Grand Island drew no favors in trying to uphold the prestige of Class A football outside of the Metro Conference.
The Islanders will be the only non-Metro team hosting a first-round game Friday, but a game with Bellevue West is no bargain. The Thunderbirds are a pair of one-point losses from matching Grand Island’s 8-1 record — against a much stronger schedule.
A Bellevue West win, along with the host Metro teams holding serve, would mean an All-Metro quarterfinal round for the first time. Last year and in 2003, seven of the eight first-round winners were from the Metro.
The Metro has a record 11 teams in the 16-team field — Bellevue East and West; Millard North and West; Omaha Burke, Central, Creighton Prep, North and Westside; Papillion-La Vista; and Papio South. Lincoln has East, Southeast and Southwest, with Grand Island and Kearney completing the field.
It’s a year in which the bracket seems evenly balanced with five ranked teams in each half. A showdown between No. 1 Millard West and No. 2 Omaha North can’t happen before the Class A title game Nov. 26 in Memorial Stadium.
Two of Friday’s playoff openers match ranked teams — No. 7 Bellevue West at No. 10 Grand Island and No. 6 Papillion-La Vista at No. 8 Omaha Central.
Millard West’s potential path to the finals could be through Kearney, the Papio-Central winner and No. 3 Westside. Omaha North’s route could pit the Vikings against Bellevue East, No. 5 Millard North — in a quick rematch of North’s 38-24 victory last week — and No. 4 Burke.
Class B also has a balanced bracket with five ranked teams on each side. No. 1 Gretna can’t see No. 2 Omaha Skutt, which lost to Gretna 28-9 in the teams’ season opener, until the title game.
In three of the next four classes of state playoffs, like last year, a 1-vs.-2 ratings matchup wouldn’t be in the title game but in the semifinals.
Those possible semifinals are Boone Central/Newman Grove against Cozad in Class C-1, Exeter-Milligan against Howells-Dodge in Eight Man-1 and Falls City Sacred Heart against Giltner in Eight Man-2.
Class C-2’s top two teams, No. 1 Doniphan-Trumbull and No. 2 Fremont Bergan, are in separate brackets.
Here’s the possible paths to state titles for the other top-ranked teams:
Gretna: No. 9 Omaha Gross, unranked Blair or Sidney, No. 3 Ralston (rematch), No. 4 York.
Boone Central: Valentine, Kearney Catholic, No. 4 Norfolk Catholic (rematch), No. 2 Cozad, No. 3 Syracuse.
Doniphan-Trumbull: Centura, Crofton, No. 3 Blue Hill (rematch), No. 4 Battle Creek, No. 2 Bergan.
Exeter-Milligan: Hartington, No. 7 High Plains, No. 5 BDS, No. 2 Howells-Dodge, No. 4 Overton.
Sacred Heart: Kenesaw, No. 6 Lyons-Decatur, No. 4 Fullerton, No. 2 Giltner, No. 5 Shelton.
Other playoff observations:
» The seven longest strings of consecutive playoff appearances are intact — 27 for Falls City Sacred Heart; 26 for Eight Man-1 Bloomfield; 19 for Creighton Prep, Class B Elkhorn and Eight Man-2 Humphrey St. Francis; and 18 for Class C-1 Chase County and Norfolk Catholic.
» Class B’s third year of statewide seeding produced three road trips longer than two hours each way — Blair goes to Sidney, Scottsbluff to York and Crete to McCook.
» Class C-1’s playoff field has Norfolk Catholic and Pierce in the west bracket for the second time in three years. Six of the 10 ranked teams are in the west, including Nos. 1 and 2.
» Eight Man-1 has the most unbalanced split of ranked teams — 8-2. The overload is in the east. Only five teams in the west have fewer than two losses — No. 4 Overton is 8-0, while No. 10 Hemingford, Twin Loup, Elm Creek and Burwell are 7-1.
» Only four eligible teams with winning records failed to qualify. In Class A, Norfolk and Lincoln North Star were 5-4. Norfolk beat one qualifier (Kearney), North Star none.
In Class B, Holdrege and Bennington were 5-4. Bennington beat one qualifier (Plattsmouth), Holdrege none.
Winnebago was 5-3 in Eight Man-1, but its enrollment exceeds the 83 limit for playoff eligibility in that class. In Eight Man-2, Kenesaw and Brady qualified at 2-6.
» The teams immediately below the cut in each class were Norfolk in A; Holdrege in B (lost tiebreaker with Gross); Auburn in C-1; Ravenna in C-2; Paxton, Harvard, two-time defending champion Elgin/Pope John in Eight Man-1; and Hayes Center and Diller-Odell in Eight Man-2.
» Class C-1 had three qualifiers with 2-6 records: Minden (for the second straight year), Logan View and Boys Town.
Travelin’ band: A salute goes to the Lincoln Christian pep band. Of the 20 games I attended during the regular season, Christian was the only visiting school to have a pep band. There was a time when schools routinely had pep bands at road games.
Radio coverage: Over-the-air stations that will have live broadcasts of the playoffs are asked to notify me at least two days in advance of the game to be included in our schedules. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Statistics reports: All playoff teams are requested to use MaxPreps to update season statistics through the playoffs. It’s a service that all media outlets in the state appreciate.
Class A, Class B and other Omaha-area teams are reminded to submit reports to The World-Herald this week, then again at the close of their seasons.