The Red Raiders celebrate after defeating Mainland last week in the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs. (Photos courtesy of OCHSfootball.com) By TIM KELLYGoogle Maps says Long Branch High School is 85.9 miles from Ocean City. The geographical divide is the most obvious thing separating the Ocean City High football team from its opponent in Friday night’s playoff game, but certainly not the only thing.“I’ll be honest, I don’t know much at all about Long Branch,” Red Raider Head Coach Kevin Smith said following his team’s thrilling 21-14 win in their opening round playoff game at Mainland last Saturday.Of course Long Branch has the same issue in preparing to face O.C.Though Smith has undoubtedly immersed himself in all things Green Wave since then, the Red Raider coach had more pressing matters to deal with at the time, namely directing his team at Mainland. It was decided in the final seconds and avenged a bitter 21-6 loss to the Mustangs in a regular season game the week before.With the win, O.C. earned the right to travel up the Garden State Parkway for a 7 p.m. Friday date at Long Branch (4-5), the sixth-seeded team in the tournament.The last time Ocean City won a playoff game it was 2001, a 21-14 victory over Lacey.“You just added to the storied tradition of the Ocean City-Mainland rivalry,” Smith told his seventh-seeded team after they used a goal-line stand and fumble recovery to knock off their archrivals.Mainland came into the playoffs as the undefeated and untied No. 2 seed.“I couldn’t be more proud of our kids for how hard they played, and for not getting discouraged when Mainland scored first,” Smith said.Smith would be the first to say that’s all history now and fodder for off-season chatter. The nature of the state playoffs doesn’t allow for relaxation, much less celebration. It does cause one to wonder why Long Branch, located in the northern reaches of Monmouth County, is part of the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs.Ocean City dominated the line of scrimmage against Mainland.Why must Ocean City travel closer to New York City than to Philadelphia in order to play a team in the “South” section?Jack DuBoise, assistant director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said it was part of a new pairing system in which the top seeds of natural geographic regions stay in their normal areas, and the second and third seeds are sent to the opposite region. The next two seeds stay in their home environs and the fifth and sixth seeds are moved.The process, known as “snaking” the brackets, is designed to create a fairer seeding system for all the playoff teams and to avoid blowouts and mismatches, DuBoise explained. However, it comes at a price of sometimes breaking up the traditional regions, as was the case for Ocean City this year.“I think (the snaking process) has worked out well and it has created very interesting matchups,” DuBoise said when reached on Wednesday.Some Ocean City working families, faced with the prospect of trying to arrive in Long Branch by 7 p.m. on a Friday, would probably take issue with that assessment. Yet the fact remains, the Raiders have advanced in the big dance and can make the South Jersey final for the first time since 2000 with a win.Long Branch knocked off third-seeded Highland, 33-3, due at least in part to the fact Highland was missing 17 players for disciplinary reasons. The Green Wave won the last two Central Jersey Group 4 titles prior to being “snaked” to the South region, and they showed their playoff mettle against Highland.Long Branch also has a deceptive record. Even though they are just 4-5, every opponent on the Wave’s schedule is a playoff team.If the Red Raiders can prevail against Long Branch, they would next be matched against the winner of the other semi-final pitting Millville at Shawnee, the two-time defending champions.Ocean City’s Chris Armstrong, right, exults with Brian Beckmann (6) after Armstrong’s game-clinching fumble recovery at Mainland.