MAPLEWOOD, NJ -- The Columbia football team has improved by leaps and bounds this season, but the Cougars' upgraded play probably will not result in a playoff berth.

Columbia won its first three games of the season and will take a 5-3 record into its final regular season game Friday night at home against Livingston, living up to coach Gary Mobley's stated pre-season optimism that the team would be much more competitive after enduring three consecutive 1-9 seasons from 2016-2018.

But the playoff picture nonetheless looks murky for the Cougars, who need to be among the top 16 teams in North Jersey, Group 5 in order to qualify. Right now, unofficially, Columbia "United Power Ranking" status places it at No. 20, without much likelihood that the Cougars can climb over four teams in this last weekend before the playoffs start.

Sign Up for SOMA Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Even in its losses, though, Columbia has had some standout performances. Last Friday, against a very strong East Orange team, the Cougars lost, 46-14. But sophomore tailback Stephen Henry gained 105 yards on 13 carries and safety Owen McGuffey was in on 19 tackles. The week before, junior flanker Michael Caines caught five passes for 54 yards.

Defensive linemen Fred Holdbrook, Hudson Grumieaux, Justin Anderson, Jethro Pierre-Paul and O'Neil Gooden have provided some pass rushing potency; linebackers Brentilton Mercier and Chance Frost have been active defenders, and Caines and Kai Arrington have had some strong moments in the secondary.

Columbia still has a chance to finish with a 7-3 record if the Cougars can beat Livingston and then win a state consolation matchup next week against an NJSIAA-assigned opponent to be determined.