This week's high school football games in Ohio will have a decidedly different feel.
The teams that will be taking the field Friday and Saturday will be playing in the opening round of the playoffs. Their games will be played with a higher level of intensity because of what's at stake - it's the first segment of a five-week, single-elimination tournament that comes with a very simple reality - one win and you play again; lose and it's wait until August.
Steubenville Big Red and Catholic Central will represent our area when the journey to Stark County gets under way. Big Red will put its 6-4 record on the line when it travels to Newark Licking Valley, 8-2, for a 7:30 p.m. game Friday in Division IV play, while Catholic Central will carry an 8-2 record into Saturday's 7 p.m. contest in Harding Stadium against Racine Southern, 8-2, in Division VII action
Earning a playoff spot in Ohio is not an easy task, as a look at numbers compiled by the Ohio High School Athletic Association indicates. The OHSAA reports that 714 schools in the state fielded a football team this year.
Those schools are broken into seven divisions, with 32 teams qualifying for the playoffs in each division. That's 224 teams, or 31.4 percent of football-playing schools, across the state that have advanced to this year's playoffs. In fact, the OHSAA reports that going into this season, 90 member schools had never qualified for the playoffs.
That number included Racine Southern, which will be playing the first playoff game in the school's history against Catholic Central Saturday night.
Playoff football is nothing new for fans of Big Red and Catholic Central. Big Red is tied with Youngstown Cardinal Mooney for fifth in all-time playoff appearances in the state with 26, and has a post-season mark of 47-22, leaving it with the 10th highest winning percentage at .681. Steubenville is tied for eighth in all-time playoff wins with Columbus St. Francis DeSales, and has won three state titles.
Central, meanwhile, will be making its 11th appearance in the playoffs and has an all-time record of 11-9. The Crusaders captured the state title in 1993.
If tradition holds, fans from across the region will turn out to support Big Red Friday and Central Saturday night, and we're certain Weirton Madonna will receive similar support when it begins play in the West Virginia Class A playoffs next week.
We offer congratulations to the Big Red, Catholic Central and Madonna football teams for advancing to this year's playoffs, and wish them good luck on their journeys toward a state title.