BRADENTON -- By the time Saturday morning rolls around, Manatee County will have just one undefeated prep football team.
Which side of the bridge will the perfect team sit?
We'll soon find out.
Manatee (7-0) hosts Palmetto (7-0) on Friday night in Hawkins Stadium in a non-district game pitting the top-ranked team in 7A against the top-ranked team in 5A.
Both are coming in hot. The Hurricanes are ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps, USA Today and ESPN and haven't lost to a Manatee County team since 2006. Manatee hasn't lost a regular-season game to an in-state team since 2009 and is riding a 19-game winning streak after winning the program's fifth state title last fall.
The Tigers have won 19 of their past 22 games, with their last regular-season loss coming to Manatee last year at Harllee Stadium.
"It's going to be the big
gest game of the year," Palmetto receiver E.J. Burston said.
Palmetto has been successful despite losing eight defensive starters from last year's team, which made the Class 5A state final four, as well as quarterback Trent Miller, who is a walk-on at USF.
The Tigers are 3-0 in Class 5A-District 10 and are poised to make the playoffs for the third straight year.
"They're a playoff-caliber team," Manatee coach Joe Kinnan said. "They're probably the most talented team we'll play before the playoffs. They have a lot of skilled athletes and are very athletic."
Palmetto is second in the area to only Manatee in offense (366.5 yards per game) thanks to receivers Shaq Harris (18 catches, six touchdowns) and Burston (22 catches), and Cory Crawford, who has excelled as a receiver (eight catches, two touchdowns) and running back (619 yards).
And don't forget about running back Josh Hicks (averaging 11.4 yards per carry).
Palmetto's defense has been stout, allowing three touchdowns in its past five games.
Manatee, however, has been prolific, too. Senior quarterback Cord Sandberg is having another big year, having thrown for 20 touchdowns and one interception.
Despite the loss of wide receiver/running back Anthony Lauro to season-ending knee surgery, the Canes have a variety of weapons, including running back Trevon Walters (602 rushing yards, 21 catches, 10 total touchdowns) and receivers Marquel Hines and Kelvin McKnight, who have teamed for 38 receptions and 11 touchdowns.
What both teams really want to do is stay healthy. Palmetto hosts Southeast next week in a game that will probably decide the district title, while Manatee can lock up Class 7A-District 10 with a win over Sarasota.
Tickets for the game are available at both schools. The cost is $6 for general admission and $8 for reserve, though reserve seats can only be purchased at Manatee.
Other games of note this week:
n Southeast hosts Wauchula Hardee in a key 5A-10 game. The Seminoles (6-2, 2-0) will lock up a playoff berth for themselves and Palmetto if they beat the Wildcats (2-5, 1-1), while a Hardee win creates the possibility of a three-way playoff if the Wildcats beat DeSoto next week and Southeast beats Palmetto.
n Largo heads to Lakewood Ranch in what will decide the Class 6A-District 7 title. Each team is 3-0 in the district. The losing team will clinch a playoff berth if Seminole Oceola (2-1), the district's only one-loss team, loses to St. Petersburg Dixie Hollins. The Mustangs play Osceola next week.