Manatee prep football season now dash to finish

October 7, 2011 

By midnight tonight, every team in the area will have played at least one game against a district opponent.

With all due respect to the Kickoff Classics and the surge of excitement that accompanies Week 1, the prep football season really doesn’t get going until every team has played at least one district game.

Now it’s fun. Now all the football means something.

Does that mean the last few weeks have meant nothing?

Not exactly. Manatee, for instance, found out how to use running back Leon Allen after playing a pair of nationally-ranked opponents.

Southeast probably wants to forget last week’s 42-point loss to its biggest rival. But if that game showed some cracks in the foundation and makes the Seminoles better and stronger for the district run, they will be better off for it.

So yeah, the last few weeks have meant something.

Now, however, it means everything.

What makes the prep football season so unique is that it’s really two seasons in one. You want to win all your non-district games because you want to win every game you play, especially when you’re matched up with longtime local rivals or powerhouses from another state.

But you need to win all your district games if you want to see the middle of November, if you want your Thanksgiving Day festivities to begin with a crisp three-hour practice.

And it’s the second half of the season that will judge the entire body of work.

This is a nice thing for a team like Braden River, which opens its 7A-10 slate tonight at Manatee. The Pirates won their first game last week -- losing their quarterback during a Week 2 game in North Port didn’t help -- but render the first month moot by playing their district foes tough.

That’s what Braden River did last year, shaking off an 0-3 start and finding its footing at the right time. The result was a third straight playoff berth.

On the flip side, this paints an interesting picture for the likes of the Hurricanes and Palmetto Tigers. The Canes played well against two of the best teams in the country -- Maryland’s Our Lady of Good Counsel and New Jersey’s Don Bosco Prep -- which is why they have stayed on a number of national polls despite a modest 2-2 record.

But their arduous schedule was built around winning a district championship and more. Stumble against Braden River or Sarasota or Venice, and all that early work is for naught.

Ditto for the Tigers. Spirits are high around Harllee Stadium, home to the area’s lone undefeated team, and rightfully so. But coach Dave Marino knows a misstep tonight against Bayshore will put a crimp in Palmetto’s goal of winning a district title for the first time in three years.

“You don’t want to do diminish what we’ve done,” Marino said Wednesday, “but we really haven’t done anything yet, in terms of improving from last year.”

Now it’s time to do something, because now the football seasons really begins.

John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2097.

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