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Mount Saint Joseph's Blake Wisnauskas watches McDonogh quarterback Preston Howard spin past Marlowe Wax Jr. (2) to gain a first down at Plevyak Field Sat., Oct. 19, 2019.
Mount Saint Joseph's Blake Wisnauskas watches McDonogh quarterback Preston Howard spin past Marlowe Wax Jr. (2) to gain a first down at Plevyak Field Sat., Oct. 19, 2019. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

Football playoffs begin in both the public and private schools in the Baltimore area this weekend — with a bit of a twist.

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) continues to have four classifications with North, South, East and West regions. But Catherine Shoup, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said there were some changes this season.

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First, the 10-game regular season was cut to nine for all teams in all classes. Then, the postseason was increased from four weeks to five. Overall, the number of football teams in postseason play doubled this year from 64 to 128.

The playoffs begin with eight teams in each of the four regions in every class.

“The expansion ... does allow for a re-seed of the final eight teams as compared to the final four teams in previous years,” Shoup said in an email. “This sets up a state quarterfinal system similar to all other team sports this year.”

The number of total games for each team remains the same, even though there’s one additional game in the playoffs.

“It’s still 14 games, if you look at it like that,” Milford Mill coach Reggie White told The Baltimore Sun last spring. “But now, instead of winning four, you gotta win five in a row [in the postseason].”

The biggest difference is that there are going to be more first-round mismatches. For example, in Class 4A North, No. 12 Parkville comes into the playoffs as the top seed in its region with a 9-0 record and meets Wheaton (3-6).

The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association has two conferences this season, with the biggest adjustments coming in the A Conference.

This season, McDonogh (10-0), Mount Saint Joseph (8-2), Calvert Hall (7-2) and Archbishop Spalding (5-5) earned the four A Conference playoff spots. No. 2 McDonogh meets Spalding on Friday night at home, while No. 3 Mount Saint Joseph hosts No. 5 Calvert Hall on Saturday.

Gilman (1-9) was the only team in the A Conference to not make the playoffs.

There were no playoffs in the A Conference last year because teams elected not to play against St. Frances, citing safety concerns because of the Panthers’ dominant speed and size advantage.

Still, St. Frances was awarded the A Conference championship despite not playing any conference games. This year, the Panthers played a regional and national schedule and did not compete in the MIAA. The Panthers (9-1) are ranked No. 1 in The Baltimore Sun and remain near the top of several national polls, including No. 5 in the latest USA Today Super 25.

Lee Dove, executive director for the MIAA, said before the season started that the A Conference found a solution that satisfied all sides.

“St. Frances is totally independent this year,” Dove said. “After the events of last year and numerous meetings, the board of governors and myself decided that, in the best interests of MIAA football and St. Frances’ interest to pursue a national schedule, we felt it best to give them an opportunity to play independent of the league."

Mount Saint Joseph coach Rich Holzer said that teams are happy to have the playoffs back.

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“We are glad to have the playoffs back [as] it gives the kids something to play for [at] the end of the season,” Holzer said. “Playoffs is always very exciting and a very neat experience for high school athletes. This year, there is a very different atmosphere around the school and the team.”

There also is going to be a four-team MIAA B Conference playoff, starting this weekend. On Friday night, St. Vincent Pallotti (9-1) hosts Archbishop Curley (7-3), while John Carroll (6-3) plays at St. Mary’s (7-3).

After the first round of the MIAA A and B Conference playoffs, the championships will be held Saturday, Nov. 16, at Spalding. The B Conference final starts at 3 p.m. with the A Conference title game set for 7:30 p.m.

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