The playoffs just didn't seem the same the past two years without the Newark Catholic High School football team.

The playoffs just didn't seem the same the past two years without the Newark Catholic High School football team.

That marked the first time the eight-time state-champion Green Wave has been sidelined for the postseason in consecutive years since the playoffs began in 1972. Despite the unusual absence, Newark Catholic still has made more appearances (30) and won more postseason games (62) than any other team in the state regardless of division, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association's website.

The record book likely will need an update, however. Newark Catholic is expected to qualify for the first time since 2007 in Division VI, Region 23. It was 7-2 overall and ranked third in its region before playing Granville last Saturday in the regular-season finale. A victory almost assuredly would result in a home playoff game Friday at White Field. At worst, the team will take to the road for its first postseason game since defeating Bascom Hopewell-Loudon 28-14 in the state championship game three years ago in Canton's Fawcett Stadium.

The final official computer rankings and first-round pairings will be released today.

"We've kept our eye on the ball," said Newark Catholic coach Bill Franks, whose teams went 6-4 the past two years while finishing 11th and 10th in its region, respectively. "The years we didn't make it, we wouldn't have

done anything different. Our kids just recommitted themselves to the cause, we made some fourth-quarter comebacks and beat some playoff-caliber programs."

NewarkCatholic continues to address its needs, too. Powered by a running game featuring Brit Wilder early in the season, the offense has shown more versatility of late behind quarterback Garrett Vernau, who had thrown for 434 yards and three touchdowns over the last four games before last Saturday. Meanwhile, Wilder led the MSL-Ohio Division in rushing (1,249 yards) and touchdowns (19) after nine weeks.

"Teams that make a run into December continue to grow, change and adapt," Franks said. "We've tried to become more balanced and less predictable offensively."

Heath has a playoff berth wrapped up. The Bulldogs, who a year ago qualified for the first time since 1990, were 8-1 overall entering last Friday's game at Lakewood and ranked second in Division IV, Region 15.

They are expected to open the postseason at home Friday. This year's playoff schedule also has Division II games being played on Friday while the Saturday games involve teams in Division I, III and V.

The Bulldogs also have been tackling their needs, which included replacing a 2,000-yard rusher in graduate Charles Gresham in addition to a pivotal player in this year's offense, senior running back Nelson Scott. He is out with a back injury, but senior Brian McDaniel has flourished during the second half of the season. Moreover, quarterback Cole Benner has surpassed 1,000 passing yards for a second consecutive year.

Scott also was the team's placekicker and punter. And while the kicking game has suffered, the Bulldogs are trying to make up for their deficiencies on special teams in other ways.

"We've blocked seven kicks," Heath coach Mark Collier said.

Licking Valley also sat out last year's postseason for the first time since three forfeits in 2004 sidelined the Panthers. They were 6-3 overall before playing Bexley last Friday and ranked fifth in Division III, Region 11. That gave last Friday's game a playoff feel as the Panthers likely needed a win to stay in the top eight.

Once starting tailback Tregg Hall went down with a knee injury four weeks ago, Drew McArtor stepped in and became an invaluable replacement while fullback Chase Redman's production is on the rise. Licking Valley's defense has stepped up, too, yielding just 13.6 points per game through nine weeks and a combined 58 points in the first six MSL-Ohio games as the team earned at least a share of the title.

But quarterback Braynt Trout's continued development might be the key if the Panthers do make the playoffs for the ninth time since 2000 and 13th time overall, which includes state runner-up finishes in 2001 (Division IV) and '07 (Division III).

"You can't be one-dimensional in the playoffs," Licking Valley coach Randy Baughman said. "We're never going to be a team that throws it 30 times a game, but we'll have to be able to show a little more offensive balance."