In the heat of August doubles, the Ohio high school football playoffs are just goal.
Now, after 10 grueling weeks, the goal has become a reality for 192 schools. Of that number, nine are members of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference.
Breaking that down even further, you'll find that five of those teams are located in The Times Leader's primary coverage area.
Bellaire, Harrison Central, River, Shadyside and St. Clairsville are the local squads reporting to practice this afternoon to begin preparations for the 'second' season of 2012.
Of the area schools, there's a guarantee that at least one will qualify for the regional semifinals next weekend.
St. Clairsville and Harrison Central will square off this Friday at Red Devil Stadium in a rematch of their Week 5 encounter, which was won decisively by the Red Devils.
For the Huskies, it marks their second trip to the tournament in school history. They were in the field in 2009 and lost at Dover.
After back-to-back losing seasons, the Huskies finished 7-3 and earned the eighth seed.
"I told our kids that only 31 other teams in our division get to practice this week," Kropka said. "I want the kids to enjoy this week. For Harrison Central to be in the playoffs for the second time in four years is a testament to a lot of people that allowed our program to get to where it is."
The Red Devils are in the playoffs for the ninth time in their history and hosting for the third straight season.
Coach Brett McLean's Red Devils have simply taken some teams apart this season with an average margin of victory of 35 points a week
Shadyside is embarking on its 14th trip to the playoffs and hosting for the 10th time, which is best amongst area schools. The Tigers have never lost a first-round playoff game and will be looking to exact some revenge this season when it hosts fifth-seeded Berlin Center Western Reserve Friday night.
The Tigers were eliminated by Western Reserve last season in the Region 21 championship game at New Philadelphia.
For the first time since 2006 and for the first time under head coach Jose Davis, the Bellaire Big Reds are in the playoffs. All told, it's Bellaire's 10th appearance in the postseason, but it's its first time in Division V.
The Big Reds capped an 8-2 campaign with a cherished, hard-earned overtime victory against rival Martins Ferry, 34-28, Friday night.
The Big Reds' reward is nearly 3-hour jaunt north to suburban Cleveland to tangle with third-seeded Cuyahoga Heights, which is 9-1.
"It's a great feeling to be in the playoffs after five years," Davis said. "I'm happy for our kids and community for the tough times they've had to deal with. I am even happier for our seniors who've dealt with so many ups and downs throughout."
After the week the River Pilots endured, something tells me they would go to the end of the world for the opportunity to play this week. As it turns out, they'll trek to nearly three hours to Danville to take on the top-seeded Blue Devils in the Division VI, Region 23 tournament.
The Pilots finished 7-3, but had to wait until late Saturday night to learn their fate as they received bonus points from Fort Frye and a loss by Reedsville Eastern to earn their sixth trip to the playoffs and first since 2008.
The balance of the OVAC schools in the field are Indian Creek, which claimed the OVAC 5A title, Steubenville, Steubenville Central and Fort Frye.
The complete pairings for the postseason can be found on today's scoreboard page.
Complete previews on each of the area teams will be contained in a special playoff supplement in Thursday's paper.
Steubenville Big Red is definitely one of the state's most prominent programs. Obviously, they've won three state titles, but when they take the field this Saturday, the rest of their history is just mind-boggling.
Obviously, the Big Red pedigree is impressive to us in the Ohio Valley. Great coaching along with tough and talented kids leads to year in and year out success.
This year's trip to the postseason is the school's 25th appearance, which ties it for fifth best all time. In those previous 24 trips, Steubenville has won 46 tournament games, which is tied for sixth best and it's overall playoff winning percentage of .687 ranks ninth best.
It's tough to get a handle on who the favorites are in some of the divisions, but it's easy to see that some of the divisions are going to provide some highly entertaining action over the course of the next four weeks.
For instance, of the 32 teams that qualified in Division V, 10 are undefeated, including five in Region 20.
Division IV is another deep division with nine unblemished teams, including St. Clairsville. Four of the undefeated teams are in Region 14. That's where Columbus Bishop Hartley resides. Hartley, which won the 2010 title, fell to Kenton in the regional final last season and is now one of the favorites to get to Stark County. Hartley features Notre Dame recruit Jacob Matuska, whose parents are St. John Central graduates.
