum's ability to contain Smyrna LB Debo Williams. It's hard to do, but if they can give Watkins his best performance since returning off the high ankle sprain, maybe the Sals can duplicate last year's first round upset.
No. 5 Concord (6-4) at No. 4 Sussex Central (8-2) - 7pm Friday
Last Meeting: Concord 35-26, 2010 Quarterfinals
SEAN GREENE: Sussex Central 28-7. Clearly a game 9 years in the making. Concord's 5-game run to make the dance is commendable, as they needed every one of their wins over Caravel, Appoquinimink, and St. Georges to get here. They were outscored 71-0 by the two Division 1 tournament teams they played (Middletown & Hodgson). Sussex Central looked to be cruising before falling to a desperate Dover team in Week 9 that nearly knocked Salesianum out of the tournament. The defending champs graduated plenty off of last year's squad, but should have the offense to advance.
No. 8 Friends (7-2) at No. 1 Woodbridge (9-1) - 7pm Friday
Regular Season: Woodbridge 21-14
SEAN GREENE: Woodbridge 21-10. These best of "frenemies" will face off for the 8th time in the past five years, as this will be their third postseason encounter. QB Wyatt Nelson is out for Friends, but senior Cole Opderbeck has stepped in to keep the Quakers' hopes alive. Woodbridge added WR Ricky Kane a few weeks back, but in an emotional season they've been trying to find their offense in recent weeks. Both teams bring strong defenses, and their meetings usually come down to turnovers. Probably should be closer to a 3/6 or 4/5 match-up than a 1/8, but anyone who is complaining about this game falling in the quarters, just be glad it's being played.
No. 7 Lake Forest (8-2) at No. 2 Delmar (8-2) - 7:30pm Friday
Regular Season: Delmar 34-6
SEAN GREENE: Delmar 27-13. The Week 6 game was one of those where prior results would cross you up. Delmar was coming off a 19-0 loss to Friends, a team Lake defeated 16-7. Jacob VonArx threw 2 touchdowns to Vershawn Spence in the first half of that game, and the Wildcats rolled, starting their 5-game win streak that includes last week's 2OT thriller over Woodbridge. Lake should be excited to be here, and hope for more, but this wasn't a good draw for the Spartans.
No. 6 Caravel (8-2) at No. 3 Tower Hill (8-1) - 2pm Saturday
Last Meeting: Not since at least 2007
SEAN GREENE: Caravel 22-6. A bad schedule does not mean you are a bad team, but Tower Hill's inability to schedule a quality out-of-conference opponent has to be noted. There wasn't a tournament team to be found until last week, when they were blanked by Friends 10-0. The good news: that's a strong defensive performance that should be lauded. The bad news: Friends doesn't have RB/LB Ethan Potter, who is going to Villanova next year. Before you dismiss the Hillers though, they won last year in the opening round when A.I. gave them a home game so they could play on a quicker surface. Last year's road ended at Caravel agaisnt Friends, this year's might end with Caravel.
No. 5 Archmere (8-2) at No. 4 Howard (9-1) - 7pm Saturday (WDEL)
Last Meeting: Howard 38-30, 2015 Week 1
SEAN GREENE: Howard 28-14. These two teams have played their final scrimmage against each other since that lid-lifter of 2015. There is familiarity, but it's one thing to scrimmage, it's another thing to meet in the playoffs. Howard's only loss came to D1 No. 1 Hodgson, the closest game the Silver Eagles have played to date. That makes Howard the sleeper team to win this dance, and with Karvin Reeves in the backfield, anything is possible. The Auks have been resilient, with their comeback from 20-3 down in the 4th quarter against Saint Mark's playing a huge role in their playoff qualification. QB Tom Carney has set in nicely, but in their 28-0 loss to Woodbridge, they only had 4 first downs. That must improve to keep this close.