The second season is upon us.
The path to Stark County and the first weekend in December has been set.
We'll learn over the course of the next month who will be stretching their season into the land of Week 15.
What we know so far is there are 224 schools returning to the practice field this week. While that may seem like a high number, there are 490 schools who've turned in their equipment and are headed for basketball, wrestling, swimming and bowling seasons.
Of those teams, 10 are members of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference and six reside within The Times Leader coverage area.
The playoffs get underway Friday night with Divisions II, III, IV and VI battling. Kickoffs for those games are set for 7:30 p.m., while the Saturday games in Division I, V and VII will kickoff at 7 p.m.
Locally, Bellaire and Monroe Central earned their way into the Division VI, Region 21. Both teams will begin on the road on Friday.
Bellaire, now 7-3 and the fifth seed, will head to Newark to take on powerful Newark Catholic, the No. 4 seed. The Big Reds are in the postseason for the 11th time in school history and second straight season, while the Green Wave are making their 33rd trip into the postseason.
Newark Catholic is the defending Division VI state runnerup and features Illinois commit Chayce Crouch at quarterback.
Monroe Central, meanwhile, is back in the postseason after missing last season. The Seminoles finished the regular season 7-3 and have won seven of eight. Monroe earned the sixth seed and will visit 10-0 Centerburg, which is in the tournament for just the third time and first time since 2005.
In Division V, Martins Ferry - on the strength of its week 10 victory against Bellaire - finished as the second seed in Region 17.
The Purple Riders are 9-1 and are in the playoffs for the 12th time under Dave Bruney's watch. They didn't qualify a season ago.
Ferry will host Williamsport Westfall on Saturday at 7 p.m. Westfall's Mustangs are in the playoffs for the 10th time and qualified with a 5-5 mark. Westfall has played OVAC members in the past. It has lost to Bellaire and beat St. Clairsville in a regional final in its history.
Speaking of the Red Devils, the reigning Division IV state runnerup, is back in the postseason for the 10th time in school history. Coach Brett McLean's team finished with a 9-1 record and grabbed the fourth seed.
They'll host defending Division V regional champion in Baltimore Liberty Union. Liberty Union is 8-2 and has qualified five times.
In Division VII, Shadyside and Beallsville qualified in Region 25.
The 10-0 Tigers slipped to the second seed behind Glouster Trimble. Shadyside will host seventh-seeded Lancaster Fairfield Christian Academy at Fleming Field. The Tigers are in the tournament for the 15th time. Last season's first-round exit was the first time Shadyside didn't win at least one game.
The Tigers trail only Steubenville, amongst OVAC members, in terms of playoff appearances and victories (25).
Fairfield Christian and Shadyside met in the regular season during the Tigers' 2010 state runner-up season.
Beallsville, meanwhile, is one of the best stories of the season.
The Blue Devils have only 19 members on their team, but managed to put together a 6-4 season and qualified eighth. Their reward is a trip to Glouster, which is located near Athens, Saturday night.
The Blue Devils are in the playoffs for the first time under Paul Kanzigg's guidance, but ninth time overall.
In Division IV, Steubenville snapped a three-game slide last Friday and snuck into the eighth seed. Big Red, in the tournament for the 26th time, will play Friday at Newark Licking Valley, which is 8-2.
Joining Bellaire and Monroe in Division VI, is Fort Frye, which qualified eighth in the region for the second straight season. The Cadets, who went to Kirtland last season, will load up for Lucasville Valley this Friday.
Steubenville Central and Caldwell joined the Tigers and Blue Devils in Region 25, meaning half the first is an OVAC member.
The Crusaders come in on a two-game slide and are seeded fourth.
They'll host first-time entrant Racine Southern at Harding Stadium. Caldwell, meanwhile, will load up for Malvern in a three vs. six game.
Obviously, playing at home is a huge advantage for several reasons. The biggest, in my opinion, is avoiding a bus trip because the Ohio regions are very spacious and can lead to some lengthy trips.
Playing on the home field is no guarantee of a victory, however. A season ago, 25 road teams won a game in the first round.
HAVES AND HAVE NOTES
Of the 714 schools began the season in late August, only 36 made it through the first season without suffering a loss.
The breakdown of that includes three in Division I, six in Division II, eight in Division III, five in Division IV, three in Division V, five in Division VI and six in Division VII.
All of the 10-0 teams made the postseason, but two are headed on the road this week. Both are in Division IV.
On the flip side, 31 schools in the state failed to register a victory. As you'd expect, Division VII had the most with 11. Obviously, smaller schools struggle in football because of numbers. The fewest was in Division I where just one school didn't record a win.
THROW THE RECORDS OUT
Two teams - Youngstown Ursuline and Garfield Heights Trinity - qualified for the postseason with sub .500 records. Ursuline (4-5), which rolled past Steubenville a few weeks ago, earned the eighth seed in Division V, Region 15. It'll take on Akron Manchester Saturday night.
Trinity, meanwhile, finished 4-6, and will visit Berlin Center Western Reserve in Division VII, Region 23 Saturday night.
That once again proves it's not all about who you play. It's about who you beat. If a team can beat the right combination of good teams, it has a legitimate chance to qualify and then do some damage, especially a team like Ursuline.
CHECKING ON THE LOCALS
Three area natives, who now coach outside of the Ohio Valley, are headed back to the postseason.
John Magistro guided Westerville Central into the Division I tournament. The Warhawks finished the regular season 9-1 and earned the fifth seed, which means a home game on Saturday night. Magistro's club will welcome the Solon Comets to town. They're the 12-seed and finished 6-4.
Despite being handled by arch-rival Massillon on Saturday, Canton McKinley and head coach Todd Filtz finished as the sixth seed in Division I, Region 1. The reward is a date with perennial heavyweight Cleveland St. Ignatius, which finished 6-4 and is seeded 11th.
Steubenville Central graduate Mike Orlando has led Cincinnati McNichols back into the Division IV tournament. Orlando's squad will host 10-0 Urbana on Friday night.
STATE TITLE PICKS
Each year, I try - and normally fail miserably - to predict the state champions in each division.
My picks for this season are as follows: Cincinnati Moeller (Division I), Cincinnati Winton Woods (Division II), Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (Division III), Kenton (Division IV), Columbus Bishop Hartley (Division V), Columbus Bishop Ready (Division VI), Maria Stein Marion Local (Division VII).
The Times Leader's annual playoff supplement will appear in Thursday's paper. It will feature game previews on all six of the qualifiers from our coverage area.
As a heads up for our game coverage, our deadline on Saturday evening won't permit us to contain game stories in Sunday's edition. We will be staffing Saturday night tournament games, obviously. But the stories will be contained on our website (timesleaderonline.com) and then will appear in Monday's paper.
The games on Friday won't be affected and will be covered as they've been all season.
Last week in this space, we knew that Shadyside and Madonna had won the Class 2A and 1A titles, respectively. Now we can add Bellaire and Martins Ferry to the list of champions.
The Big Reds captured the 3A trophy, while the Purple Riders were crowned the 4A winners.
The 5A race is still tight with Wheeling Park and University - on the strength of its win against city-rival Morgantown - battling. The Hawks are in the clubhouse, while the Patriots take on John Marshall this weekend to complete the regular season.
In case you're wondering, it's Class 3A's turn to coach the Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Charity Football Classic.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org