Dual County. Tri-champions. One million and one permutations.
It was one wild ride in the Dual County League yesterday. Lincoln-Sudbury beat Newton South, 20-12. Acton-Boxboro beat Westford, 28-25. And Wayland officially won the league championship even though it did not play a league game. Wayland beat Weston, 34-8, and gets to play Chelmsford next week because L-S and A-B didn't score enough first-half points on Thanksgiving.
Confused? Welcome to the neighborhood. L-S, A-B, and Wayland all finished with a league record of 7-1, but Wayland gets to advance to the EMass playoffs because of a tiebreaker system that only Bill Belichick could love and only Albert Einstein could decipher.
If you have mastered Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 and memorized John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern's Game Theory, put your mind to a real test and try to figure out the DCL's tiebreaker system.
The league determined this year that, in the event of a three-way tie, the team with the lowest cumulative halftime differential would be eliminated, and the title would be awarded to the winner of the head-to-head matchup between the remaining two teams. This encouraged a lot of Patriotesque 35-0 halftime scores during the league season.
"I'm not a fan of the system," said longtime Lincoln-Sudbury athletic director Nancy O'Neil. "I don't think it's an educationally sound system, not when you're encouraging scores of 35-0 at halftime."
First-year Newton South athletic director Scott Perrin added, "We will address this at the next meeting. Obviously, this backfired this year. The good thing is that we have a lot of classy schools and classy programs. For this year, we just had to play it out. It is what it is."
Appropriate that he would use Belichick-speak. Last week, both Wayland and Lincoln-Sudbury ran out to 35-0 halftime leads, while Acton-Boxboro settled for 26-0 after two quarters. We're not sure whether anyone videotaped opposing coaches' hand signals, but it certainly wasn't the true spirit of scholastic sports.
"Some would say that it's not what high school football is about," said Newton South coach Ted Dalicandro.
The Lincoln-Sudbury Warriors lost to Wayland this year, but beat Acton-Boxboro. They knew that in order to win the league title yesterday, they needed to: 1. be ahead of South by 4 or more at halftime; 2. have Acton-Boxboro be ahead by 22 or more at halftime; 3. beat Newton South; and 4. have Acton-Boxboro beat Westford. (I could try to explain Wayland's place in the tiebreaker system, but perhaps you already have a holiday headache.)
It was left to the underdogs from Newton South (3-8) to remind us what high school football is about. Dalicandro's squad restored sanity to the hideous system with four quarters of big resistance. On a day when a lot of fans were calculating how many first-half points the favorites needed, the Lions put a stop to the nonsense by matching Lincoln-Sudbury play for play.
By the time word reached Newton that A-B had jumped to an 8-0 lead at Westford (you knew they'd go for 2), Lincoln-Sudbury had already been blanked once in the red zone by Newton South. It was 0-0 in after one quarter and South QB Derek Russell throwing to Isaiah Quinones was giving Lincoln-Sudbury fits. When stubborn South stunned L-S with a pair of first-half touchdowns, taking a 12-7 lead at intermission, all was lost for the L-S's playoff hopes. Parents, players, and coaches knew.
"It was strange," said Lincoln-Sudbury southpaw quarterback Jason Roth. "It was hard to keep a balance. We were getting signals from friends on the sideline, but once we knew A-B didn't cover the spread - or whatever you call it - we just concentrated on winning the game."
That's when the sun came out. Literally and figuratively. With the title bid officially flat-lined, the boys were allowed to just play football. L-S played its best ball in the second half.
"Once we stopped worrying about what everybody else was doing, that made it easier," said Roth.
Roth connected on touchdown passes to Kurt Rogers and Derek Lowe in the third period, and Ryan Lesko's interception with 16 seconds left in the fourth stopped South's final drive. The Warriors went out winners. Sort of.
"It's still our Thanksgiving game and we wanted to finish on a good note," said the all-purpose Lowe.
Weird day. High school kids thinking about point differentials. Not good.
Time for a change in the Dual County League. A coin flip would be better than this. Have the opposing captains arm-wrestle. Or student-body tug-of-war at the 50. Just about anything beats first-half score differential.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.