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High school football players on the horizon

Ray Boose (69) celebrates in the end zone with Ethan Stroup (24) following an Altoona Touchdown Friday night at Mansion Park.

Believe it or not, this weekend marks the final regular season games before the postseason begins for many of the high school football teams in the area.

Though it’s just the sixth game for most teams, and even less for others who have had games called off due to coronavirus concerns, it will be the final opportunity to move up in the playoff brackets.

In a season where almost everything is different, District 6 has opted to keep the postseason format mostly the same despite it taking place two weeks early.

The Class 1A first-round games, Class 2A quarterfinals, Class 3A semifinals and Class 6A championship will take place next weekend. The Class 4A and Class 5A championship games will be the weekend of Oct. 30-31. Each team that can still qualify for the playoffs from District 6 has decided to opt-in and participate in the postseason brackets.

“I’m happy the district is focused on teams getting 10 games regardless of playoffs or not,” said Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic coach Justin Wheeler earlier this week. “I’m happy that they are trying to keep it normal as possible, which is the same playoff scenarios and brackets they use every year. It’s good not to go away from that to know where you are at and where you are going. The decision seems to be in the best interest of kids and a lot of teams getting a playoff game, which I think is a great idea.

“With the shortened season in this COVID era, kids deserve to get a playoff T-shirt and a playoff game no matter what their record is, so I’m glad they decided to open them up.”

Wheeler’s team is currently ranked No. 5 in Class 1A. Unfortunately for the Marauders, unless they move into the top four with the help of a Homer-Center or Conemaugh Valley loss this weekend, they likely will not be able to participate in the District 6 playoffs due to a COVID-19 quarantine after someone on their sideline tested positive after Saturday’s win over Chestnut Ridge.

In that case, or the case of Mount Union in Class 2A that is in a similar situation, District 6 football chairman Ralph Cecere confirmed that teams unable to play will be bumped out of consideration and everyone else will move up one spot. Once the brackets are set, if teams that qualified can’t participate, their opponents will advance due to forfeit.

Though it wouldn’t have a chance to play in the postseason, Bishop Guilfoyle could continue with its regular season following the quarantine if it chooses.

“I believe the Laurel Highlands is going to have teams that don’t play that week, whether it’s teams that have a bye or didn’t qualify for playoffs, play each other,” Wheeler said.

Portage, currently the top seed in Class 1A, intends to play rather than take its bye, something the Mustangs hope will help them.

“We have had byes in the past, and we haven’t come out of them good,” Portage coach Marty Slanoc said. “We just haven’t. I think sometimes a bye toward the end of the season when other sports start pulling you, there can be a loss of focus. So maybe playing a game could benefit us.”

In Class 3A, Mountain League rivals Tyrone and Central won’t be playing their scheduled game on Oct. 23 due to playing semifinal playoff games against either Penn Cambria or Westmont Hilltop. If both come out on top, they could meet the next week in the championship game.

As long as State College tops Carlisle this weekend, it looks as though the Little Lions will play Altoona for the Class 6A title next weekend. Hollidaysburg is already scheduled to play Central Mountain for the 5A crown at Mansion Park on either Oct. 30 or 31.

Bellwood-Antis, which came up one point short of playing for a district title last season, is in line to be one of if not the top seeds in 2A.

“I think there are some really good teams in 2A,” Lovrich said. “Marion Center and Southern Huntingdon are undefeated, and then you look at the one-loss teams like the defending champions Richland, and I think it’s going to be tough. All the teams are very competitive and capable of doing some big things in the playoffs.”

The Blue Devils were supposed to play their sixth game of the season Friday against Mount Union, but that game has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. If they were to win District 6, that would mean they would play at least four postseason games (a District 6 quarterfinal, semifinal and championship game along with a first-round PIAA game).

That would bring their season total to nine games played, meaning B-A could go back and play one game it missed out on during the shortened regular season if it chose to do so.

“With all the uncertainty at the beginning and then finally getting to play and then the regular season went so quickly, it’s kind of weird, especially not playing some of the teams we always play,” Lovrich said. “We will see how the chips fall and see what happens. There are other teams you have to think about too. Tyrone is hoping to do well in the playoffs themselves, so it could be hard to get some of those games back.”

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