If the recent cold front wasn’t enough to convince you fall is going fast, maybe this will: The prep football playoffs get under way in less than a month.
Now the question is who begins a march toward the Florida Citrus Bowl on Nov. 18 and who will be home mapping out a plan for spring practices. Tonight will go a long way toward providing some answers, with all six public schools playing crucial district games inside Manatee County.
Here is a look at each district and the roles tonight’s games play.
CLASS 7A-DISTRICT 10 -- It may not carry an official tag, but Manatee’s game with Venice at Hawkins Stadium is for the district championship, and, depending on what happens tonight at Braden River, the winner can clinch the title outright. The Hurricanes (4-2, 1-0) defeated Braden River earlier this season, so if they beat the Indians (6-0, 1-0), and the Pirates (1-6, 0-1) knock off Sarasota (2-4, 0-1), Manatee wins its second straight district and hosts a Region 3 opener Nov. 18, while Braden River meets Venice in two weeks for the final playoff spot. The Indians, who have defeated the Sailors, clinch if they beat Manatee, and the Sailors beat the Pirates. Manatee would then have to beat Sarasota to get in. Regardless, whoever leaves Bradenton with a win tonight leads the pack heading into the last week of district play Nov. 4.
6A-7 -- Lakewood Ranch (3-3, 2-0) is very quietly making a push toward winning its district and can take a huge step forward tonight with a win over visiting St. Petersburg Dixie Hollins (2-4, 0-2). A win, coupled with Largo beating Gulfport Boca Ciega, makes the Mustangs and Packers 3-0 in district play and turns next week’s showdown at Largo into the unofficial district final. Actually, in terms of making the playoffs, a win tonight sets up Lakewood Ranch very well: Its final district game Nov. 4 is against struggling Seminole Osceola (1-5, 0-2).
5A-10 -- Palmetto, Wauchula Hardee and Southeast are a combined 18-1 heading into play tonight. All are assured of a winning record -- and one won’t make the playoffs. The Tigers (6-0, 2-0) play longtime rival Hardee (6-0, 1-0) tonight at Harllee Stadium, where a win puts Palmetto in prime position to claim its first district title in three years. Southeast (6-1, 1-0) is at Bayshore (3-4, 0-2) before heading to Wauchula next week to meet the Wildcats. If Palmetto wins tonight and the Noles win their next two, their meeting Nov. 4 at John Kiker Memorial Stadium will decide the championship. But Hardee could spoil that scenario by beating Palmetto and Southeast, therefore winning the district and turning the Nov. 4 county matchup into a dash for the district’s final playoff spot. And of course, don’t forget the possibility of a three-way tie, which happens if Hardee, Palmetto and Southeast all beat each other.
3A-6 -- This is the simplest one to follow: Cardinal Mooney and Fort Meade are 1-0 in district play with two district games left. If the Cougars beat Frostproof tonight and the Miners defeat Lakeland Christian, the two clinch postseason berths and duke it out for the championship Nov. 4 in Fort Meade.
2A URBAN-6 -- Out-of-Door Academy (3-3, 2-2) has lost three straight, but starts a stretch of three straight district games tonight against Southwest Florida Christian (3-2, 2-2), before playing First Baptist (3-3, 2-3) and Saint Stephen’s (0-5, 0-4). All three games are winnable for the Thunder, but since their two district defeats have come against first-place Evangelical Christian (7-0, 5-0) and second-place St. John Neumann (4-3, 3-1), they need to win out and get some help to return to the playoffs.
2A URBAN-5 -- Bradenton Christian made things interesting by going on the road and knocking off undefeated St. Petersburg Canterbury on Sept. 30, but last week’s loss to Carrollwood dropped the Panthers to 2-4 overall and 2-3 in the district. They head to second-place Admiral Farragut (5-2, 4-1) tonight with zero margin for error -- BCS is one of five three-loss teams in the district. Similar to ODA, the Panthers need some help.
John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2097.