It may only be Week 6 of the high school football season, but playoff talk is getting louder and louder around the Buckeye State.
Several Eastern Ohio squads are listed in the latest Ohio High School Athletic Association's computer rankings.
Included in that group is River.
The Pilots (3-2) are in the 8th - and final - spot in Division VI, Region 23. They are coming off a last-second victory at Caldwell last week when Colton Wright was true on a 33-yard field goal as time expired.
However, Mike Flannery's Hannibal-based crew will face a stern test when it travels to Zanesville Friday night where Bishop Rosecrans (4-1), the No. 1 team in Division VI, Region 23, awaits for its Homecoming.
"For the second year in a row, we've put ourselves in this position," Flannery said just short of calling the game a must win. "Of the two games we've lost (Magnolia, Monroe Central), we needed to get a win in one of them, but we didn't.
"Our backs are to the wall, even though we don't talk about it," he added. "The kids know it, and they know what we're up against Friday night. The kids understand that we're playing the No. 1 team in our region and we'll have our hands full, but I think it will be an exciting game to watch."
River has been led by the two-headed rushing attack of Nick Asturi and Jordan Sapp. Asturi has 510 yards and nine touchdowns on 71 carries, while Sapp has picked up 385 yards and scored three six-pointers on 60 totes.
Cody Caldwell has passed for an even 800 yards on 40-of-93. He has tossed six touchdowns and five interceptions. Kameron Brown is his main target with 21 catches for 497 yards and five TDs. Asturi has nine receptions for 167 and a TD.
Flannery said he had no trouble sending his sophomore kicker out last week with the game on the line.
"I had all the confidence in the world in Colton," Flannery admitted. "He's only a sophomore who has a big future ahead of him. He's a weapon and we plan on using him whenever we get close enough Friday night."
Flannery said Wright's game-winner from 33 would have "probably been good from 50."
In other action Friday, Barnesville (4-1) entertains Caldwell (0-5); Union Local (1-4) treks to Wintersville to meet homestanding Indian Creek (4-1); Harrison Central (4-1) journey's to Richmond to face Edison (1-4); and Buckeye Trail (3-2) hosts Shenandoah (0-5).
Games previously previewed in X's and O's include Martins Ferry (4-1) at Buckeye Local (3-2); Beallsville (1-4) welcoming Shadyside (5-0); Bellaire (4-1) traveling to St. Clairsville (5-0) and Monroe Central (3-2) hosting Magnolia (4-1).
Caldwell vs. Barnesville, 7 p.m.
At Shamrock Stadium, Matt Johnson's Shamrocks may be facing a winless Redskins squad, but he knows better to overlook anyone.
"They have really changed the way they do things on offense, and they're giving their kids the chance to succeed," Johnson said of this week's opponent. "They line up and come right at you. It's going to be a physical game.
"We've had to adjust our practices for what they do, but we know what to expect and what we're up against."
Not much was expected from the Green-and-White, but they kids have responded. Barnesville is ranked 8th in Division V, Region 17.
"This is a confident bunch of kids," he said. "They're not overconfident, but they've got good heads on their shoulders.
Senior Kyle Yaquinta has been a pleasant surprise. He has taken over at quarterback and passed for 589 yards on 33-for-60. he has six touchdown passes and three interceptions.
He has also ran 73 times for 170 stripes and three more six-pointers.
Colton Pritchard is the leading rusher with 321 yards and four TDs on 45 carries.
Kyle McIntire (9-182-2), Pritchard (8-198-2), Brandon Burkhart (8-108) and Jacob Anderson (6-148-2) are his primary targets.
Senior placekicker David Brown established a new single-game school record when he booted seven PATs against Shenendoah.
"David really worked hard on his kicking over the summer and it is paying off," Johnson noted.
Caldwell may be 0-5, but they've taken Monroe Central and River down to the wire in each of the last two weeks. The Redskins have also lost to Newcomerstown, Buckeye Trail and Harrison Central.
Union Local vs. Indian Creek, 7 p.m.
At Kettlewell Memorial Stadium, the Jets and Redskins renew their Buckeye 8 rivalry.
Union Local is coming off a 37-3 shellacking at the hands of Martins Ferry last week, while Indian Creek put a halt to Bellaire's unbeaten streak, 28-0.
Mark Cisar's squad is led by sophomore quarterback Gavin Porter who has completed 55 of 116 passes for 454 yards and a touchdown. He has thrown five interceptions.
Eric Dunfee is the leading rusher with 186 yards and a TD on 54 carries.
Indian Creek rebounded from a tough loss to St. Clairsville in Week 4 to ground Bellaire's high-powered offensive attack.
Alex Young runs the Redskins' offense, which features Logan Woods at tailback. Shane Winland spearheads the defense.
Indian Creek is in 8th position in Division III, Region 11.
Shenandoah vs. Buckeye Trail, 7 p.m.
At Old Washington, the Zeps and Warriors will get together in a Pioneer Valley Conference clash, with the hosts looking for a fourth victory.
C.J. Beaver led Buckeye Trail past Bridgeport last week as he scored a touchdown three different ways.
He caught three touchdown passes (15, 20, 30), returned a punt 63 yards and ran back an interception 76 yards.
Shenandoah has lost to Frontier, Martins Ferry, Meadowbrook, Shadyside and Barnesville.
Harrison Central vs. Edison, 7:30 p.m.
At Cartwright Stadium, the Huskies will be in bounce-back mode after being lit up by St. Clairsville last week, 42-6.
Harrison Central is led by workhorse tailback Maurtice Hython who has gained 811 yards and scored half-a-dozen touchdowns on 96 carries.
Quarterback Rashaen Mitchell has completed 37 of 62 passes for 796 yards and nine touchdowns, while being picked off thrice. His main targets are Nate Olmstead (11-356-4tds), Nick Pelegreen (7-115-2) and Josh Moore (7-100-td).
The Huskies are listed 5th in Division IV, Region 15.
The Wildcats are coming off a 30-26 loss at the hands of Buckeye Local.
They've also lost to Oak Glen, Carrollton and Union Local.
Their lone victory came against winless Weir.
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org