That's the focus of my story in Friday's Observer-Reporter, essentially how nerve-racking this time of year can be with all the combinations, permutations, calculations, prognostications, all that stuff.
I talked to Peters Township coach Rich Piccinini about this yesterday. And for those who've never spoken to Rich, you're missing out. He's easily one of the most engaging, thoughtful and articulate coaches we have in this area. I asked him about the pressure of competing for the conference's final playoff spot this time of year.
"We try to have the same attitude all year," Piccinini said. "Does it always happen? No. I’d say it does get more high-stakes when it gets this late in the season. We’ve talked about the playoffs in the summer, but now we’re talking about what we need to do."
And with that in mind, here's what you need to know about Week 8.
Five to watch:
RB James Duchi, McGuffey -- C'mon now. Y'all predicted James Duchi would have more yards than Ringgold's Demetrius Louis or Beth-Center's Cody Durant, right? Duchi has come out of nowhere to carry a pretty heavy load; McGuffey doesn't have a 100-yard receiver, and Duchi averages 21 carries a game, gaining 948 yards and scoring six TDs.
QB Corey Owen, Peters Township -- After completing 10 of 12 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown last week, Peters Township may suddenly have a viable passing game to go with RB Mike Minjock. Indians still rotate Owen with R.J. Pfeuffer, but as Piccinini told me, "Corey Owen is a big-play player ... when he gets the opportunity. His passing has come on the past couple of weeks."
QB Chavas Rawlins, Monessen -- His impressive season kind of snuck up on me. Check this out: The WVU recruit has thrown for 818 yards and nine touchdowns against only three INTs. Has run for a team-high 353 yards and seven touchdowns on 63 attempts, an average of 5.6 yards per carry -- pretty good for a quarterback. Kinda makes you ignore the 42 percent (39 of 93) completion percentage.
RB/LB Jake Temple, Avella -- Two weeks ago, Jefferson-Morgan used more of Jesse Jento than it did Dustin Conti against Beth-Center, leaning on a more physical runner against the Bulldogs. Wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles follow suit. Temple (55-470-8TD) is a bruiser, and he'll need to have a big game on offense and defense for Avella to upset B-C.
WR Miles Williamson, Chartiers-Houston -- Monessen has plenty of playmakers, and Chartiers-Houston will need to counter with a few of its own. Enter Williamson. He'll have to make a couple fantastic grabs to help QB Kaleb Susko (55-100-835-7TD) build and keep his confidence in what will be a not-so-friendly environment.
Game to watch (other than the GOTW): Umm ...
Well, we didn't have a GOTW this week. There are a couple decent ones, but Jeannette/Wash High they are not. Excluding the game I'll be going to -- Chartiers-Houston at Monessen -- I think the most exciting one will probably be Woodland Hills at Peters Township. Very interested to see how Minjock (126-884-13TD) does against the Wolverines.
Avella at Beth-Center has potential, but I haven't seen a team that can play with B-C. (Remember, I haven't seen Frazier, which upset the Bulldogs last week.)
Team with the most to gain: McGuffey
This is from my conversation with Ed Dalton yesterday. Says darn near everything: For us, I think it’s exciting. We’re going to try and prove to people that we can do what everybody said we couldn’t do, which is make the playoffs." Yep, at this point McGuffey is pretty much playing with the house's money. Win out, get in, great. If not, as Dalton pointed out to me, the Highlanders weren't picked to finish above eight in most publications -- though I'd like to point out that I at least had them sixth ... and winless KO third. Whoops.
Team with the most to lose: Avella/Chartiers-Houston
A loss would pretty much eliminate both of these teams from playoff contention. Chartiers-Houston needs a win and a Brentwood loss at home to Bishop Canevin. Avella a win and then ... well, most likely Gardner Points considering five teams could conceivably finish 6-2 in the Tri-County South, 7-2 overall.
Sleeper pick of the weekend: Not sure if I see one this week. I think Fort Cherry could pull an upset of Imani Christian with the emergence of Garrett Whalen (31-260) and Dan Barley (14-121-4) running the ball. Imani has also been turnover prone, with quarter Khari Hicks throwing eight INTs the past two weeks.
I do think Char-Houston has a chance at Monessen, but the Bucs will certainly have to play their best game of the year. When I saw Monessen earlier this year at Brentwood, Spartans RB Justin Vickless had success against the Greyhounds running straight ahead; will be interesting to see if Char-Houston tries the same thing with Jevone Hairston and David Kincaid.