As the weather cools down, the high school football races are heating up.

There are, at most, three games remaining in the regular season with league championships and invitations to the CIF Southern Section playoffs on the line.

Most of the focus is on the schools that play 11-man football.

And that’s okay since they generally are larger schools – the exception being St. Joseph – that play the traditional 11-man game before fairly large crowds.

But let’s not forget the handful of schools that play the 8-man game.

8-man is a wild, wide-open, high-scoring game where the final score can be more like a college basketball score.

Recently there has been some discussion about high school football teams running up the score.

In 8-man, you often have to run up the score just to win.

I was at Orcutt Academy’s Oct. 28 game where the Spartans put 72 points on the board then needed a spectacular, last-second defensive play to hold onto a 72-68 comeback victory over Cate.

Orcutt Academy and Cate each scored 10 touchdowns. The difference came down to extra points – and one huge defensive play.

I tend to cover more 8-man games than my colleagues here on the Lee Central Coast Newspapers sports staff.

I am a huge fan of the wide open style of play.

With big gaps on the offensive line, if a runner can get past the defensive line, it almost always adds up to a big gain if not a touchdown.

If a receiver can race past the secondary, the quarterback can easily throw for a long touchdown.

Quick scoring strikes are common.

The crowds are much smaller but that only adds to the experience.

It’s a much more intimate setting.

You can actually hear the coaches from both teams yelling instructions to their players during the game.

We have two Valley teams in the hunt for league titles and the CIF-SS playoffs – the Orcutt Academy Spartans and Valley Christian Academy Lions.

The Spartans play in 8-man’s Division 1. They are in the hunt for the Mt. Pinos League championship with a 7-1 overall record and a 2-0 mark in the league. (After Laguna Blanca dropped out of the old Condor League and down to 8-man’s Division 2, the remaining four schools re-named the league the Mt. Pinos League.)

Orcutt Academy has this week off to prepare for a likely winner-take-all showdown next Friday night at Ojai’s Villanova Prep (7-0, 1-0 MPL).

Many of the Spartans will likely spend this Friday night in Ojai scouting Villanova Prep as the Wildcats head over to another Ojai school, Thacher, and will likely move to 8-0, 2-0 this week.

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The Wildcats are averaging more than 62 points a game. The Spartans average better than 54.

Unless the Thacher Toads (0-6, 0-1) turn into a prince and pull off a miracle upset, the league championship will be on the line next week.

A different league championship will be on the line this Friday night in Santa Maria.

The Lions play in 8-man’s Division 2, a member of the Coast Valley League.

Even with one game remaining after this week, the Lions’ game against Cambria’s Coast Union Broncos will likely decide the CVL champions.

VCA is 4-2 on the season and 2-0 in the CVL. Coast Union is 4-3 overall and also 2-0 in the CVL.

Given that each school will be favored to win its final game – VCA next week at Cuyama Valley and Coast Union at home next week against Shandon – Friday night’s winner will likely be headed for a 4-0 league season and an outright league championship.

VCA’s offense is averaging better than 44 points a game while Coast Union’s is averaging about 38.

Once again, the Lions’ new scoreboard will be put to the test.

VCA’s game will also be the final 8-man home game of the regular season.

If you’d like to see some on-field fireworks, this could be the game of the week.

If you can’t make it to the game, I’ll be tweeting live updates throughout @SMTSidelines.

If you can’t make it to the game, I’ll be tweeting live updates throughout @SMTSidelines.

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