In some ways, it’s hard to blame Scott Berger. There’s a lot for him and his Skyline team to consider headed into Friday’s regular-season finale against Shelley. There’s a lot that could unfold, a lot of circumstances surrounding the game that will affect the conference race and the playoff picture.
So Berger has elected to simplify things for the Grizzlies.
“The most important game is the one coming up. We try to look at it that way,” Berger said. “Try not to get too distracted, thinking about things we can’t take care of. We can take care of Friday’s game, but that’s about the extent of it.”
It may sound cliche — how many times have you heard coaches say something along the lines of “Control what we can control?” — but in this case, it makes sense.
Headed into Friday, there’s a four-way tie atop the 4A District 6 conference. Skyline, Shelley, Blackfoot and Bonneville will all take 2-1 conference records into the weekend. Shelley is visiting Skyline, while Blackfoot is hosting Bonneville. No matter how those games unfold, though, there will be a tie when all the action dies down.
So here are all the ways things could happen:
• If Bonneville and Shelley win, Bonneville will win the conference because it beat Shelley
• If Bonneville and Skyline win, Skyline will win the conference because it beat Bonneville
• If Blackfoot and Shelley win, Shelley will win the conference because it beat Blackfoot
• If Blackfoot and Skyline win, Blackfoot will win the conference because it beat Skyline
If that sounds confusing, the good news is that in all likelihood, all four teams will make the 4A state playoffs. The seeds are based on MaxPreps rankings. Entering Friday, here is where each of those four clubs stand:
• Skyline (4-4) is No. 3, with a rating of 28.0
• Shelley (6-2) is No. 6, with a rating of 22.9
• Blackfoot (3-5) is No. 10, with a rating of 17.5
• Bonneville (2-6) is No. 15, with a rating of 4.1
The 4A playoff bracket allows District 6 two automatic berths, which means one team will earn a spot by winning the conference and one will earn a spot by finishing second.
Across the state, five conference champions will earn the Nos. 1-5 seeds, which will be based on the MaxPreps rankings after Friday’s games. Then, 11 remaining qualifiers will get the Nos. 6-16 seeds, which will be based on the end-of-season MaxPreps rankings.
Think about it like this: After Friday’s games, MaxPreps will rank its top 16 teams. Five will earn playoff bids by winning their conferences, so poof, they vanish from the rankings. Then all the other teams move up to fill those spots, which is where the remaining playoff spots come from.
When you visualize it like that, it becomes a little easier to understand. Same with the way District 6 teams fit into the equation. Since each team is already ranked inside the top 16, all stand a good chance of making the playoffs, regardless of the way Friday’s games unfold. The only outlier might be Bonneville, which will likely need to either beat Skyline or keep a loss within 14 points, which is — most believe — the threshold at which point differential begins to matter.
Long story short, that’s how a Bonneville team that kicked off the season with five straight losses could make the playoffs. The current No. 16 team, Moscow, has a rating of 1.6, which is almost three points lower than Bonneville’s. It seems unlikely that Moscow or Century (0.6) could leapfrog Bonneville, especially because the Bees are playing Skyline, which has such a strong rating.
The only way the bottom of these rankings could change in a significant way is if Century beats Pocatello, which is MaxPreps’ No. 1 4A team. Outside of that, it’s entirely possible that Skyline, Shelley, Blackfoot and Bonneville will find their ways into the playoffs.
“It’s wild, man,” Shelley coach Josh Wells said.
The easiest way for both teams to make the playoffs, though, is to just win on Friday.
For Skyline, that means keeping things rolling on offense. Across their last four games, the Grizzlies are averaging 37 points per game. Quarterback Lachlan Haacke may be starting his first season at the varsity level, but the experience he’s picked up is showing.
Shelley is looking to capitalize on some momentum. Last week, the Russets completed a double overtime victory thanks in part to a game-winning touchdown pass from Brecker Williams to Caden Johnson. That helped Shelley then, and now, it’s put the group in position to win the conference — two seasons after going winless.
“A year and a half later after coming off an 0-8 year,” Wells said, “and being the smallest school in 4A, to be able to win the conference that’s won four of the last five state titles — that’s a big deal for us.”