The Washington Post

New Virginia football playoff structure has most Cardinal District teams eyeing postseason

To explain why the Virginia High School League’s re-jiggered, more-inclusive playoff system might not be such a bad thing, Potomac (Va.) Coach Keith King brushed back a few mental cobwebs and cited the curious case of the 1986 Edison Eagles.

Edison finished the regular season with a mundane 5-4-1 record that year, but ran the gamut in region and state playoffs en route to a Division 5 title.

“It’s a good thing as far as getting more teams in the playoffs and more kids an opportunity,” King said. “Some teams may have been banged up at the beginning of the season or had players out and are starting to play well at the end of the season.”

If the season wrapped up today, eight of the 11 teams in the Cardinal District – roughly 73 percent — would qualify for their various postseason region tournaments (Gar-Field, Osbourn Park, and Osbourn wouldn’t make the cut).

While change abounds throughout the state, Forest Park Coach David Coccoli said the 6A regions be the least affected by re-alignment.

“It depends what region you’re looking at,” he said. “In some of the regions you have teams that will go 3-7 and getting into the playoffs. That’s probably not a good thing.”

Freedom-Woodbridge (3-5) would likely still don its dancing shoes even if it drops its final two games, based largely on the strength of its schedule.

But don’t tell any Eagles that they’re backing in under an untested format.

“I love [the new system],” Freedom starting running back Mike Gibson said. “We’d be the first team in Freedom history to be able to go the playoffs.”

Stonewall Jackson (5-4, 5-4 Cardinal) fits the bill of a squad playing its best ball after getting healthy. Virginia Tech recruit and senior quarterback Greg Stroman missed parts of four games for the Raiders with a hip injury; three resulted in losses.

“In high school, you don’t have the luxury of having a great deal of backups in some places,” King said. “So if you get a couple kids hurt early in the season, they’re out for four or five games and they’re your best players. By the time they get back, the season was really over [under the old format].”

Forest Park (6-2, 6-2) has already clinched a 6A South berth but can improve its seeding over the final two weeks of the season. Even if positioning wasn’t on the line, the Bruins have one key reason not to coast into the playoffs.

“Every win we have is a historical win, because we’ve never been here before,” Coccoli said. “I don’t think my kids need any motivation. They know they hold the school record for most wins in a season, so the more they get, the harder it will be for it to be broken.”

Don’t expect the VHSL’s playoff tweaks to dial up any Bowl Championship Series-style drama. Region fields may have ballooned up to 16 teams, but the formula to a title remains stable: win and move on.

“The bottom line is that if you’re the best team, you’re still going to win,” King said. “If you’re the No. 1 seed, you should beat a team that’s the number-16 seed.”

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