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Fallout from COVID-19 has added a big dose of drama to the final week of the high school football season, with several Raleigh-area teams facing win-or-else situations.

In squeezing what is usually a 10-month athletic season into seven months, the N.C. High School Athletic Association trimmed the football season to a schedule of seven games, and then cut the size of playoff brackets in half to trim a week off the postseason.

That means 80 fewer teams statewide will make the football playoff field this spring.

Add that’s not all. Game cancellations due to COVID protocols left teams playing uneven numbers of games.

The playoff schedule will be announced Saturday, and here are the changes you need to know about this spring season:

Winning percentage in conference games will be used to determine playoff qualifiers.

Conferences with six or fewer members get one guaranteed berth. Those with seven or eight members get two berths. And those with nine or more members get three berths.

Once the automatic qualifiers are set, then wild-card teams will be added (based on their winning percentages in conference games). There will be 16 playoff qualifiers in both the East and West in each of the four classes.

Once those 16 teams are picked in each region, the field will be subdivided into 4A and AA, 3A and AA, 2A and AA, and 1A and AA. So each class will have 16 teams, eight each in the East and West.

Playoffs will last four weeks, not five, with championships set for May 7-8. Nothing says “Mothers Day weekend” quite like football, right?

So … now that you’re up to speed on how the teams will be picked, here’s how the playoff races look in each conference:

CAP 7 4A (two guaranteed berths)

Cardinal Gibbons (5-0 in conference) has clinched the No. 1 berth. Millbrook (4-1) has clinched the No. 2 spot. Even if the Wildcats lose this weekend to Broughton, they own a victory over third-place Leesville Road (4-2). Leesville Road looks solid as a wild-card team.

Northern Athletic 4A (one berth)

Rolesville (4-0) has the guaranteed berth. Wake Forest (3-1) visits Heritage (2-1) on Friday, and the winner will get a wild-card spot. The loser is out.

South Wake Athletic 4A (two berths)

Apex Friendship (5-0) has clinched the top spot. Middle Creek (4-1) gets the second berth if it beats Fuquay-Varina. Should the Mustangs fall and Garner (3-2) upset Apex Friendship, then the race for the No. 2 spot and a possible wild-card berth is up for grabs between Middle Creek, Garner and Holly Springs (4-2).

Triangle 4A (two berths)

These teams will play in the West Region. Panther Creek (5-0) has clinched the No. 1 berth. Hillside (4-1) and Green Hope (3-1) play teams from the second division in the conference. Should both win, then Hillside gets the second berth and Green Hope lands a playoff berth. If both lose, then Hillside has the second berth and Green Hope is probably out. And if Green Hope wins and Hillside loses, then Green Hope is the No. 2 qualifier and Hillside a wild card.

Big 8 3A (two berths)

Southern Durham (5-1) has finished play and is sitting at No. 1. But Chapel Hill (4-1) has beaten Southern Durham this season, so the Tigers could get the top berth by beating Orange. A Chapel Hill loss opens the door for Northwood (3-1) to get the second spot. A 4-2 record probably wouldn’t be enough for Chapel Hill to get a wild-card berth.

Greater Neuse 3A (one berth)

Cleveland (4-0) has clinched the top spot. Thursday’s game between Clayton (3-1) and West Johnston (3-1) was for a wild-card berth.

Eastern Plains 2A (one berth)

Beddingfield (4-0) and SouthWest Edgecombe (4-0) play Friday for the conference title and playoff spot. The loser is a candidate for one of the two wild-card berths in the East Region.

Mid-Carolina 2A (one berth)

The winner of Friday’s game between Bartlett-Yancey (3-0) and perennial state power Reidsville (3-0) gets the playoff spot. The loser is a candidate for one of those two wild-card berths.

Carolina 1A (one berth)

The conference champion and playoff qualifier will be decided by Friday’s game between Princeton (4-0) and Lakewood (4-0). The loser will get a wild-card berth.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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