When: Friday 11/19, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: Teams have not met this decade
Rankings: Central Catholic (11-0), No. 1 in Pennsylvania
North Allegheny (10-1), No. 5 in Pennsylvania
WHY IT'S BIG: These are quite possibly the best two teams in western Pennsylvania and the winner is still only set to advance to the WPIAL (District 7) finals. How the two traditional powers have been able to avoid one another in the playoffs for this long is amazing, but the gauntlet will be thrown down on Friday night. The game is being played at Fox Chapel as the WPIAL plays its games on neutral sites, but the drive to Fox Chapel is much longer for North Allegheny coming from Wexford than it is from Pittsburgh proper.
BEST MATCHUP: The Central Catholic defense against the North Allegheny offense. And vice versa. Central Catholic has allowed just 83 points this season; North Allegheny, 82. With both teams allowing just over a touchdown per game, a race to 10 may be on display. The physical nature of Central Catholic will need to keep up with the speed of North Allegheny where as North A will have to contend with an offensive line that enjoys pushing teams around.
NORTH ALLEGHENY WINS IF: It is explosive early. The defense for the Tigers can keep them in the game no matter the score, but being able to put up a quick score will certainly take a lot of pressure off them. If there is a turnover opportunity or a short field to be had, the offense will need to take advantage as Central Catholic does not allow long, sustained drives.
CENTRAL CATHOLIC WINS IF: The score stays low. North Allegheny only has been in one tight contest this season and it lost to North Hills. Central Catholic has experience with tight contests and playing with pressure. It is not exactly comfortable with it, but experience with the pressure does play a key role this late in the season. The defense for the Vikings has kept everything in front of it this year and that trend should continue against a North A team that likes to hit the edges with speed.
PREDICTION: It is a shame that the winner of this will still have either North Hills or Woodland Hills to face in the next round. The winner of both games likely will be pretty beat up heading into Heinz Field and the WPIAL finals. If the final score sees both teams in double-digits, it would be surprising. - Central Catholic 10, North Allegheny 6
-- For more on both teams and Pennsylvania football, visit PaPreps.com
When: Thursday 11/18, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: 10/14/10, Columbus won, 29-7.
Rankings: Columbus (10-0), No. 10 in Florida
Northwestern (8-2), No. 11 in Florida
WHY IT'S BIG: Welcome to the first round in Florida - two nationally-ranked teams battling for the opportunity to play another nationally-ranked team. These two Miami-based schools could not come from more different socioeconomic places and the strengths and weakness of each will be playing against one another. It is a true test of which weakness will rise up to be a strength.
BEST MATCHUP: The Columbus running game against the Northwestern rush defense. The Explorers are very physical up front and have three very bruising backs to carry the ball. The Bulls, for all the things the team does well, has shown a major weakness against the run. If Columbus can control the line and the ball, it will control Northwestern's explosive offense in the process.
COLUMBUS WINS IF: The defense can put pressure on the Bulls. If Anthony Rabasa and Brandon Bailey are able to get through the line and pressure Teddy Bridgewater into a few bad decisions, it could be a long night for Northwestern. If the pair is limited to being reactionary instead of attacking, then the night will not go the way of the Explorers.
NORTHWESTERN WINS IF: It learned how to stop the run this week. The last time the two teams played, a healthy Teddy Bridgewater was not part of the equation, nor was a good bit of the Bulls defense. It is hard enough to beat Northwestern once in a season - which Columbus has done - let alone twice. There have been plenty of low points this season for the Bulls and this is an opportunity to have a highlight.
PREDICTION: This game is going to come down to the fundamentals of football. Blocking, tackling, and discipline - and all three point to the advantage of Columbus. Northwestern has the playoff experience as well as a rallying point with the tenuous relationship between the coach and the school. If there are points for having your back against the wall, they would go to Northwestern. Unfortunately that doesn't get factored in. Columbus is the better team this season. - Columbus 24, Northwestern 9
When: Saturday 11/20, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: 8/24/06, St. Xavier won, 52-14
Rankings: Huber Heights Wayne (9-3), No. 7 in Ohio
St. Xavier (7-4), No. 10 in Ohio
WHY IT'S BIG: This is the Region 4 final in Ohio and a berth into the state semifinals is on the line. This was one of the most balanced and fiercely competitive brackets in the state and the parity is showing with this matchup. When RivalsHigh broke down the bracket at the beginning of the month, we pointed out that St. X was the X-factor and Wayne was the sleeper. Here the teams are, in the final.
