The first weekend of the high school football postseason features 25 games involving Baltimore-area teams in state regional semifinals and MIAA semifinals. (For the full schedule, click here.)

Following is a look at the top five games to watch this week:

MIAA A Conference semifinals

No. 9 Archbishop Spalding (6-4) at No. 1 Gilman (8-1)

When: Friday, 1:30 p.m.

Coaches: Mike Whittles, Archbishop Spalding; Biff Poggi, Gilman

Last meeting: Gilman won, 42-8, Sept. 30

Outlook: The Cavaliers hope to prolong their emotional season as Whittles coaches on while battling pancreatic cancer. However, Gilman, which went unbeaten against A Conference competition, will create a big challenge for the Cavaliers, who are in their first season in the A Conference after winning back-to-back B Conference titles.

Gilman’s defense doesn’t allow much on the groud — just four rushing touchdowns all season — and that’s what the Cavaliers rely on with running back D.J. Smith leading the way. The Greyhounds like to run, too, with a host of options, including quarterback Shane Cockerille and receiver-running back Cyrus Jones, who have combined for 45 total touchdowns.

No. 8 McDonogh (6-4) at No. 2 Calvert Hall (8-1)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Coaches: Dom Damico, McDonogh; Donald Davis, Calvert Hall

Last meeting: Calvert Hall won, 48-42 in 3 OT, Oct. 30

Outlook: The defending A Conference champion Cardinals needed three overtimes to get past the Eagles in the most thrilling conference game of the season. Running back C.J. Williams caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Thomas Stuart, in the third OT, and Williams finally sealed the win with an interception.

Both teams feature strong passing quarterbacks — Stuart was the All-Metro QB last season, and McDonogh’s Joel Jorgensen threw for three touchdowns in a 31-21 loss to Gilman last week. McDonogh will be in a more competitive position for this meeting with kicker Evan Glaser back in the lineup after suffering a concussion in the second quarter of the first meeting. In another close game, Glaser’s foot could make the difference.

Regional semifinals

No. 13 Perry Hall (8-2) at No. 5 Poly (10-0)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Class: 4A North

Coaches: Keith Robinson, Perry Hall; Roger Wrenn, Poly

Last meeting: First meeting ever

Outlook: Robinson, who started his coaching career as an assistant to Wrenn at Patterson, takes on his mentor for the first time. If his Gators win, Robinson would be in the unenviable position of ending Wrenn’s career, as Wrenn is retiring after 40 years coaching in Baltimore City when this season ends.

These teams enter the playoffs from different directions. Last week, the Engineers beat City, 22-16, at M&T Bank Stadium on Darrell Milburn’s touchdown pass to Priestly Shuler with nine seconds remaining. Perry Hall is coming off a disappointing, 34-31, overtime loss to Hereford and got into the playoffs thanks to Westminster having to forfeit a game.

Robinson said the key will be defending the Engineers’ spread option. Poly has a lot of speed and many options in Milburn’s offense, including running back Jamal Chappell and receiver Donovan Riley. The Gators rely on quarterback Mike Debaugh (1,700 yards passing) and running back Eric Latham (1,202 yards rushing).

Howard (7-3) at No. 11 River Hill (8-2)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Class: 3A East

Coaches: Bruce Strunk, Howard; Brian Van Deusen, River Hill

Last meeting: River Hill won, 42-7, Oct. 6

Outlook: These Howard County rivals both finished the season strong. Howard earned its playoff berth with a stunning 39-6 win over Hammond, which had ended the Lions’ playoff aspirations a year ago. The Hawks, who have been to the playoffs nine straight times with state titles in 2007 and 2008, finished their season with consecutive wins after back-to-back setbacks against Atholton and Hammond.

The Lions, who make their third appearance in the regional playoffs in 11 years, won their only state title in 1974. Both teams like to run, and both had four different players rush for touchdowns in last week’s games.

Northwestern (8-1) vs. New Town (9-1)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: At Woodlawn

Class: 1A North

Coaches: Eric Woodson, Northwestern; Joe Holland, New Town

Last meeting: First meeting ever

Outlook: This matchup is intriguing because it pits the proverbial irresistible force against immovable object. Defensively, these two don’t flinch often. Northwestern has allowed only six points all season, and the Titans give up just 5.8 a game. On the other side of the ball, both roll up the points. The Wildcats average 37.1 points, while the Titans score 29.8 per game. Something’s got to give.

The Wildcats won the Baltimore City Division II title, while the Titans finished second to undefeated Overlea in Baltimore County’s Class 2A-1A Division. This is only the second playoff appearance for the Wildcats, and it’s the fifth in six years for the Titans. Neither has ever been to the state tournament.


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