Potential playoff teams face pressure

The pressure is building for high school football players — and coaches.

They can use the old cliche of focusing on one game at a time and not looking ahead all they want, but every coach knows exactly where they stand in the computer ratings of their respective region. It’s part of their job.

There are plenty of area teams in the fold, too.

Let’s start with the best of the best and figure out who is most likely to make a deep run into the playoffs.

Canfield is 8-0 and atop Region 9 in Division III. The Cardinals have two tough matchups to end the season, facing Howland this week and then a Week 10 showdown with Poland. Canfield can gain a massive amount of computer points with a pair of victories, and more importantly, the wins will show fans — and the Cardinals — just how good they are as they enter the postseason.

Next up is unbeaten Girard, which is just fifth in Region 13 of D-IV despite being 8-0. While the Indians have a marquee matchup with a rival upcoming, they can’t overlook a LaBrae team that’s desperately looking for another playoff berth.

Still, their Week 10 showdown with Liberty (6-2) is going to hold major consequences for both teams. Girard may need a victory just to get in the postseason, if they were to lose to the Vikings, and the Leopards may be in a similar boat as they’re currently 14th in a loaded D-VI, Region 21. Both teams are definite contenders in the playoffs, if they get there.

Further north is Grand Valley (8-0), which is in a nice spot — No. 4 in Region 17 of Division V — going into its final two games. The Mustangs have played a relatively weak schedule (with just one game against a team with a winning record), so it’s hard to gauge their potential.

Lakeview (7-1) may have the most impressive resume of anyone, especially after their huge victory over previously unbeaten Poland. The Bulldogs’ also have wins over Liberty, LaBrae and Hubbard.

Their Week 10 matchup with Struthers could hold home-field implications for Lakeview and determine whether the Wildcats reach the postseason. Regardless of whether they win or lose, the Bulldogs are dangerous entering the playoffs, mainly because of standout quarterback Zach Rogers, who showed he can step his game up in pressure situations last week.

McDonald is in a similar position as Girard because the Blue Devils are 7-1, but another loss could leave them out of the playoffs. The Blue Devils are 10th in Region 21 of D-VI. Their big game comes this week in another rivalry clash, this one against Western Reserve, which is clinging to the fifth spot in the same region.

There are numerous teams on the proverbial bubble, starting with returning Division VII state champion John F. Kennedy. The Eagles are in the midst of a four-game losing streak and have lost numerous key players to injuries. Still, in a weak Region 25, they’re still very much in the playoff picture (currently seventh in the region). One victory over their final two games might be enough to qualify.

LaBrae’s loss to Brookfield has it on the cusp of missing the playoffs. The Vikings (4-4), ninth in Division V’s Region 17, need an upset of Girard this week to have a chance at a third straight playoff showing. Boardman (5-3) is in a good spot after a big win over Ursuline. The Spartans are fourth in Division II, Region VII, and probably just need one win in their final two games over either Fitch or Lakeside to secure a berth.

Howland also is 5-3, but the Tigers are probably going to need to take both of their final games, and that won’t be easy. Howland, which is 13th in Region 9 of D-III, faces undefeated Canfield this week and then Akron East, which is sixth in the same region. Both games are at Richard Lombardo Field, and Howland is on a four-game win streak.

Cardinal Mooney (4-4) was an afterthought following a 1-3 start, but the Cardinals are in good position to qualify if they continue their strong finish. They face Ursuline this week and then have a vital game against Austintown Fitch in Week 10. A win against the Falcons would almost assure Mooney, which is currently eighth in Region 13 of D-I, of another playoff appearance. The Cardinals would, as usual, be a force to be reckoned with once the playoffs begin.

Speaking of Fitch, the Falcons (5-3) are close to returning to the postseason. They, too, probably need to win both of their final games (Boardman and Mooney) to vault into the top eight of Division I, Region 1. Fitch is currently 10th.

Windham, Valley Christian and Mathews each have a shot of qualifying in Region 25 of Division VII. The Bombers (6-2) and the Eagles (4-4) each have the firepower to make a run in D-VII. Hubbard, 14th in Region 13 of Division IV, could make a late push with an upset of Poland this week.

When all is said and done, records and ratings mean very little when the postseason begins. A balanced offense that takes care of the football and a team that plays solid defense and special teams succeeds. Attention to detail is a must. Sure, a few big-time playmakers help, but any weakness is often exploited when you face the best of the best.

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