BEST MATCHUP: The St. X defense containing Braxton Miller. It could be just as intriguing to see if St. X can put up enough points to win, but if the Bombers defense can contain Miller and make the rest of the Warriors beat them, then scoring a bunch of points would be a moot point. Miller has put the team on his back and an appearance in the state semifinals would be an amazing accomplishment.
ST. X WINS IF: It keeps Braxton Miller in the pocket. The Bombers love to attack the offense with its 3-3-5 defense, but in this game, playing contain on the outside may be the better plan. If Miller can get to the edge and head up-field, he may not be caught. The linebackers will need to play a spy game and not an attack game.
WAYNE WINS IF: It can score 28 points. That is the magic number. St. X only has put 28 points on the board four times this season; Wayne has allowed more than 28 points only three times this year. The law of averages gets into play here; if Wayne can get over that number, it has a good chance to win.
PREDICTION: St. Xavier is a team that plays one of the hardest schedules every year. Its record is rarely unblemished but that does not make it any less of an elite program. Wayne is a team that hits a lot of home runs on offense, but is just as likely to strike out. It is the time of year where defense wins championships and St. X has the better defense - and an offense that is on the rise at the right time. - St. Xavier 26, Wayne 17
When: Saturday 11/20, 5 p.m.
Last Meeting: 9/18/09, Allen won, 35-28
Rankings: Trinity (11-0), No. 1 in Texas
Allen (10-1), No. 6 in Texas
WHY IT'S BIG: This game had enough merit to be the national game of the week. It is two of the big boys in Texas going into battle in the second round. How big is it? The game has been moved to Cowboys Stadium. The big stage is one that Trinity already has played on this season and will be sharing with Allen in this one.
BEST MATCHUP: The Allen defense against the Trinity offense. The Eagles have allowed some surprisingly high point totals this season, its most points per game since 2007 - and it's done it with teams that are not in the same area code talent-wise as Trinity. If Allen doesn't figure out a way to slow the Trojans down, it will not matter that the Eagles offense also has taken a step back from last year - which it has.
TRINITY WINS IF: It takes this game as seriously as it should. Trinity's regular-season schedule was among the easiest in the country as the team was only expected to be tested in one contest, opening week against Springdale (Ark.) Shiloh Christian. The Trojans were able to get up for that game and rolled to victory. Since then, the Trojans have been on cruise control. If it doesn't flip the switch, it could be upset.
ALLEN WINS IF: Brandon Carter has a bad game for Trinity. The Trojans have had an unsettled quarterback position this season with injuries, rotation and spotty play. If Carter takes the majority of the snaps and does not perform well, Allen can win. Allen, man for man, does not have what it takes this season and will need some help to pull the upset.
PREDICTION: Allen is a good team. Trinity is a great team. Those two factors will play out on Saturday afternoon. While many expect this to be a close game, it is hard to see that being the case. Trinity knows that it is time to turn on the jets and starting this week, look for more dominant wins. - Trinity 30, Allen 16
When: Friday 11/19, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: 11/17/06, Long Beach Poly won, 10-0.
Rankings: Poly (8-2), No. 14 in California
Mater Dei (6-4), No. 25 in California
WHY IT'S BIG: This is a first-round playoff game for two teams which both started in the Top 50 nationally, and both have disappointed. Poly had run its record to 8-2, with both of its losses being to nationally-ranked teams. If the Jackrabbits are able to get to the semifinals of the Pac 5, they likely will earn a trip back to the national rankings.
BEST MATCHUP: Mater Dei's offense against the Long Beach Poly defense. The Poly defense has been on tilt since the beginning of October, only allowing 37 points in six games. Mater Dei has struggled with good defenses this year (i.e. Servite and Corona Centennial) but still has the talent to put up points if the offensive line can hold up.
MATER DEI WINS IF: The offensive line can provide protection. The Monarchs certainly have not lived up to the expectations this season and injuries and suspect play all around have contributed. However, the year is not complete and two wins in the playoffs would do a lot of good to make the season a moderate success.
POLY WINS IF: The offense is actually fixed. The Jackrabbits have scored a lot of points but that doesn't mean it is better. The competition level has dropped considerably with only one win (Lakewood) of consequence in the last month and a half. If Poly is able to put up 30 points in this game, it will give a much better signal that this Poly team is the one that was expected to show up when it was awarded a preseason No. 2 national ranking.
PREDICTION: Much like the 2009 season, the Jackrabbits are making a run at the end of the season. Coach Lara has this team playing much better after settling on a quarterback and allowing the offensive unit time to come together. The team brought back nearly all of its starters from the 2009 year, and while it took a while to get going, it seems to be back on the right track. Mater Dei has the talent to stay with Poly, but this season is over for this team. - Poly 28, Mater Dei 18