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New high school football playoff format draws mixed reviews There's been a sense of anticipation at practice this week and obvious excitement for Friday and Saturday night. Yes, high school playoff football is finally here. "The intensity is a lot higher, and obviously it's going to ratchet up," Nashoba first year coach Jamie Tucker said. "It's win or be out, and the kids know that." This year's tournament is a first, with a statewide playoff system in place to determine a state champion in six divisions. "I think it's great, I really do," Leominster coach Dave Palazzi said. "It's football, it's the playoffs, so let's go." The top eight teams in each division qualify for the postseason and the remaining teams not eligible finish out the regular season by competing in a non playoff schedule until Thanksgiving, where the traditional rivalries are still intact. "This definitely provides some good matchups, and it will get more and more challenging as you go," Tucker said. "They're giving teams an opportunity to win a game and advance in the playoffs. The goal is to get a true state champion." While the overall goal is to crown actual state champs, some coaches feel the tournament is too watered down with the top eight teams competing in brackets in North, South, Central and West. "All along, I thought there were too many teams in it, but obviously that would leave us out this year," said Fitchburg coach Dan Walker, whose team finished the regular season at 2 5, got the No. 6 seed in Central Mass. Division 2 and will travel to face No. "I'm a huge believer that you are what you are," he said. "The records don't matter much because of this format. It's a playoff game and it's huge." Central Mass. Division 2 might have the biggest discrepancy of winning and losing records in the playoffs. While Leominster is the top seed at 7 0, its first round opponent, No. 8 seed Westboro, is a dismal 1 6. But in other divisions like Division 6, all playoff contenders have a winning record entering the postseason. Littleton is 7 0 and the No. 1 seed, followed by Blackstone Valley (7 0), West Boylston (6 1) and St. Bernard's (6 1). The No. 8 seed in that bracket is Bay Path at 4 3, which shows competitive balance throughout this black and blue division. Still, some coaches feel the playoff format needs to be tweaked, extending the regular season and cutting down the total number of playoff teams. "If they stretched the season to eight or nine weeks and have four (playoff) teams, that could be a happy medium," St. Bernard's coach Tom Bingham said. "If they went with two weeks longer and four teams, it could be the balance we're looking for." Bingham also said this new format was done with the best intentions to create state champions like the other sports already have in place, however. "I think the idea is great," he said. "Is this the best laid out plan? It was the best decision at the time, but I think we can learn a lot from this. I can see that it could get modified or tweaked, but we'll learn from this. I give them a lot of credit for trying something new." The sectional quarterfinals begin Friday, followed by the sectional semis Nov. 8 9 and the sectional finals Nov. 15 16. The state semifinals champions of Central vs. West and North vs. South will take place Nov. 22 23, followed by the annual Thanksgiving rivalry games. A week later, on Dec. 7, the state championship games will all be played at Gillette Stadium the home of the New England Patriots in Foxboro. How Thanksgiving games will be coached and played has been a hot topic all season long, especially if a team like Fitchburg or Leominster two heated rivals and one of the oldest Turkey Day rivalries in the country are still alive for a state title. Will the coaches rest their players on Thanksgiving with an eye on the championship game a week later? Will they play their starters only a half and put the JV players in later in hopes of avoiding injuries? As far as Walker and Palazzi are concerned, the rivalry game means just as much as it always has, regardless of the new system. "I'm playing that game to win, no matter what," Palazzi said. "Poll the people in Fitchburg and Leominster and they'll tell you that's the big game. It always has and always will be like that.