Little was done to clear up the playoff picture last weekend as several contenders failed to win and lock up the final two berths in the Maryland 4A West Region.
Gaithersburg (6-3), Richard Montgomery (6-3) and Northwest (5-4) each lost close games last week, leaving all three amid a suddenly crowded field of contenders entering the final week of the regular season.
Though the math to solve the playoff puzzle is anything but simple, the philosophy of the contending teams is: win first and worry about the rest later.
Gaithersburg is guaranteed a playoff berth with a victory over No. 9 Sherwood tomorrow and could even advance with a loss. The Northwest-Richard Montgomery winner is likely to advance with a victory. However that could be spoiled if Blair (6-3) upsets top-ranked Damascus (9-0) and ends the Swarmin' Hornets bid for the school's first undefeated season. Blair has won five straight games and is bidding for its first playoff berth in years. Second-year coach Jeffrey Seals, who previously served as an assistant coach for 22 years, said Blair's last playoff appearance may have come in 1968.
"It's a real big game for us," Seals said. "Every game is a big game for us, but this one is just a little bit bigger than the others."
Also lurking in the playoff picture, but in need of help, are Magruder and Churchill, both 5-4. Magruder had won four of five games before falling to Sherwood, 48-20. Churchill kept its postseason hopes alive last week with a win over Whitman, 14-12.
The top four teams in the Maryland 4A West advance to the region playoffs. Teams receive eight points for every victory against a 4A team and seven points for a win against a 3A team. Teams also receive one bonus point for defeated opponents' victories.
Damascus is in first place with 118 points and will be the top seed when the playoffs begin Nov. 18. Quince Orchard (8-1), with 93 points, is guaranteed the second seed. Gaithersburg (66 points) is followed by Richard Montgomery (62), Blair (59), Northwest (58), Churchill (52) and Magruder (48).
Gaithersburg had its chances to beat Quince Orchard on Friday before losing, 14-7.
Beat Sherwood tomorrow and Gaithersburg will have its eighth playoff berth in nine years. Not that a victory will come easy; Sherwood is 8-1 and Gaithersburg was banged up by the end of its loss to Quince Orchard.
Defensive end Darryl Jewell suffered a broken leg. Linebacker Darrius Smith separated his right shoulder. Jewell is out for the season, but Trojans Coach Kreg Kephart said it is likely Smith will not miss a game.
With Richard Montgomery's 18-15 loss to Springbrook on Saturday, Gaithersburg could make the playoffs even if it loses to Sherwood. Not that the Trojans are thinking that way.
"We've got to go beat Sherwood, that's what we've got to do," Kephart said. "Either that, or we pack up our stuff and go home. We win, we're in. . . . We're a darn good team. If we do get in the playoffs, I'm not sure I'd want to be playing us."
Blair realizes the enormity of the challenge before it tomorrow. Damascus has proven itself the county's top team two years after claiming a state title and one year removed from a narrow championship defeat. The Blazers are guaranteed its first winning season since going 5-4 in 2002, but have only defeated one opponent currently with a winning record.
"All we can do is the same thing we have been doing the past five games," Seals said. "The kids are excited about the game, but I told them to take everything in stride."
Northwest, the defending 3A champion, is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs in its first season in 4A despite outscoring its opponents 192-117. The Jaguars' four losses have come by a total of 22 points -- including a 16-14 loss to Damascus on Friday.