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There's a simple storyline for Saturday's Ledyard-New London football game: the winner can still think about the playoffs, while the loser can kiss it goodbye.
As if the stakes weren't already high enough.
New London-Ledyard is one of the most anticipated games of the high school season in this corner of Connecticut. It's a rivalry between two of the region's best programs and will be broadcast on The Day's website (www.theday.com), too.
The "win-or-else" element has become the biggest storyline of them all. New London is eighth in the latest CIAC Class M rankings and the Colonels are 10th. Both have two losses, and barring the unforeseen, a third loss dooms anyone in the division.
The "Saturday Morning Showdown" at Mignault Field kicks off at 10:30 a.m.
Both teams are 6-2.
Four teams have unofficially qualified for the playoffs - Ansonia (Class S), Avon (Class L), Hand of Madison (Class L) and Windsor (Class L). The pairings in each division aren't official until receiving approval by the CIAC football committee the day after Thanksgiving.
Class M is the most wide-open field of the four divisions. The Ellington/Somers cooperative program and Barlow of Redding are the only unbeaten teams. Four have one loss. Another seven have two losses.
New London has 790 points and would get 160 with a win over Ledyard. A win over Norwich Free Academy (8-0) on Thanksgiving is worth 190 points right now. It would be worth 200 if NFA beats Waterford this weekend.
Ledyard has 770 points and would earn 160 points with a win over New London.
The Colonels close the regular season at Fitch (6-1). That game is worth 170 points. That number would grow to 190 points if Fitch beats winless St. Bernard/Norwich Tech on Friday, and Bacon Academy (1-6) on Nov. 15.
At this moment, two wins wouldn't automatically land either Ledyard or New London in the playoffs. That could change, depending on if other teams in the division lose games.
Right now, the Whalers and the Colonels need to earn "bonuses." A team gets 10 points for every win and five points for every tie earned by an opponent it beat. They receive five points for every win and 2.5 points for every tie by an opponent they tied.
Both teams have 12 bonuses (120 points) left. Less than half look like a sure thing for both teams.
The playoff race is ever evolving, though. Should other teams lose, or fail to earn their bonuses, than perhaps Ledyard or New London would qualify with two wins.
Oddly enough, Montville may be a safer bet to qualify in Class M, even though it lost to both schools.
The ninth-ranked Indians (6-2) have benefited from their schedule because they haven't played as many quality opponents as their ECC rivals. And, unlike Ledyard and New London, Montville ends the regular season against two losing teams - East Lyme (1-7) and St. Bernard/Norwich Tech.
Montville is the equivalent of a low risk, low success stock, however. Its odds of finishing 8-2 are much better than Ledyard and New London's. The downside is that it won't earn many points from beating the Vikings and Saints.
Here's a look at the other divisions:
Class LL - NFA (8-0) is ranked fourth with games left against Waterford (3-4) and New London.
The Wildcats could qualify as early as this weekend depending on results from other games acorss the state.
Class L - Fitch (6-1) is sixth in the division with games left against St. Bernard/Norwich Tech, Bacon and Ledyard.
Right now, the Falcons need to finish 9-1 to clinch a berth. That could change depending on the rest of the division.
Class S - Stonington (11th) and Valley Regional/Old Lyme (17th) are mathematically alive. The problem is that both are going to need a lot of help to qualify, even if they both finish 8-2.