The race to the District 6 high school football playoffs this week becomes a case of will they or won't they.
Not so much will they or won't they qualify - although that's certainly a big part of it - but will they or won't they enter even if they do.
With just this week left to finalize the seedings for the Class A field, seven schools that could earn the right to be part of the 12-team bracket could do so with a sub-.500 record and would have to decide whether or not to enter. Three of those teams are from the Mirror coverage area: Claysburg-Kimmel, Northern Cambria and Portage.
Mirror file photo
Portage’s Evan Price (6) is hoping he and his Mustang teammates get a chance to carry the ball during the District 6 Class A playoffs this season.
Claysburg athletic director Jeff Lingenfelter said his school determined Monday that it would enter win or lose as long as it made it into the top 12. The Bulldogs are presently 3-5 and have a home game against 1-7 Everett this week; C-K already has beaten one qualified team (Moshannon Valley) and has been competitive with a couple of others.
The Mirror projects Claysburg to come in 12th in the point standings even if it wins, but that doesn't mean the Bulldogs won't be seeded even higher. Both West Branch and Northern Cambria are ranked ahead of Claysburg and would probably stay ahead even if they lose on Friday night to Northern Bedford and Penns Manor, respectively.
However, a loss this week would put West Branch at 4-5, and that school has a policy that teams cannot enter playoffs with a losing record. Meanwhile, Northern Cambria, according to AD Jim Yeager, was going to base its decision on how it performed in the regular-season finale against the probable second-seeded Comets - Northern Cambria would be 4-5 with a loss but intended to enter the playoffs if it was at least competitive
Portage probably won't have a decision to make. The Mustangs are 4-4 and play 1-7 Conemaugh Valley on Saturday. The Mirror projects Portage to end up with the ninth-most points.
The remaining three teams that could crash the party at 4-5 are Southern Huntingdon, Saltsburg and United. By Rocket coach Ryan Garlock's self-imposed .500-or-better requirement, Southern Huntingdon already has decided to opt out and will close its season on Friday against Mo Valley.
Saltsburg and United both should win this weekend. However, Saltsburg hasn't entered in the past because it didn't have a winning record. In either case, they'd have to pass some teams above them, because District 6 does not allow the next team in the standings the option to enter should a higher team decline its bid. While 12 teams qualify, there can be a bracket of fewer than 12 teams.
That means, while there are four first-round byes built into the playoff schedule, there could be more, perhaps as many as six this year.
Bellwood-Antis already is assured one of them. The Blue Devils will finish the top seed either by beating Mount Union or with a Penns Manor loss. Bellwood can't finish any lower than second.
Barring an epic upset to Williamsburg, Juniata Valley appears locked into third. The Green Hornets could jump up to second if they win and Northern Cambria knocks off Penns Manor.
Mo Valley enters the week tied with Bishop McCort for the fifth position, but the Black Knights need some help to hold there. McCort will finish no lower than fifth if it defeats Class AA Cambria Heights at Johnstown's Point Stadium on Friday night. Even if they beat Southern Huntingdon, the Knights could be surpassed by Marion Center in the event Marion Center, now seventh, knocks off 6-2 Blairsville; were that to occur, though, Mo Valley would pass Blairsville, too, and stay at six.
Glendale probably is the most certain of where it will wind up. The Vikings enter Friday's home game with Tussey Mountain in eighth but, should they win, will pass the Blairsville/Marion Center loser and get seventh. A Glendale win and Bishop McCort or Mo Valley losses would propel the Vikings even higher, but those would require upsets.
SUBHED: District 5 Class A
Windber's one-point win over North Star last week through the 5-A playoff picture into a whirlwind of possibilities.
Windber, North Star and Northern Bedford are all tied for first with 36 rating points, while Conemaugh Township - which plays North Star this week - is a point behind them. Windber holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over North Star because of last week's win, but neither school played Northern Bedford.
Tussey Mountain and Rockwood both could qualify by beating Glendale and Meyersdale, respectively, this week. District 5's top six teams qualify automatically, but the district will allow the seventh and eighth team in the playoffs if those teams have at least four wins. If Tussey and Rockwood both win, it would create a three-way tie with Meyersdale for sixth place, essentially the same situation existing for the top seed.
