Playoff football is right around the corner.
Week 8 kicks off Thursday evening in what will be the final weekend of the regular season for 6-Man, while Class AA, Class A, Class B and 8-Man will all play regular-season games in Week 9.
There have been playoff berths and conference championships clinched around the state already, but there’s still plenty on the line in mid-October.
The biggest game of the Class AA slate will decide the Western AA’s regular-season champion. It’s a battle of unbeaten heavyweights in Missoula. Great Falls CMR is in need of a win to keep its playoff hopes alive. The Rustlers are trying to steal the final playoff spot in the Eastern AA from Billings Skyview, but a tall task is ahead.
It’s the penultimate weekend for Class A teams, meaning the Eastern A title is on the line in Lockwood. No, it’s not the Lions playing for a title, but once again two unbeaten teams will take the field in search of a conference championship. The Western A is going to be a mess to figure out, but Libby, Frenchtown and Columbia Falls all could do themselves favors with wins this weekend. At least one of those, though, will be left out.
Manhattan has walloped everyone on its schedule save for an OT win over Florence in its season opener. The Tigers can lock up the Southern B with another win. Malta’s big win over rival Glasgow in Week 7 put the Mustangs in the driver’s seat in the Northern B. They can lock up the conference crown at home in Week 8.
Thompson Falls and Drummond-Philipsburg have dominated the 8-Man West all season long. Both will have tests in Week 8 to keep their unbeaten records intact. The 8-Man North sub-division playoffs begin this weekend and the conference’s top seed is up for grabs. Is Fort Benton still king of the North?
6-Man had just three games on the schedule this week and two of those were played on Wednesday night. The final game of the weekend could shake up the 6-Man South, though, should an upset be pulled.
That and more highlight what I’ll be watching as the season winds to a close.
- Missoula Sentinel and Helena High head into Friday's matchup sporting identical 5-0 records, having trounced each opponent in the way. Though Sentinel still has a date with one-loss Kalispell Glacier, Friday's winner will effectively be the Western AA regular-season champion and top seed when the postseason kicks off. Sentinel has been the favorite in the Western AA all season, having been atop the Treasure State Media Poll all year. Can Helena knock off the Spartans, or is Sentinel the clear-cut team to beat out West?
- After Billings Skyview beat Great Falls CMR 20-0 earlier this year, the Rustlers fell into a dangerous position. They need to find a way to gain a game back on the Falcons over the final two weeks of the regular season, but Week 8 is going to be an awfully difficult time to do so. The Rustlers visit Billings Senior on Thursday night, as the Broncs are focusing in on locking up the conference's No. 2 seed. A CMR loss could make the Rustlers' climb uphill to steep, as Skyview will play two teams below it in the standings over the final two weeks -- Great Falls High and Belgrade.
- The last times Miles City and Billings Central met, the Cowboys put a beating on the Rams to stake their claim atop the Eastern A in 2019. Friday's game at Lockwood Stadium will pit the two unbeatens against each other for the 2020 Eastern A regular-season title. Central certainly appears to have improved from last year's version, as evidenced by the way it beat Laurel earlier this year. While Miles City doesn't look to be as dominant as last year's version, the Cowboys still have been a handful for Eastern A teams in 2020. Can Billings Central get back on top of the conference, or will Miles City keep hold of its throne?
- The Western A playoff picture is about as confusing as can be. To simplify, Hamilton has locked up the conference title and Dillon will be the No. 2 seed. Figuring out the third and fourth seeds, though, is where it gets tricky. Essentially, Columbia Falls, Frenchtown and Libby all need wins to keep postseason hope alive. Columbia Falls and Frenchtown are slated to play on Friday, which will likely eliminate one team, but Libby also plays Hamilton. Columbia Falls beat Libby by two earlier this year, but Libby and Frenchtown did not play. A tiebreaker may come down to point differential, which could ultimately be the difference in one team sitting at home for the playoffs.
- There are two teams with unblemished conference records in the Southern B -- Manhattan and Townsend. The Tigers will visit the Bulldogs on Friday night to decide the conference champion. Manhattan has beaten the brakes off its previous four opponents, outscoring them 199-13, while the Bulldogs haven't given up more than two scores in a game since Aug. 28. Both Townsend and Manhattan have wins over Western B playoff teams, but who will stake claim as the Southern B's best?
- Malta's 36-14 win over Glasgow in Week 7 gave the Mustangs the inside track to the conference title, even if they've only played four games. In order to lock up the Northern B, Malta will need to take care of Fairfield on Friday night. Fairfield suffered its first loss of the season last week to Red Lodge and doesn't look like the juggernaut Eagles teams of recent years. Malta has been extremely physical this year. A conference title for Malta means the Mustangs would play at home through at least the semifinal round.
- It's too bad Drummond-Philipsburg and Thompson Falls aren't scheduled to play in the regular season. That would have been a real treat for football fans, and it would have given the conference a clear champion. As is, both teams have rolled through conference play unbeaten and will look to continue doing so in Week 8. Charlo visits Thompson Falls, as the one-loss Vikings have a chance to flip the top of the conference on its head. The Titans will visit Darby, where the Tigers have just one win. Although the Titans and Bluehawks don't play, Charlo will be the top common opponent between the two teams.
- Fort Benton has been atop the Treasure State Media Poll for a good portion of the season and deservedly so. After a semifinal run in 2019, the Longhorns have gotten out to a 6-0 start. They can wrap up the 8-Man North conference title this weekend, but it will have to come against a talented, well-coached Shelby team that hasn't lost since its season opener. Fort Benton had its closest game of the season against Simms last week. Could that be a sign of what's to come in Week 8 against the Coyotes?
- Harlowton-Ryegate wrapped up the 6-Man Central with its 54-14 win over Geraldine-Highwood on Wednesday night, meaning there's just one game left this weekend with any postseason implications. It comes in Bridger, where the Scouts host Custer-Hysham. Bridger has a one-game lead on the Rebels in the 6-Man South, but if Custer-Hysham pulls the upset then there will be three teams in the conference at 3-2 with only two playoff spots available. Although it would likely take a Herculean effort by Custer-Hysham given the point differential through the regular season, those who root for chaos have a sliver of hope in 6-Man's final game of the regular season.