Bruised and battered for eight weeks of regular-season action, high school football teams must dig down deep to make a playoff push.
Unlike other high school sports, there's no sectional tourney to fall back on, and each game counts a little more as the cool air has replaced the muggy conditions of late August and September.
This also is the best time of the year if you're a close follower of the SSAC ratings, which determine the 16-team playoff field in each class.
From now until the final whistle on the weekend of Nov. 8, every team with even a glimmer of hope for the postseason has "That Guy" who calculates the points for wins, bonus points and such. He or she not only will check the status of their respective team but other schools - whether they are ahead of them in the ratings or behind them.
I recall several contests over the years where "That Guy" coudl be seen with a cell phone (how did we ever survive without instant web access at a Friday night game late in the season?) deep in thought roaming the sidelines. With calculator in tow and scribbling numbers with a free hand on a torn notebook, "That Guy" is doing a duty of great magnitude. He or she has this down to a science. If Team A beats Team B then our team gets this many bonus points. If Team B loses to Team A and Team C upsets Team D .... WE ARE?IN (the playoffs)!
I don't pretend to know how the SSAC?ratings are calculated. I'm a sports guy, not a numbers man. However, I respect "That Guy."
I have found myself in the past sneaking close to this Master of the Ratings to hear the projections coming in - it's more exciting to me than Election Night - and forgetting there's still a football game going on. If the team I'm covering loses, than all bets are off. It doesn't matter how Team A,B.C or D does.
Once the final verdict is in, there's usually a moment of silence before reality sets in. Either you are going to the playoffs and jubilance follows or you're getting ready for the offseason and pondering what might have been - maybe getting a defensive stop in a game from Week 2 or converting that crucial fourth down in Week 6.
For me, I take the simple approach ... I wait for the final SSAC ratings to be released (I know "That Guy" doesn't want to hear that). I hope for the best for the area teams we cover. The more that make the postseason, the better.
It's a fun time of the year, especially with so many schools bunched up in this year's ratings to date.
Petersburg, for example, was probably not on anybody's playoff radar after a 1-3 start. But after upsetting Southern (Md.), the Vikings are 20th in Class AA and finish the regular season against three teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Can you say bonus points?
I guess "That Guy" has influenced me a bit.
If you do attend a game over the next couple of the weeks, be sure to look for my man "That Guy." He will be there. And the best part about it, he could have some friends if your team's playoff hopes are coming down to the final night of action.