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Playoff picture taking shape

With the expansion of the playoffs to 448 teams, it seemed inevitable that the final week of the regular season would be a week of total chaos in terms of playoff implications.

Instead, terms such as “win-and-in,” “control own destiny” and “needs a win and outside help” are relevant to just a small number of area schools as we march into Week 10.

Based on the latest computer rankings, 22 area schools have already punched their ticket to the postseason. Roughly six other area schools are hoping that a win tonight propels them into the tournament.

Boardman, Girard, Crestview and Liberty all would advance with a win tonight. Struthers would need considerable outside help even with a win over Poland. Niles is a longshot even with a win over Girard.

In Division II, Region 5 Boardman (4-4) currently holds the 16th and final playoff position. The Spartans can punch their ticket with a home win over Canfield (8-1), which has already secured a spot in Division III, Region 9. Canfield is still fighting for a home playoff game. With a loss, Boardman fans will be scouring the internet for out-of-town scores hoping that second level points are enough to remain in the 16th spot.

Boardman defeated Canfield in 2015, but the Cardinals have since reeled off five straight wins over the Spartans.

Girard (5-4) controls its own destiny in Division IV, Region 13 as it heads into Niles (4-4). The Indians, 14th in their region, would have a strong chance of advancing even with a loss.

Tonight marks the 79th meeting between Niles and Girard, the oldest ongoing rivalry in Trumbull County. The two teams first met in 1898 “in the cow pasture on Evan Morris’ farm” according to newspaper accounts of the game.

Niles leads the series 43-27-8.

In 1954 Girard and Niles met in the final week of the regular season with the Indians owning an 7-0-1 record while the Red Dragons were 8-0. Niles won the game 34-0.

Prior to tonight’s showdown between Hubbard (9-0) and South Range (9-0), the ’54 Niles-Girard game is believed to be the only time that two area undefeated schools squared off in the final week of the season. The area has never seen two 9-0 teams face each other in a regular-season finale.

Crestview (4-4) is one of 10 schools vying for the final six spots in Division V, Region 17. The Rebels are currently 11th in the region, meaning that even should they lose tonight at Newton Falls (3-6) they can possibly remain in the top 16.

Liberty (5-4) faces the most daunting task of all the area teams fighting for their playoff lives. While the Leopards (15th, DV, Region 17) can clinch with a win, they will have to do so against Garrettsville Garfield (9-0). The G-Men have already clinched a first-round home playoff game in the same region.

Garfield owns a 19-game regular season winning streak. The G-Men are averaging 42.6 points per game.

The good news for Liberty is that even should they lose, the Leopards could advance with outside help.

The complete playoff pairings will be released by the Ohio High School Athletic Association on Sunday. The top eight teams in each region will host first-round games. Home field advantage will also be awarded to the higher-seeded teams in second round games. From that point forward, games will be played at neutral sites.

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