We find out this week what the football playoffs will look like, and nearly every area team is facing a pivotal game.
There’s three games left in the Class AA schedule and just two in the lower 11-man classes and the playoff picture is laid out for each of the teams in the Northwest.
Flathead can effectively clinch a playoff spot with a win against Great Falls C.M. Russell on Friday.
A win would move the Braves as high as sixth in the conference and would knock down a squad fighting for the same spot. Depending on the result of the Missoula Sentinel-Billings West game, it would also edge the Braves closer to a fifth seed, and move Flathead one game from clinching a playoff spot with winless Missoula Sentinel on the schedule next week.
That result would also help Glacier, which is helped with every CMR and Bozeman loss for the rest of the season.
The playoff formula for the Wolfpack, however, is much easier: win.
The Wolfpack is a game back of the eight seed and behind three teams it has lost to head-to-head. Glacier needs to win every game on its schedule to get to five wins and guarantee a spot in the postseason.
That becomes trickier with a game at Helena Capital on Friday, the state’s top defense and one of the three best teams by record. If the Pack can win, however, it will set up nicely for another big test against Missoula Big Sky next week. At minimum, the Wolfpack needs to hope both CMR and Bozeman keep losing in hopes of sneaking in with four wins, which is still a faint hope.
The playoff picture is much clearer in Class A, where Columbia Falls can clinch a playoff berth with a win this week against Whitefish in the annual Cat-Dog rivalry. Even with a loss, Columbia Falls could clinch the top seed from the Northwest and a bye week with a win against Polson next week.
Should it pull off the upset, Whitefish still has a hope for the playoffs, though it would need help in the final week. One thing is for certain, however, lose and the season ends for the Bulldogs after next week.
The second spot in the playoffs from the Northwest A is virtually up for grabs this weekend when Browning heads to Polson. The winner will sit at 3-1 in conference and hold a tiebreaker over the other, which depending on the other conference results this weekend could seal up the postseason bid.
The most interesting race in the entire state is in the Western B, between undefeated Bigfork and Eureka.
Both teams have already clinched playoff spots and each team looks to be among the best in the class, steamrolling competition thus far. However, last month’s terror threats dodged the regular-season meeting between the two teams, which could leave both still undefeated at the end of the regular season.
Whether both teams are able to keep a clean sheet will be seen this week. Bigfork plays at Missoula Loyola this weekend, another top 10 team, for a chance to enter the final week against winless Deer Lodge unbeaten. Eureka plays Deer Lodge this week in its last game of the regular season, taking a bye before the playoffs.
How the tiebreaker works out is the difference between more than just the first and second seed from the conference. This season, the West’s top seed will host every game in the playoffs, while the second seed is only guaranteed to play at home in the first week. With top teams based as far away as Colstrip that could mean a lot of extra driving for the team in second.