In Division III, there's just one unblemished squad. We believe it's the most wide open division.
UNDEFEEATED, BUT ON THE ROAD
It's always interesting when the playoff pairings are finalized to see how many - if any - undefeated teams have to make their way on the road in Week 11.
All of the 10-0 squads qualified for the tournament, which hasn't always been the case, and only two are heading on the road.
In Division V, Miamisburg Dayton Christian is in a loaded Region 20 where there are five undefeated teams. It will trek to West Liberty Salem Saturday evening.
The other is in Division II, Region 7. Pataskala Licking Heights finished unblemished, but are a sixth seed and will trek to Columbus Marion Franklin on Friday.
BACK FOR MORE
Five of the six defending state champions have qualified for this year's tournament. The lone non-qualifier is Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, which still might be the best team in Division III despite not being in the field.
The Cardinals finished 19th in their regional after finishing 3-6 against a schedule that was littered with Division I foes.
The balance of the defending champions are Cleveland St. Ignatius (Division I), Trotwood Madison (Division II), Creston Norwayne (Division IV), Kirtland (Division V) and Maria Stein Marion Local (Division VI).
WELCOME TO THE PARTY
According to notes supplied by the OHSAA, seven schools of the 192 qualifiers are in the postseason for the first time. One of those schools is Zanesville Maysville, which will visit Harding Stadium for a date with Steubenville Big Red Saturday night.
Former Buckeye Local standout Nathan Prati is a member of the Maysville coaching staff. Maysville finished the regular season with a 9-1 record. It's lone loss was a thumping at the hands of unblemished Tri-Valley. The Panthers knocked off just two teams that finished with winning records.
WEEK 5 PLAY-IN GAME?
While you really don't really start to look at the playoff rankings until maybe week seven or so, as it turned out, the Fort Frye and Monroe Central battle in Beverly turned out to be a defacto play-in game for the teams.
The Cadets prevailed, 27-0, against the Seminoles and thanks to a win Saturday night at Rosecrans earned the eighth seed in Division V, Region 17. Fort Frye's reward is an unenviable trip to defending state champion Kirtland Saturday night.
Monroe, which battled injuries and sickness all season, finished 11th in the region, but was mathematically alive until this past Saturday.
NEW COUNT AND REGIONALS
In the spring, the OHSAA will announce the new divisional assignments and regional assignments. That's certainly going to be interesting because nearly everyone could be affected as the state adds the much-needed seventh division to help bridge the gap in Division I.
CHECKING ON THE LOCALS
Five of the schools we've written about in this space much of the season have qualified for Ohio's postseason.
Unfortunately, former Bellaire High head coach John Magistro's squad at Westerville Central finished ninth in the Division I, Region 3 computer poll. They were more than three points back of Westerville South. The Warhawks finished 7-3 and Magistro surpassed the 200-career win mark this season.
CINCINNATI MOELLER earned a home game in Division I, Region 4. The Crusaders ended the regular season with a cherished victory against nationally ranked Louisville Trinity, 45-42. Spencer Iacovone, whose parents are Ohio Valley natives, is the quarterback. He completed 8-of-14 passes for 120 yards and two scores. He also ran for two scores.
IT WASN'T the ending to his first regular season tha, Steubenville graduate Todd Filtz had envisioned. Sitting at 7-1 with a playoff berth locked up, Filtz and his Canton McKinley Bulldogs fell, 37-29 and finished as the fifth seed and will visit Federal League rival North Canton Hoover Saturday night.
PICKERINGTON CENTRAL is back in the postseason. The Tigers were the Division I state runnerup last season and will be trying to avenge one of their two losses Saturday evening when they visit cross-town rival North, which finished fourth in the Division I computer poll. One of the Tigers' key cogs is Brent Walton, who is a standout tailback.
DUBLIN COFFMAN finished with a 9-1 record and as the second seed in Division I, Region 3. The Irish feature Brent Whitehead, Tanner Zinni and Zack Murdock, all of whom have ties to the Ohio Valley. Tanner's grandfather Don Zinni still resides in Yorkville and is the OVAC football commissioner.
Staskey can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/TLSportsSeth