Manatee Hurricanes prepare to take their show on the road

jlembo@bradenton.comNovember 28, 2012 

BRADENTON -- They're the undefeated defending state champion ranked No.1 in the state. And in three separate polls, No.1 in the nation.

So why is Manatee hopping a bus and heading across the state for Friday's 7A-Region 3 final?

Because that's how the Florida High School Athletic Association constructed this year's brackets.

Rankings and records mean nothing when it comes to homefield advantage in the later rounds of the state football playoffs. Instead, it has to do with whether a team sits on the bottom or top of the bracket, which is why the Hurricanes (12-0) are visiting Fort Pierce Central (11-0) on Friday night with a berth in the state final four at stake.

The Cobras are ranked third in the state in Class 7A and 93rd in the nation by Rivals.com.

Manatee is first in Class 7A

and ranked No.1 in the nation by ESPN, MaxPreps and USA Today. The Hurricanes fell from second to third in Rivals' latest rankings.

This season, as per the FHSAA, the team on the bottom of each bracket is designated the home team. It was the opposite last year, when the Hurricanes were home throughout the postseason until the state final, which is played at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

The only exception is if a district champion meets a district runner-up in a regional final, in which case the champion always hosts regardless of the bracket.

But since Manatee and the Cobras both won a district title, Fort Pierce Central will host Manatee at off-campus Lawnwood Stadium.

It will mark Manatee's first playoff game in an opponent's stadium since 2010, when the Hurricanes traveled to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas for a Class 5A state semifinal.

Coach Joe Kinnan, however, isn't concerned.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "These guys are veterans, and they know what it takes to bring their 'A' game. One thing that we've done … we have played at a very high level since we've come out of the gate."

Lawnwood Stadium is part of Lawnwood Regional Park in Fort Pierce. The complex is also home to a skate park and tennis center, and Lawnwood Stadium is where Fort Pierce Central defeated Tampa Robinson to win the program's lone state title in 1971.

"I'm playing in a stadium that I've never played in down in Fort Pierce," said Hurricanes quarterback Cord Sandberg. "So that will be kind of cool, see a new place and play in a new place.

"It was nice being home, but again, you can't worry about things you can't control. That's out of our hands. We're just going to go out there, try to execute one play, one game at a time. We'll see what happens."

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