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How does a winless team make the state high school football playoffs?

Quarterback Ty Scholtz (right) and Triton are the No. 8 seed in Division 5 North.
Quarterback Ty Scholtz (right) and Triton are the No. 8 seed in Division 5 North. Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe

Seeing zeroes in the standings come high school football playoff time is hardly an uncommon occurrence. With reigning state champions Everett and Mashpee leading the way, 12 teams head into the postseason undefeated, and if they stay that way, they’ll find themselves playing at Gillette Stadium in December.

But nestled at the bottom of the Division 5 North bracket — so inconspicuously that you might miss it — sits a 13th team with a zero in its record: the 0-7 Triton Vikings.

How does a winless team make the playoffs? How does a squad that was outscored, 284-42, in the regular season qualify for the postseason over teams in its division that have one victory?

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It’s all in the math. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association uses a power rating system that awards points for wins and strength of schedule. At the end of the regular season, the eight teams with the most points in each division make up the playoff brackets.

No deliberating. No committee. Just numbers.

Teams get 10 points for a win over a team in their division or lower and 12 points for a win over a team in a higher division or Division 1. That’s half of the power rating formula (“own value”). The second half of the equation, “opponents value,” rewards strength of schedule. Teams get 3 points for every win by an opponent they defeated, 1 point for every win by an opponent they lost to within their own division or lower, and 1.2 points for every win by an opponent they lost to in a higher division.

These two numbers are added, then divided by the number of games played to get a team’s final power rating.

Triton, a regional school that plays in the formidable Cape Ann League, played one of the tougher schedules in the division, with games against Marblehead (7-0), Swampscott (6-1), Ipswich (6-1), Amesbury (6-1), and North Reading (5-2). Its opponents combined for a 37-12 record.

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“We had thoughts that there was a possibility of [making the playoffs], yes,” said Triton athletic director Sean McInnis. “Nothing is official until Sunday morning [when the MIAA pairings are announced], but when you do your own math, you know it’s a possibility.”

Members of the Triton varsity football team walk back to the locker room after practice on Monday.
Members of the Triton varsity football team walk back to the locker room after practice on Monday. Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe

The math goes like this: A 50-point blowout loss provides the same number of points as a loss on a 2-point conversion at the end of the fourth quarter — which happened to Triton in a 15-14 loss to Newburyport, the closest the team came to winning.

Despite an own value of zero, the Vikings picked up just enough points in opponents value (40) to finish with a final power rating of 5.71 and edge Lynnfield (5.57) and Watertown (5.00), which both went 1-6, for the last playoff spot.

Triton is the eighth seed and will face top-seeded Swampscott (6-1) Saturday, a rematch of a game Triton lost, 49-0, Sept. 14.

“I think our kids are getting a lot out of this in the competition aspect, not necessarily the wins and losses standpoint,” coach Ryan McCarthy said. “I have these kids that come out every day and work hard and practice hard to go out and play every Friday.

“I kind of knew that if we won at least one game that we would definitely be in the playoffs because of our strength of schedule. But the way the math worked out, we had a chance without a win.”

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Facing three opponents in particular gave Triton the advantage. The team picked up 3 extra points thanks to 15 total wins from Division 2 Masconomet (3-4), Division 4 Marblehead (7-0), and Division 4 North Reading (5-2). Those 3 points proved crucial in leapfrogging Lynnfield, which received 10 points for its win over Manchester-Essex but earned only 29 points in opponents value.

“[Triton is] a competitive team that is never overmatched physically,” said Amesbury coach Colin McQueen.

Watertown will host Lynnfield Friday night in a non-playoff matchup between the two teams that Triton beat out for the last playoff spot. Despite missing out on a chance to defend the Division 5 North crown, Watertown coach John Cacace has no issues with the MIAA playoff format.

“I think the system is terrific,” Cacace said. “Is it ideal? Is it perfect? No.

“But I like this system. It allows teams to get in, to get a chance. Division 5 North is down this year, that’s just what it is.

“I don’t think you need to make changes. Every few years, you might have an anomaly.

“If you look up and down the standings, there are going to be teams that are seeded higher than their record says they should be. This one just happens to be at the bottom, right at the cutoff line, so it’s much more magnified.”

Triton will face Swampscott in the playoffs on Friday.
Triton will face Swampscott in the playoffs on Friday.Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe

Related: 2018 high school football playoffs set to kick off

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