Playing meaningful games late in the season is the goal of all high school football teams.
For six of the nine teams in the TIMES NEWS coverage area, that's exactly what they will be doing as the regular season concludes this weekend.
Northern Lehigh has qualified for the District 11 Class AA playoffs while Marian has a very slight chance of making the District 11 Class A playoffs. Most of the drama surrounds the Eastern Conference playoffs where Marian, Tamaqua, Northwestern, Pleasant Valley and Lehighton are all alive.
Of the six area teams still in postseason contention, only Northern Lehigh is assured of playing on week 11. For the other five teams, that basically means the playoffs begin Friday night. For a few, it's win and you're in. For the others, it's win and you keep your hopes alive.
In this week's OVERTIME column, we will break down the playoff scenarios for each of the six teams.
The Bulldogs have qualified for the District 11 Class AA playoffs and are most likely going to be the No. 3 seed, although they can still finish as high as the No. 2 seed or as low as the No. 4 seed.
For the Bulldogs to finish second and earn a home game, they will need North Schuylkill to lose. In addition, they will need either Pine Grove, ELCO or Williams Valley to lose.
Northern Lehigh can fall to fourth if it loses and Pine Grove wins; or if the Bulldogs, North Schuylkill and Pine Grove all win and several other scenarios among defeated opponents work against the NL.
Pen Argyl is the top seed and will stay there is it beats Bangor. North Schuylkill and Pine Grove can also earn No. 1 seeds if PA loses. The Cardinals will also need a North Schuylkill loss to climb to No. 1.
To qualify for the District 11 Class A playoffs, Marian needs to beat Tamaqua, have Mahanoy Area lose to Shenandoah, and Williams Valley lose to Anneville-Cleona. The most unlikely of those scenarios is the Williams Valley loss, since Anneville-Cleona is just 1-7 this season.
Marian's chances for an Eastern Conference playoff spot are much better. The Colts are one of three area teams that control their own destiny in the EC. If Marian beats Tamaqua, it's in. The Colts could also qualify with a loss if both Holy Cross and Northwest also lose. If that happens, Marian and Northwest would battle for the final EC Division I playoff berth with results of defeated opponents on the final weekend deciding it. It appears the Colts would have a very slight edge.
The Blue Raiders also control their own Eastern Conference destiny.
Tamaqua has the simplest of scenarios. If it beats Marian, it qualifies for the EC Division II playoffs as the Southern Division representative. If it loses, it's out.
Like Marian and Tamaqua, Northwestern enters week 10 knowing that a victory puts it in the Eastern Conference playoffs. If the Tigers beat Catasauqua, they capture the EC Eastern Division playoff berth.
The Tigers also have a chance to get in with a loss, but would need lots of help. Northwestern would need Tamaqua to lose to Marian; Schuylkill Valley to lose to Hamburg; Lake-Lehman to lose to Dallas; and either Lakeland or North Penn to lose their final game.
The Bears will need to beat Stroudsburg and then get some help to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Pleasant Valley could be an EC Division IV Northern playoff team if it wins; Wallenpaupack beats Delaware Valley; and Scranton beats Abington Heights.
The Indians would have to beat Jim Thorpe to have a chance for an Eastern Conference Division III berth.
If Lehighton wins, it would need one of the following two scenarios to occur:
* Blue Mountain and Pottsville win and Allentown Central Catholic loses or:
* Blue Mountain, Allentown Central Catholic and Southern Lehigh all lose.
Those results should give the Indians the EC Central Division berth.
MARTIN THE MAN ... Marian's Paul Martin had a big game against Jim Thorpe last week, running for 198 yards and four touchdowns.
With that performance, Martin reached 1,000 yards rushing for the season. This marks the second time in his career (he also did it 2009) that the Colt running back has reached four digits in a single year.
In the team's history, Martin is just the fourth player to achieve that feat. The other Marian players to also eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in at least two seasons include Jim Agosti (1976, 1977), Mike Tracy (1978, 1979, 1980) and Dave Houser (1984, 85).
Also in Friday's game, Martin moved into second place on the Colts' all-time rushing leaders. The senior now has 2,733 yards and passed Bob Agosti's total of 2,594. Tracy is the school's leader with 4,874.
JT PICK SIX ... Jim Thorpe's Khaaliq Lynch intercepted a pass and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown last Friday against Marian.
The interception return for a score was the longest by an Olympian since Nov. 5, 1994 (178 games ago) when Gary Storer picked off a pass and went 86 yards to the end zone against Pius X.
SCORE FIRST, WIN GAME ... In the eight games last week involving TIMES NEWS area teams, the school that scored first went on to post a victory.
While that may not sound odd, it was the first time this season that that has happened. So far this season in TN games, the team that has scored first has posted a 54-15 record or a winning percentage of .783.
Since 2007, there have been only four out of 49 weeks that the team that has scored first in a TN area game has won every time.
TIGER THREE-POINTER ... In last Friday's win against Bangor, Northwestern's Andrew Deutsch kicked a 24-yard field goal.
The three-pointer was his first of the season, but the sixth of his career.
Over the past 20 years, only seven other players from the TIMES NEWS area have had six or more field goals in their career. They include Northwestern's Jordan Grube (11), Pleasant Valley's Justin Kashner (10), Northern Lehigh's Aaron Mill (9), Northwestern's Tom Caamano (9), Lehighton's Josh Strawser (8), Pleasant Valley's Ryan Habick (6) and Palmerton's Eric Haydt (6).
MARIAN'S OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION ... Marian rolled past Jim Thorpe, 45-14, last week thanks to an offensive that totaled 537 yards.
Since 1987, that is the seventh highest total by a TIMES NEWS area team.
The top six are Lehighton's 587 (9/15/00), Northwestern's 574 (11/9/07), Pleasant Valley's 558 (10/31/03), Northern Lehigh's 554 (11/1/02), Jim Thorpe's 547 (11/5/99) and Tamaqua's 538 (11/6/09).