Editor’s note: Programs are ranked based on how they are performing against their own schedules, not based on hypothetical head-to-head matchups.
Voting points breakdown: 10 for first, 8 for second, 6 for third, 4 for fourth, 2 for fifth, 1 for sixth. (Last week, school, record, points with first-place votes in parentheses)
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1. (1) Braden River, 7-1, 50 points (5)
RB Raymond Thomas led the Pirates into the playoffs with 146 rushing yards and three TDs in a running clock victory over Sarasota. The Pirates only had one road playoff game en route to the 7A state semifinals last season, but will begin on the road this year as a district runner-up.
This week: at St. Petersburg Gibbs, 7:30 p.m.
2. (2) Manatee, 6-3, 40
The explosive Hurricanes offense was a sight to behold in Class 8A-District 6, but lingering questions about the defense — which allowed 41 points in the playoff-clinching victory over Lithia Newsome last Friday — might limit the upside on how far Manatee can go in the postseason. But first, the Canes can try working the kinks out against archrival Southeast this week.
This week: at Southeast, 7:30 p.m.
3. (3) Palmetto, 6-3, 28
For one half, the Tigers were playing their game and it looked like a three-way tiebreaker in 7A-11 was on the horizon. Then Venice took over in the second half and Palmetto’s second straight loss means back-to-back seasons without a playoff berth. Palmetto’s three losses are to teams with a combined four losses and this week’s finale is against an unbeaten, but that tough schedule hasn’t yielded success recently.
This week: at Punta Gorda Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.
4. (4) Southeast, 4-4, 22
That thrilling second half comeback for the Seminoles got one voter’s attention as Southeast snagged one third-place vote this week. The seniors have another game thanks to underclassmen Clyde Townsend’s punt block that shifted momentum toward the end of the third quarter to Southeast last Friday. The Seminoles begin the playoffs on the road and get a stern test from their nemesis Manatee this week.
This week: vs. Manatee, 7:30 p.m.
5. (5) Lakewood Ranch, 1-7, 10
Happy days in East Manatee County as the breakthrough finally happened for the Mustangs. Lakewood Ranch pummeled woeful North Port to give this year’s seniors at least one victory. Now they get another winning opportunity this week to head into the offseason with some confidence.
This week: vs. Arcadia DeSoto, 7:30 p.m.
6. (6) Bayshore, 0-8, 5
A golden chance at picking up the first win this season slipped through the Bruins’ grasp as Englewood Lemon Bay ensured Bayshore stays at the bottom rung of Class 5A-District 11 this season. Now the Bruins must beat a playoff-bound Cardinal Mooney club to avoid a winless season.
This week: vs. Cardinal Mooney, 7:30 p.m.
1. (1) IMG Academy, 8-0, 50 (5)
Never in doubt, IMG Academy rolled past another opponent to record the program’s 26th straight regular-season victory. An early season trip to California yielded a last-second TD to escape with a narrow victory, while QB Kellen Mond inched closer to the program’s single-season rushing TD mark with his 13th of 2016 against Long Beach Poly last Friday.
This week: at Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna, 1 p.m. (Saturday)
2. (2) Cardinal Mooney, 7-2, 40
The Cougars are heading to the east coast for a second straight season to begin the playoffs following last Friday’s home loss to rival Clearwater Central Catholic. Cardinal Mooney, though, narrowly lost last year’s playoff opener and will most likely get a rematch with CCC if the Cougars can win on the road this season. The tune-up, however, is against winless Bayshore.
This week: at Bayshore, 7:30 p.m.
3. (3) Saint Stephen’s, 8-1, 30
Another game, another win for the red-hot Falcons. Saint Stephen’s offense is clicking with RB Chase Brown and QB Fred Billy leading the team’s 250 rushing yards per game. This will be the last home game for the Falcons, regardless of the outcome, as next week’s Sunshine State Athletic Conference league championships are at other venues in two weeks before the Florida Bowl title game in Oviedo for the following week.
This week: vs. Zephyrhills Christian, 7 p.m.
4. (4) Bradenton Christian, 3-5, 20
The first playoff game in program history nearly became a victory as BCS came close to a road win in Jacksonville. But the narrow defeat meant the close of the playoff run for the Panthers, who turn their attention to the offseason.
This week: Season complete.
5. (5) Out-of-Door Academy, 2-7, 10
The Thunder grabbed a second victory last week and get another consolation game this week when facing last year’s SSAC champion, Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, at home.
This week: vs. Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, 7 p.m.
Voters: Herald sports reporters Jason Dill, David Wilson; sports correspondent Chad Brockhoff; sports editor Mark Lawrence; Sunday news editor Alan Bellittera.