In both situations, the district would revert to its "bonus points'' tiebreaker. Bonus points are the number of wins by defeated opponents.
Barring an upset win by Ferndale against United or Shade over Blacklick, Windber and North Star would end up tied again, eight bonus points ahead of Northern Bedford. The Ramblers would wind up seeded first by virtue of last week's victory over North Star.
If Tussey can beat Glendale while Rockwood knocks off Meyersdale, the Titans would have eight bonus points compared to seven for the Raiders and six for the Rockets, so Tussey would jump all the way up to sixth.
Berlin Brothersvalley is locked into fifth. Although the Mountaineers could tie Township by beating Windber at home, the Indians, even if they lose to North Star, would get the nod based on the bonus points tiebreaker.
SUBHED: District 5-6 Class AA
There still are two weeks left in the regular season for the larger-school classifications involving District 6, but a significant gap has developed in the Class AA rankings.
Seventh-place Chestnut Ridge and Juniata are separated from ninth-place Bedford by 160 points. That's not insurmountable. In fact, it can be more than made up in just one game against the right opposition. But it does make the window of opportunity tight and the margin for error small for teams like Bedford, Cambria Heights, Huntingdon and Mount Union.
Heights and Mount Union are 220 points behind Ridge, while Huntingdon is 230 back.
Central is alive by the slimmest of margins, but the chances of the Scarlet Dragons making it in aren't very realistic: Central would have to win its last two games - a likely possibility - while Ridge lost both of its games and none of the teams that Ridge or Bedford beat won another game in the next two weeks. The Dragons also need Heights, Mount Union and Huntingdon to lose at least once apiece.
Five teams already have clinched spots - Tyrone, Richland, Philipsburg-Osceola, Forest Hills and Ligonier Valley. Penn Cambria can join them by winning one of their last two against 7-1 Richland or 1-7 Westmont Hilltop. The Panthers are the favorite in the latter but did get upset in the last game of the regular season by the Hilltoppers in 2010. Ridge, meanwhile, can pretty much assure itself a spot in the playoffs by winning at Allegany this week.
Juniata should improve its points by beating Tri-Valley this week. However, should the Indians lose to Tyrone, Bedford can still overtake them by 10 power points. Juniata will need at least three wins from Tri-Valley over Upper Dauphin, BEA over Central, Bellefonte over Clearfield, Central Mountain over Mifflin County and Penns Valley over Mount Union to stay ahead of Bedford in the event the Bisons win out and get the help they should expect to receive.
In the event of a tie between Bedford and Juniata at around 770 points, Bedford would advance to the playoffs on the opponents winning percentage tiebreaker.
Unless it stumbles in one of its last two games, Tyrone will be the No. 1 seed, and Richland probably is going to be second. Forest Hills' game with Johnstown and the P-O/Ligonier clash in week 10 will determine the third through fifth slots.
SUBHED: AAAA and AAA
DuBois moved into the top spot in the District 6-9-10 Class AAAA ratings last week, but the Beavers could fall right back out of it this weekend when they face undefeated Class AAA powerhouse Grove City, which has just been obliterating its opponents this season. There's a very strong possibility Strong Vincent will beat Bradford this week to claim the top spot in the bracket - the Colonels have a week-10 bye.
There's also a battle for the third seed. State College has won four straight to move into that spot in the standings, but the Little Lions will have their work cut out for them to keep that winning streak going at 7-1 Central Dauphin.
A slip-up by State College opens the door for Mifflin County to move up from fourth by winning home games against 2-6 Central Mountain and 4-4 Blue Mountain.
District 6-9 Class AAA is much simpler. Despite last week's upset loss to Central Cambria, Johnstown is going to be the District 6 representative in the final because the only other 6-AAA school, Bellefonte, won't enter the playoffs. The Trojans will receive a bye to play Clearfield, St. Marys or Bradford.
Clearfield has clinched a berth in the 9-AAA final. The Bisons just need to wait to learn their opponent. It probably will be St. Marys, which already has a solid lead in the point standings; Bradford closes with two very difficult games against Strong Vincent and DuBois.