MONTEGO BAY, St James — The heat will be on this afternoon as 19 schools will be chasing 10 available places in the Inter-Zone round of the ISSA/Gatorade/Digicel daCosta Cup schoolboys football competition as the return-round comes to a close with 36 games scheduled to be played.
Additionally, with only four of the 15 Ben Francis Knockout spots taken going into today's set of games, the battle for zone supremacy is expected to be fierce.
With ISSA extending the zones to 15 this year, two third place teams will also advance for the first time in the over 50 years of the competition. The third place teams with the best points average, that is the number of points divided by games played, will join the top two from the 15 zones going forward.
So far five schools have already confirmed their places in the Ben Francis KO that kicks off on Wednesday. They are William Knibb Memorial, Spalding High, Cedric Titus, St Mary Technical and Port Antonio High, while another 17 schools have qualified for the Inter-zone round.
The schools through to the Inter-zone round are Cornwall College, St James High, Frome Technical, Rusea's High, Grange Hill, St Elizabeth Technical, Munro College, Manchester High, Christiana High, Clarendon College, Bellefield, Bog Walk, Dinthill Technical, Port Antonio High, Garvey Maceo, Glenmuir High, Paul Bogle High and Seaforth High.
At least one school from 14 of the 15 zones have already secured their place in the Inter-zone round, while no school from the closely contested Zone N has yet done so and at least three of the five schools are still in with a chance of advancing, depending on the results today.
Leaders Central High (11 points) and Kemps Hill (10), will meet in a game that could decide which two teams will automatically advance, while Tacius Golding High and Vere Technical who could both finish on 11 points each will also meet.
Lennon High (15 points) need only a point against contenders Edwin Allen High (13) in Zone H to join qualifiers Clarendon College.
This game will be one of the more closely watched as the two drew 0-0 in the first, plus the third place team could also advance.
After a fast start in Zone C with 10 points from their first four games, Spot Valley High lost two in a row before a big win over Hopewell on Wednesday revived their hopes.
Today, they will play away to newcomers Holland High and would have to lose by more than eight goals to be denied after losing out on goal difference last year when they tied on points with St James High and Cornwall College in Zone A.
For the second straight year, Cornwall College and St James, both on 10 points each, are set for another photo finish as they are tied on points and the winner could be decided on goal-difference if both teams win.
Cornwall College, who lead by two goals, will be home to Maldon High while St James will host Green Pond at Jarrett Park.
York Castle and Marcus Garvey are in a similar position in Zone I as they battle for second place behind Cedric Titus.