Local teams begin serious jockeying for playoff position beginning this weekend

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FARMINGTON — District play in San Juan County’s football scene must not be taken lightly, particularly with what already has transpired so far this season.

For some teams, the district slate could determine whether they host a first-round playoff game or end up with a first-round bye. For others, district presents a chance to mend a tough start and reach the playoffs.

Kirtland Central, Shiprock and Newcomb are all entering this weekend with four wins apiece. All three can secure first-round home playoff games, but could also receive first-round byes depending on how the rest of the regular season in their respective classes shapes up.

Shiprock has a favorable shot of repeating as the District 1-4A champion and winning eight games because of its remaining schedule. The only true threat standing in the Chieftains' way of those goals is district foe Thoreau, which also enters the weekend with four wins. Shiprock's other district opponents, Navajo Prep and Wingate, as well as Crownpoint, have won just five combined games this season.

Facing Zuni and Tohatchi in district, each of which also has four wins, Newcomb can host a first-round playoff game with two district wins. But the Skyhawks, who should handle business when they play host to Dulce Friday for homecoming, can get a first-round bye if they win the District 1-3A title again.

Kirtland Central has a golden opportunity to jump ahead early in the District 1-5A standings, welcoming Aztec Friday and then playing host to Farmington the following Friday.

Thanks to a stellar defense, which has allowed an average of just 13.4 points per game so far, don't be surprised if the Broncos run away with a district title and go undefeated in district play.

On the flip side, teams like Farmington (2-3), Aztec (1-4) and Bloomfield (2-3) could prevent a KC run altogether and have an equal crack at district. All three can start anew, beginning Friday.

Will Farmington's offense reignite and do damage during critical possessions? Can Bloomfield, which has won two of its last three games, avoid imploding late in the second half? Will Aztec be able to minimize penalties from here on out?

Those factors may decide how those teams fare in district play and in the race for the playoffs.

But if a team competes in a gauntlet of a district, such as the one to which Piedra Vista is assigned, five total victories may be all that's needed to make the playoffs.

The Panthers already have three victories entering their district opener Friday at Cibola, so there's a chance they could get in by winning just two of their four district games because that district also features such powers as Volcano Vista, Rio Rancho and Cleveland.

Cibola has struggled since the start of the 2016 season, winning just four games since then, which means the Cougars are beatable. PV also gave Volcano Vista, which has won 12 games since the start of 2016, some trouble in last year's match-up. Winning those two games could very well be enough to give the Panthers a postseason spot.

Strength of schedule and quality victories are deciding factors in selecting who's in or out. Score differentials in certain matchups can also help teams greatly.

Since 2011, earning victories over Rio Rancho and Cleveland would be a best-case scenario for any program. Cleveland won the state title in 2011 and 2015, whereas Rio Rancho took home the blue trophy in 2014 and 2016.

If PV can avoid lopsided losses to those two foes, that also will help the Panthers' résumé.

Generally speaking, the safe win total to earn a postseason berth is six.

The safe bet to host an opening-round game is at least seven, maybe eight, victories.

All these extenuating factors reinforce the notion that one cannot underestimate how important these district games are.

They could be the difference between making the playoffs and staying home, between opening the playoffs at home or going on the road, or between hosting a first-round game and getting extra time to rest and train by qualifying for a bye.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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