BRADENTON -- It wasn't long ago that Manatee headed to Venice for a game both teams had to win.
Tonight, the Indians head to Bradenton for a game both teams have to win.
Yep. Welcome to Round 2 of the state football playoffs, which on occasion, features one team having to beat the same team in a span of a few weeks.
Manatee beat Venice during the last week of October to claim the 7A-District 10 championship and earn home field for tonight's rematch. Now the Hurricanes have to beat the Indians again to play for the Region 3 championship.
No one is ever going to feel bad for a talent-laden,
undefeated team such as the Hurricanes. And this isn't about them, especially because Fort Pierce Central also has to beat a district foe, Stuart Martin County, in the other Region 3 semifinal.
It's about the format.
Prior to 2007, the only time district opponents could meet in the playoffs was if both made a region final.
That made sense. The district runner-up had to go through two opponents in order to get another crack at the champion.
If that happened, tip your cap, line up and play ball.
Now the only thing that separates the Manatees and Venices of the world is one round of playoffs, typically against weaker opponents. That is why the Hurricanes and Indians are meeting in the regional semifinals for a third straight year.
There needs to be more separation.
First, the Indians lost the regular-season meeting and shouldn't be getting a rematch this quickly, just like Palmetto shouldn't have had one had the Tigers and Southeast Seminoles won their Class 5A-Region 3 openers.
Secondly, Venice is a good football team. So is Manatee. A second-round matchup means a premature exit for one of them.
"Personally, I think if you're a runner-up, and we've been the runner-up before, there ought to be more than just one game," said Manatee coach Joe Kinnan. "I can see playing them in the regional finals, because when you have 32 teams (in the playoffs), there are some other pretenders that are out there. If you're in a good district with two strong teams like us and Venice ..." who didn't draw heavyweights last week in the first round, a rematch this soon is inevitable.
The rivalry between Manatee and Venice has intensified over the years, and another postseason meeting will no doubt further it.
Hawkins Stadium should be full Friday night, the football will be intense, and the winner will have to play well to advance.
It should be a good one.
It just shouldn't be happening so soon.
John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2097. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnLembo1878.