Favorites, underdogs not always clear

Readers of The News-Gazette this week would have seen that seven of eight staff writers picked Salt Fork to win its season opening game on Friday against Arcola.

Based on the Class 1A state rankings released earlier in the week, that was a logical pick. Salt Fork was rated fourth in Class 1A and Arcola was unranked.

Readers who get their information from the Decatur Herald-Review got a different perspective. The newspaper conducted an online poll and published the results on Friday. Of the respondents, 88 percent said Arcola would win and 12 percent went with Salt Fork.

It's worth noting that Arcola is approximately 60 miles closer to Decatur than either Catlin or Sidell, which make up the Salt Fork co-op and therefore -- logically -- would make up a majority of the voters.

That point didn't make a difference to the Salt Fork coaching staff, which used the information as the final bit of motivation after the team warmed up and before taking the field for the kickoff.

"I let Coach (Joe) Hageman) tell the kids that they were picked decisively as the underdogs in the paper," Salt Fork head coach Brian Plotner said.

So, depending on your point of view, Salt Fork's 35-0 triumph was either:

A) expected

B) a shocking upset

In truth, after watching the game, my opinion is that these are two of the teams that will be in the 36-school 1A bracket in late October. My thought is that Salt Fork won't lose more than one game during the regular season and that Arcola will regroup as its sophomore quarterback gains experience and go into the playoffs with no more than three losses.

Finally, a few random thoughts from my Week 1 trip. I absolutely love seeing football fields with all hash marks clearly marked instead of those that mark only the five-yard markers. So, I give the grounds crew at Catlin a double thumbs up.

Also, even though I prefer hearing the vocals on the Star-Spangled Banner , the truth is that in the great outdoors it's often hard -- even with a microphone -- for the voices to be heard, so I have no problem with the band playing the National Anthem. Besides, they did a good job!

On the field, the play was relatively good for a season opener. The teams had just one turnover apiece and there were no 15-yard penalties in the game.

Can't wait for Week 2.

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