HOUGHTON - No night this season has as many high school football games in the Copper Country as tonight, with five teams in action at home in Week 6.
The only local-local matchup of the evening is at McAfee Field in Hancock, where the Bulldogs will host Lake Linden-Hubbell.
LL-H (3-2) has back-to-back wins over the Gogebic Miners and Ontonagon. Their next two games, against the Bulldogs and next Saturday vs. Houghton, will be vital to their playoff chances because of the nature of the Michigan High School Athletic Association's playoff point system.
All teams with six wins over nine games make the playoffs, but the field is completed with the 5-4 teams in each class with the highest playoff point averages. Both Houghton and Hancock pay out points as a Class B team, and the base value of beating a B school is double that of beating a D school.
Bonus points are assigned on the number of wins each opponent has at the end of the season, and both the Gremlins (currently 3-2) and Bulldogs (currently 2-3) have better records than they did at this point last year.
Furthermore, without a win tonight, the Lakes will have to beat one of the top two teams in the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association's Division 8 poll, North Dickinson and Forest Park, to have a chance at a postseason berth.
Hancock can retain realistic playoff hopes with a win. Without it, the Bulldogs would have to beat U.P. Division 1-7 No. 5 West Iron County and win the Copper Bowl in the last two weeks to have a shot just at 5-4.
The Bulldogs grabbed a 28-18 win at Warner Field when the teams met last year, though 238 of Hancock's rush yards and three of their touchdowns in that game came from the now-graduated Ross Michaels.
Across the Portage Canal, Houghton faces its second tough home test in as many weeks as the Gremlins host Northland Pines.
Since their last trip to the Copper Country, the Eagles have taken their first loss, a 38-26 home defeat to Hurley, Wis., two weeks ago, but they bounced back by blowing out Ironwood 55-12.
If they want to defend their WestPAC title, the Eagles (5-1, 3-0 WestPAC) will have to earn it, as their last three games (at Houghton, at West Iron County, vs. L'Anse) come against the three best Michigan teams in the league standings.
Houghton (3-2, 2-2 WestPAC), meanwhile, will look for its first win over Pines since the Eagles joined the league in 2009.
Down the road in L'Anse, the Purple Hornets will attempt to move closer to playoff qualification at Meadowbrook Field tonight against Ironwood.
The Purple Hornets (4-1, 2-1 WestPAC), winners of three straight, needed overtime to get past the Red Devils on the road last season, but hard times have fallen on Ironwood this season. The Red Devils are 0-5 and have allowed an average of 40 points per game. L'Anse, meanwhile, has averaged 36 points scored per game.
Neighbor Baraga (0-5, 0-2 Great Western) faces a tough mission in its quest for a first win, hosting Hurley, Wis (5-1, 3-1).
The fifth and final Copper Country team at home Friday is Ontonagon (0-5), which hosts Munising (2-3) in non-league play. The Mustangs' previous five games have been decided by a combined 19 points, including wins over Newberry (28-27) and Manistique (26-21) in the last two weeks.
The only local team hitting the road tonight is Calumet, which is at West Iron County. At 0-5 (0-3 WestPAC), the Copper Kings are out of playoff contention for the first time since 2004, but will try to spring the upset on the Wykons, who last started 6-0 in 1974.
West Iron is one of five U.P. teams that can qualify for the playoffs with wins this week.
The others are Ishpeming, Negaunee, Forest Park, and Menominee. North Dickinson, which has five wins in an eight-game schedule, is already in.