The Mid-Willamette Conference will have a new champion when the regular season wraps up Friday night.
In a battle for the conference’s No. 1 seed, unbeaten Crescent Valley High (8-0, 5-0) is set to host South Albany (4-4, 4-1) at Field of Dreams. Both football teams have already secured their spots in the 5A state postseason.
Silverton (5-3, 3-3), which concluded MWC play last week, has also clinched a playoff berth. The conference’s fourth and final state bid will come down to Lebanon (5-3, 2-3), Central (4-4, 2-3) and Corvallis (4-4, 2-3).
Lebanon, the reigning MWC and 5A state champion, can punch its ticket with a victory at Dallas (2-6, 0-5). If the Warriors stumble, the winner of Friday’s showdown between Corvallis and Central in Independence would earn a trip to the round of 16.
“It’s on us,” said Lebanon coach Ty Tomlin, whose team is coming off a 28-24 loss at South Albany. “It was on us last week and we couldn’t get it done, and it’s on us again. Our playoffs start a week earlier this year if we want to make a run at this thing.”
In the event of a three-way logjam for third place, the MWC’s tiebreaker system would favor the Foxes and Warriors.
The first tiebreaker, head-to-head record between the teams, would be rendered moot. Lebanon dropped a home game to Silverton but owns victories over the Panthers and Spartans. Silverton lost to both.
With head-to-head settling nothing, best conference victory becomes the next tiebreaker. All three teams fell to CV but the Foxes handed South its lone MWC loss on Oct. 12, a result that would secure them third place.
The tiebreak process then resets to determine the final playoff spot, which would give Lebanon the head-to-head edge over Corvallis or Central.
“I know we need some help,” Spartans coach Chris McGowan said. Corvallis has won three straight games to put itself in the playoff picture.
“But it doesn’t really matter as far as that goes how we prepare. Our mentality is just to focus on ourselves every week and keep this momentum going and see where it takes us.”
The Rebels, who missed the postseason last fall, shared the MWC title with Central in 2015. It was the program’s first league championship since 2000.
South overcame an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to steal a 22-18 victory at Dallas on Oct. 6. In last week’s matchup with Lebanon, the Rebels erased another 11-point hole to clinch a playoff spot.
“We seem to play pretty well when our backs are to the wall,” South coach David Younger said. “It was just awesome to see that response from our team and impressive that they have that much heart and give that much effort. You can tell that football is important to them.”
CV has already secured a piece of the MWC title, its first since 2010. But the Raiders, who lead the conference in scoring offense (36.5 points per game) and defense (20), have no interest in sharing.
“Winning league is something we’ve been talking about all year,” CV coach Scott Sanders said. “And to win it outright is important to us. We have the mentality of we need to go 1-0 this week. 8-0 doesn’t mean anything if we stub our toe Friday night.”
Despite its 2-3 conference record, Lebanon owns the MWC’s second-best scoring offense (36 per game) and defense (21.5). The Warriors’ three losses have been by six combined points.
A season ago, Lebanon averaged 36.2 points per contest and surrendered 17.8 en route to the state championship. The Warriors were 4-1 in one-possession games last fall but are 0-3 this year.
“What I’m most proud of is our kids are basically one possession away. They are in every game,” Tomlin said. “We are a tough team, and I just think if our kids can figure out how to finish these tight games that we are still one of the better teams in the state.”
Junior quarterback Colton Shepard missed the South Albany game with a leg injury. Tomlin is hopeful Shepard will be ready to go Friday night.
Corvallis, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014, is expecting a battle at Central with both teams fighting for their postseason lives.
“They are really well coached and they don’t have any weaknesses,” McGowan said. “They will be a big challenge for us and with the way we’ve been playing, it’ll be a fun one.”