Prep Rally | A look down the playoff paths for area football teams

November 15, 2013 

The playoffs begin Friday night for three area prep football teams.

Here is a look ahead at each team's postseason picture:

Manatee

Just because the top-ranked Hurricanes (10-0) don't have to worry about Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, which is now in 7A, that doesn't mean their road to Orlando gets any easier.

In fact, it may be the hardest it has been since coach Joe Kinnan's return to the sideline in 2005.

The path begins Friday against the 9-1 Vero Beach Indians, and while only two of their wins came against teams with a winning record, the Indians have a solid quarterback in Dalton Stokes, who has thrown for 2,220 yards.

The winner gets either 9-1 Fort Pierce Central or white-hot 7-2 Riverview, whose only two losses have come to Manatee and Class 6A playoff qualifier Venice. Perennial powers Orlando Dr. Phillips or Tampa Plant probably await whomever makes it to the Region 2 final. And what does the Region 2 champ get for a reward? A probable state semifinal against Apopka, which set a state scoring record this year with 529 points despite losing Nebraska-bound quarterback Zack Richardson to a concussion in Week 1.

Not easy.

At all.

Palmetto

That loss to Sarasota not only cost the Tigers (5-5) a chance to win their second district title in three years, it also cost them some fuel. They open the Class 7A-Region 3 playoffs Friday night in Tarpon Springs against East Lake.

And East Lake isn't exactly a delightful first-round draw: The Eagles are fresh off the first perfect regular-season in program history and are ranked second in the state in Class 7A.

The Tigers have had some success on the road under coach Dave Marino, who took over in 2010. Palmetto traveled to Immokalee in 2011 and returned to Manatee County with its first regional title in 25 years and opened last year's playoffs with a win at Auburndale. So it has happened before.

And if Palmetto gets by the Eagles, the region's clear-cut favorite, things open up. Largo Pinellas Park or Sarasota await in a semifinal, and either Charlotte, Port Charlotte, Melbourne or Melbourne Eau Gallie will come out of the other side for the Region 3 final.

Of those teams, only the Pirates (No. 9) were ranked in the final Associated Press poll of the regular season.

The Region 3 champion, however, probably has to meet Aquinas or top-ranked Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer in a semifinal.

Cardinal Mooney

Classes 1A through 4A may have one fewer round than their bigger counterparts, but the Class 3A Cougars (7-2) still have a tough road to hoe to Orlando.

Mooney hosts a Region 3 semifinal Friday night against St. Petersburg Catholic in a rematch of an Oct. 11th meeting the Cougars won 14-12 in St. Pete.

All three of Catholic's loss have come to playoff teams, including Clearwater Central Catholic, which the Cougars-Barons winner probably faces next week for the regional title.

CCC ended the regular season ranked fifth in Class 3A and took IMG Academy to overtime on Halloween before losing 19-13 in Bradenton.

The Marauders are the only ranked team in the region, which also includes traditional powers such as Hollywood Chaminade and Pahokee, as well as Fort Myers Bishop Verot, Miami Westminster Christian and West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman.

John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow him on Twitter@JohnLembo1878.

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