Things are heating up under the Friday night lights.

It’s now the final week of the high school football season, and the outcome of next month’s state playoffs will be determined by Friday’s gridiron action. 

The only team that appears locked into the playoffs this year is Canyon del Oro, which enters its final game with an 8-1 record. 

The Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks and Mountain View Lions in 5A have a decent shot, with each entering their final contest with a 5-4 mark to-date. 

The Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Lions are likely to be on the outside looking in, in 3A, with a 4-5 record and a final home game against a 1-8 Catalina Magnet team Friday. 

The Catalina Foothills Falcons and Marana Tigers are out of playoff consideration, with the former sporting a 3-6 record, while the Tigers have limped their way to an 0-9 mark. 

The AIA’s selection show is on Saturday, Nov. 2, though we’ve gone ahead and stacked up the field of playoff candidates, breaking down their paths to the postseason. 

Here’s a team-by-team outlook entering the final regular season contest, for the four teams that have a realistic shot at the playoffs: 

Canyon del Oro (8-1, 3-1)

The Dorados will make the 63-mile trek to Casa Grande this Friday night to face a 5-4 Cougars team. The newest AIA rankings have yet to be released as of press time, but the Dorados entered last Friday ranked third overall in 4A, and atop the rankings when you remove Saguaro and Salpointe Catholic, which are ranked in the Open Division top 8. Dustin Peace’s team will be challenged by a Cougars offense that averages 411.9 yards per game, as Casa Grande likely needs a win against the Dorados to ensure their own playoff berth. 

Ironwood Ridge (5-4, 3-1). The Nighthawks have come back to earth a bit after getting blanked by Buena in Sierra Vista, 27-0 Friday night. The Colts did a great job of grounding Ironwood Ridge’s high-flying rushing attack, holding the team to 76 rushing yards on 27 attempts despite senior Brandon Barrios racking up 109 yards by himself. Ironwood Ridge entered last Friday’s contest ranked 11th in 5A, and eighth among non-Open Division teams. A win over Cienega will boost their numbers come selection Saturday, likely sending the Nighthawks to the postseason once again. 

Mountain View (5-4, 4-0). The Lions have cleaned up against inferior 5A Sonoran region competition, winning all four of their sectional contests, including Friday’s 21-14 victory over Desert View. Matt Johnson’s team has a final home game against a 2-7 Flowing Wells team at home this Friday before finding out their postseason fate. The Lions were ranked 18th overall in 5A and 15th among non-Open Division teams last Friday. A win over the Caballeros should send the Lions to their first postseason berth in two years. 

Pusch Ridge Christian Academy (4-5, 2-2). The Lions are back-sliding at the worst time, losing to Sabino and Safford in consecutive weeks, with a final game against a 1-8 Catalina Magnet team on their schedule. Even a blowout victory this Friday is far from a sure thing in boosting the team’s postseason fate, given that the Lions were 17th in 3A last week, before losing by 43 to the Bulldogs. A win on Friday night would propel Pusch Ridge to a 5-5 finish, though it would probably not be enough to surmount the sizeable deficit they have against Payson, who’s currently ranked 16th in 3A. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Lions avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 2012.

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