The playoffs start now for the McGuffey High School football team.
Well, not really, but that’s at least how the Highlanders are viewing the next three weeks that will culminate the Highlanders’ regular-season schedule.
“We try to break it down into three one-game seasons,” said McGuffey coach Ed Dalton. “A win tonight could get us a home playoff game. We are playing two of the next three games at home, where we haven’t lost since 2016.”
It’s a home-field advantage the Highlanders will try to utilize as they try to trudge through one of the most difficult schedules in the entire WPIAL through the final three weeks.
McGuffey (5-0, 7-0) starts that gauntlet with an Class 2A Interstate Conference home game tonight against Charleroi (4-1, 5-1).
Kickoff is 7 p.m.
The Highlanders then play a pair of unbeaten teams in Avonworth and Washington, the latter being a home game that could be for the conference championship.
The combined record of McGuffey’s remaining opponents is 19-1, the only loss was when Charleroi played Washington on Aug. 30. The first seven teams McGuffey has disposed of have combined to win only 14 games, including five each by Clairton and Southmoreland.
“Honestly, it’s just about staying focused and taking it week to week,” said senior wide receiver and defensive back C.J. Cole. “We had to go through this schedule last year and all three of the games were tight. We are mentally and physically ready on both sides of the ball.”
Last season, McGuffey beat Avonworth in a shootout that produced 99 points, but the Highlanders lost to both Charleroi and Washington. Those losses forced the Highlanders to play away from home in the opening round of the WPIAL playoffs. A loss to South Side Beaver ended McGuffey’s season with three losses in four games and extended its drought without a playoff victory to 24 years.
A win over Charleroi would earn McGuffey its first home playoff game since 2009.
“I think Charleroi is every bit as good as it was last year but not as flashy,” Dalton said. “We are a different team, too. We are more balanced. We score in different ways on offense. Our defense is more athletic. But we are still finding our way.”
Nobody has held McGuffey under 40 points this season, while the Highlanders haven’t let any opponent reach 30 points. Both numbers that could be considered a surprise after the loss of do-everything running back Christian Clutter, last year’s Observer-Reporter Football Player of the Year.
“You could pick out Christian last year,” Cole said. “This year, if you stop one running back we have another or another. If the run game isn’t going, we will throw it. Christian was also the quarterback of our defense. I’ve tried to step into that role and we have a bunch of veteran guys on defense.”
In the games against opponents with winning records – Clairton and Southmoreland – the Highlanders have amassed 819 total yards and scored 97 points behind the running of quarterback Marshall Whipkey, fullback McKinley Whipkey and wingbacks Jared Johnson, Nate Yagle and others.
“Double-A is wide open,” Dalton said. “Maybe the second best team outside of Southern Columbia we will see in Week 9. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to have to beat any of these teams in a seven-game series. But what kid or coach doesn’t want to play in these kind of games? They are going to be a lot of fun.”