FORT PIERCE -- The fall season is one stuffed with tradition, and the Manatee Hurricanes are carving out another tradition of their own.
Friday night's 51-0 win over Fort Pierce Central netted the Hurricanes their fourth consecutive Region 3 championship, which means none of the current players clad in Manatee colors know what it means to not play in a state semifinal.
That's where Manatee (13-0) is headed Friday -- a final-four clash with another program that knows a thing or two about rich tradition, six-time state champion Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Raiders (11-2) won the Region 4 title Friday with a 38-24 win over Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson and hosts Manatee 7:30 p.m. Friday at Brian Piccolo Stadium.
Yet this recent title, Manatee's 14th overall, may have felt a little more gratifying than most. Few teams entered a season facing as many expectations as these Hurricanes, who began the year ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps after winning the 7A state championship last fall.
And as the season grew longer, so did the accolades -- Manatee has climbed to the top of national polls conducted by ESPN and USA Today, as well.
"This year, to be expect
ed to win and come out and play like we have, I'm really proud of our guys," said senior quarterback Cord Sandberg. "I'm hoping we just can keep it going for two more games."
Standing in their way are the Raiders, who have won eight straight games and defeated Manatee in the state semifinals in 2005, '06 and '10. They are ranked No. 7 in the state prep poll.
Aquinas is the lone Florida school to beat Manatee since Sandberg became the team's starting quarterback two years ago. The Raiders routed Manatee 31-7 in Fort Lauderdale that season.
Friday's winner plays either Tallahassee Lincoln or Kissimmee Osecola for the state championship at 7:07 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
"They're good," Sandberg said before the Raiders closed out Friday's win. "If they're able to win and that situation presents itself ... we're going to try and beat them this time."
The tables have turned on this burgeoning rivalry - the Raiders came into Hawkins Stadium in 2009 riding a 37-game winning streak and the nation's top ranking before they were stopped by Manatee.
This time, it's the Hurricanes, winners of 25 straight, who will probably be considered the favorite.
And they'll try to do something they have never done -- win a game at Brian Piccolo Stadium. The Hurricanes also lost the '06 state semifinal there in double overtime.
"Aquinas has a great tradition," said coach Joe Kinnan, "and we have not done well in their stadium."
Now it's time to see which team will get a crack at playing for another state championship.
"We're in the final four, and that's where you want to be," Raiders coach Rocco Casullo told the Miami Herald on Friday. "Aquinas and Manatee has become a nice rivalry over the years. We're looking forward to a fun night. It's going to be great for high school football."