The third phase of the season for some local high school football programs begins after this week.
This week caps the second part of the season: league play. This is also the final week of the regular season and it will determine which area teams qualify for the CIF Southern Section playoffs and which don't.
Two programs are in, Corona del Mar and Estancia, both having clinched Southern Division postseason berths from their respective leagues last week with wins.
Newport Harbor is closing in on a Southwest Division berth and the school's fourth straight playoff appearance.
Costa Mesa is going to need a lot of help to get into the Southern Division playoffs.
One team that is done is Sage Hill. The Lightning are now trying to avoid their first winless season in school history.
The Sea Kings will try to finish Pacific Coast League play undefeated. The league champions close out league play Friday on the road against Beckman at Tustin High. A victory pretty much assures the Sea Kings the Southern Division's top seed. CdM (7-2, 4-0 in league), the defending Southern Division champion, is ranked No. 1 in the division.
Estancia shares the No. 10 spot in the division with Santa Ana Valley. The Eagles have a shot to move up in the poll if they handle business against Calvary Chapel at Jim Scott Stadium on Friday and Costa Mesa upsets second-ranked Laguna Beach on the same field on Thursday.
Three teams in the Orange Coast League receive automatic entries into the Southern Division playoffs. Laguna Beach (8-0-1, 4-0) and defending league champion Estancia (6-3, 3-1) have two of the berths.
The third is between Costa Mesa (4-5, 2-2) and Godinez (3-6, 2-2). The two schools share third place in league, but Godinez has the nod over the Mustangs because the Grizzlies beat Costa Mesa, 23-21, on Oct. 12.
For Costa Mesa to claim the league's third postseason berth, it needs to stun Laguna Beach and have Godinez lose to Saddleback (3-6, 1-3) on Thursday at Segerstrom High. If the Mustangs don't beat Laguna Beach, their postseason hopes are dead. And the Godinez game won't matter because of the head-to-head tiebreaker it holds against Mesa.
There is a chance for the Mustangs to qualify for the playoffs if they and Godinez each win this week. The Southern Division has one at-large entry, and Coach Wally Grant said beating the No. 2 team in the division would bode well for his Mustangs in their efforts to receive the at-large bid.
A Costa Mesa shocker still might not be enough to earn that at-large entry.
The Pacific Coast League is considered the toughest league in the division, CdM played Beckman in the section title game last year and Beckman finished runner-up two years ago. Heading into the final week, four teams (Northwood, Irvine, Woodbridge, Beckman) share second place in league. Irvine (5-4, 2-2) is ranked sixth, Woodbridge (4-5, 2-2) seventh and Northwood (3-6, 2-2) eighth.
Costa Mesa isn't ranked and it never faced a team from the Pacific Coast League during the nonleague portion of the season. What also hurts Costa Mesa is that the Pacific Coast League went 2-0-1 against the Orange Coast League this year. The Pacific Coast League's worst team, University, tied the Orange Coast League's top team, Laguna Beach, and Irvine and University each beat Estancia, winner of the past two Orange Coast League titles.
Three teams from the Pacific Coast League earn guaranteed postseason entries. CdM has the first locked up and the next two will be decided this week.
The Mustangs are going to need to defeat Laguna Beach and have University (2-6-1, 0-4-0) knock off Northwood at Irvine High on Thursday for a shot at the playoffs. Woodbridge plays at Irvine on Friday, with the winner most likely clinching a playoff berth out of league. Irvine holds the head-to-head edge against Northwood, while Northwood has the edge against Woodbridge.
The Mustangs also need CdM to get past Beckman (3-6, 2-2). While a lot has to go Costa Mesa's way for it to make the playoffs for the second straight year, it isn't as difficult for Newport Harbor.
The Sailors get into the Southwest Division playoffs with a victory Thursday, when they travel to play Los Alamitos at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach. Newport Harbor shares second place in the Sunset League with Huntington Beach, but it holds the head-to-head advantage since it beat the Oilers.
Things can get dicey if the Sailors (5-4, 3-1) lose to Los Alamitos (6-3, 2-2) and Huntington Beach (5-4, 3-1) loses at home to Edison (8-1, 4-0). If this scenario plays out, Newport Harbor, Los Alamitos and Huntington Beach would be in a three-way tie for second place, with each team having split with the other two.
The Sunset League gets three automatic Southwest Division berths. The final two would be determined by a coin flip between the three schools.
For the Sunset League's sake, the Southwest Division has two at-large berths. The Sunset League, in its first year in the Southwest Division, has four teams ranked in the division: Edison is No. 1, Huntington Beach No. 6, Los Alamitos No. 8 and Newport Harbor No. 9.
If the Sailors somehow finish fourth in league, based on their strength of schedule — only three of their opponents have losing records at this point — they should make the playoffs.
The third part of the season isn't new to Newport Harbor under Coach Jeff Brinkley. He has led the Sailors to the postseason 20 times since he took over the program 26 years ago.
The CIF Southern Section girls' volleyball playoffs begin next week.
Corona del Mar and Sage Hill are the lone local programs ranked this week. The Sea Kings are No. 5 in Division 1-AA and the Lightning are No. 3 in Division 3-A.