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Mt. Spokane must find a way to slow down Shadle Park running back Xavier Wicks on Thursday. Wicks is seen here in a game last month against University. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Mt. Spokane, Shadle Park football teams clash in big game Thursday

Nothing regarding 3A Greater Spokane League and Mid-Columbia Conference football was set in stone when the season started.

The path to the postseason became clearer in the last three weeks.

Not only does the GSL and MCC champs earn a postseason berth – and games against teams from the west side – but the runners-up have a chance to continue their seasons.

Mt. Spokane and Shadle Park have waited seven weeks to finally get to this point.

The Wildcats (2-5, 1-0) and Highlanders (4-3, 1-0) square off Thursday in what should decide the league championship with a week left in the regular season. Kickoff, as part of a doubleheader at Albi Stadium, is at 7:15.

Both teams opened league play last week with shutouts. The showdown Thursday not only should decide the title and accompanying postseason berth but the second slot that sends the runner-up against the MCC runner-up in a Tuesday playoff into a play-in game.

By agreement between leagues, the MCC champ receives the top seed between league winners. That means the MCC champ stays home while the GSL travels west in play-in games. Next year, the GSL receives the top seed.

The GSL champ heads to face the Metro third seed, which will likely be two-time state champ Eastside Catholic. The winner of the playoff between the GSL and MCC runners-up travels to the KingCo top seed, which will be a team not named Bellevue. Bellevue is ineligible for the postseason.

It wouldn’t hurt the feelings of either Mt. Spokane or Shadle Park if a game against Eastside Catholic could be avoided.

Both have to get into the postseason first.

The teams haven’t played a common opponent. By where the teams placed in league a year ago, Mt. Spokane played what has turned out to be the top three 4A GSL teams while Shadle has played the bottom three teams.

“They’re definitely better than what you would think of a team with two wins,” Shadle coach Jim Mace said of Mt. Spokane. “To be honest, they’ve played the top end of the 4As and we played the lower end.”

And the Highlanders played a nonleague schedule that allowed them to build some confidence.

Mt. Spokane, meanwhile, has battled injuries going back to preseason. At points this season the Wildcats have been down double digit starters.

“We’ve been decimated by injuries,” Mt. Spokane coach Terry Cloer said. “We had four kids with broken hands. We got four starters back yesterday and we still have another four we won’t get back this week.”

Forgive Cloer if it seems like they’ve used duct tape and bailing wire at times.

“A lot of kids have gotten opportunities to play and we’re proud of the way they’ve competed,” Cloer said.

The challenge for Mt. Spokane is clear. It must find a way to slow down running back Xavier Wicks, who rushed for 289 yards and two touchdowns last week.

Mace said it’s not by accident that Wicks is carrying most of the load.

“Even last year when we weren’t very competitive we thought if (Wicks) touched the ball 30 times our chances of success went up,” Mace said. “I still don’t think we’ve played out best. We’ve had turnovers and poor tackling at times. If we play like we did in the second half against Rogers, we can compete with Mt. Spokane.”

In a 4A doubleheader Friday at Albi, Mead (4-3, 1-2) meets Ferris (3-4, 1-2) and Lewis and Clark (3-4, 1-2) takes on Gonzaga Prep (5-2, 3-0).

Central Valley (6-1, 3-0) visits University (2-5, 0-3).

Northwest Christian (7-0) can secure the Northeast 2B title outright Friday when Asotin (6-1) visits. The game is at Chattaroy.

An Asotin win would make things a three-way tie with Liberty (6-1) with a week left.

Coeur d’Alene (4-3, 1-1) is at Post Falls (6-2, 1-1) on Friday in a 5A Inland Empire League that will decide a playoff berth.

The loser also has a chance to get an at-large berth. Kuna secures it with a win but if it loses the Post Fall/CdA loser goes to the playoffs, which start next week.

Moscow (2-5, 0-1) takes on Sandpoint (3-5, 0-1) at Lake City on Friday with the winner earning a 4A state playoff berth. Lakeland (5-3, 2-0) captured the league title last week.