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Who’s who: The six-team division consists of the Bishop Timon-St. Jude Tigers, Canisius Crusaders, Cardinal O’Hara Hawks, St. Francis Red Raiders, St. Joe’s Marauders and St. Mary’s Lancers. Nichols is a Monsignor Martin member in many sports, but is an independent in football.
This year’s alignment shift: The league is again one division; last year was its first in that format after being split in AA and A divisions. St. Mary’s, which played a limited Monsignor Martin schedule last year, now joins Cardinal O’Hara in playing each of the traditional four “large” schools once.
Last year’s champion: St. Joe’s won the regular season, but it was St. Francis that capped off a very impressive finish by beating St. Joe’s, 37-16, for the title at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
2011 rewind: One of the most eventful seasons in league history. Clemson-bound Chad Kelly won Player of the Year honors and set the Western New York single-season passing record (3,056) by nearly 500 yards. Kelly led St. Joe’s to the regular season title, thanks in large part to a 27-20 Week Five win at St. Francis. Akeel Lynch, who is now at Penn State, ran for a Monsignor Martin record 2,136 yards for St. Francis, including a school-record 376 yards and five touchdowns in a win at Bishop Timon-St. Jude. Timon’s first year under coach Charlie Comerford was a resurgent one as the Tigers won at Canisius and cracked the top 10 of The News large school poll. Canisius may have had a disappointing regular season, but it came oh-so-close to beating St. Joe’s in the MMA semifinals, which were decided when Kelly threw a touchdown pass, and then a two-point conversion pass, with 18 seconds left in the game.
Last year’s records: St. Joe’s, 8-4, 4-0; St. Francis, 8-3, 3-1; Bishop Timon-St. Jude, 8-3, 2-2; Canisius, 4-7, 1-3; Cardinal O’Hara, 1-9, 0-4. St. Mary’s went 4-5, beating O’Hara for the first time in seven seasons and losing to Timon twice (once in the playoffs, where St. Mary’s was the automatic No. 6 seed).
2011 All-Western New York underclassmen: St. Joe’s sophomore DB Nigel Davis was a second-team selection. Bishop Timon-St. Jude juniors QB Ryan Dougherty and K Tom Gioia and sophomore RB Adam DiMillo were honorable mentions, as was Canisius junior WR Denzel Benton.
2011 all-league first-team underclassmen: Bishop Timon-St. Jude juniors QB Ryan Dougherty, LB Brad Wellenzohn and K Tom Gioia as well as sophomore OL Ryan Byrne; St. Joe’s sophomores LB Roderick Payne and DB Nigel Davis; St. Francis junior DE Jarrett Dolegala.
Pre-snap read: Last year the excitement was rooted in big names, this year’s is about who will step into those front-running roles. Timon remains a team that trails many in roster numbers, but it has some of the best returning talent, including strong-armed QB Dougherty. St. Joe’s turns to last year’s backup QB in Tyler Hill, who has some of the fastest, most dangerous weapons in Western New York in all-around standouts Payne and Davis. St. Francis doesn’t have Lynch, but it has the running back who picked up just fine for him in the second half of last year’s title game in powerful senior RB Alex Misterman, as well as some intriguing transfers. Canisius has big lineman Ryan Hunter, who has committed to Bowling Green, along with two speedsters who put on a show in last year’s epic semifinal loss to St. Joe’s in Benton and sophomore RB Qadree Ollison.
Week One must-see games: All teams are playing nonleaguers, with the most high-profile being a rare nonleague showdown between Monsignor Martin and Section VI large schools as Timon visits Williamsville South at 7 p.m. All the other games are Saturday, with every team facing an opponent from Section V (Rochester area). Canisius (vs. McQuaid, 1 p.m.) and St. Joe’s (vs. Franklin, 2 p.m.) both open at home, as does St. Francis, which hosts perennial state power Aquinas at 7 p.m. Saturday. Aquinas has a 23-game win streak against Monsignor Martin teams dating back to 2005.
Scrimmage Saturday: The first day teams could scrimmage was Saturday. Check out notes, quotes, video and reader observations from the action at the Prep Talk blog at buffalonews.com.
Live chats kick off tonight: The first of this season’s weekly live chats will start at 9 p.m. at buffalonews.com.
At buffalonews.com: Review the complete week-by-week schedule at the high school home page; at the Prep Talk blog, read training-camp reports from nine schools and watch video from players and coaches from Orchard Park, St. Francis, St. Joe’s and Williamsville South.
The countdown concludes: This is the final installment. You can review each Section VI division from Class AA to D at buffalonews.com.
Season preview coming Thursday: The annual preview issue will have capsules and schedules for all 81 teams in Western New York along with feature stories, a must-see cover and everything else one needs to know about the 2012 season.
Attention coaches and ADs – send rosters to Section VI: If coaches have not done so already, they need to email a roster – in spreadsheet form – to Section VI via rcurrin@aldenschools.org.

— Keith McShea
email: kmcshea@buffnews.com