EAST MANATEE -- It's Lakewood Ranch versus Braden River, and something has to give.
This series is tied at three victories apiece. Braden River won the first three, and in 2010 Lakewood Ranch turned the tables and comes into this year's meeting on a three-game win streak.
This is East Manatee's version of Hatfield vs. McCoys.
Braden River plays host Friday night, and the last time the teams met there the paid attendance was 5,933, said athletic director Bob Bowling, who expects a crowd in excess of 6,000.
No one on Braden River's team has ever beaten Lakewood Ranch in football.
Linebacker Marcus Balliette, the Pirates' leading tackler and best defensive player, wants to end that streak before he walks through the graduation line.
As if they needed more motivation, this is also the district opener for both teams (7A-10).
"The atmosphere for this game is a lot more energetic and intense. It gets crazy out there," Balliette said. "More people at school are getting prepped for the game and telling us we better beat Lakewood Ranch. The sound to every play is loud. The games against them are some of the best because of the tension and meaning to the game."
After dominating Southeast in its opener, Lakewood Ranch has lost two straight. Coming off a 1-9 season, Braden River is 2-0 and has won three straight going back to last season's final game.
Just about every player has a reason to call this game special.
Lakewood Ranch junior receiver Cameron Pearcey would like to win it for his brother, Chris, a senior who is out for the season with an ACL tear.
Braden River quarterback Dusty Peebles and Lakewood Ranch signal-
caller Chad Rex were teammates on the East Manatee Bulldogs. Peebles won the quarterback job, and Rex played safety and wide receiver.
"This game means a lot. We beat them three years in a row. We want to keep it going, and now it's a district game," Rex said. "Everybody at school is counting on you. They look a little better this year. We watched them on film. We might be the underdog, and I like that role."
Peebles was the backup quarterback in last year's game, which Lakewood Ranch won 21-7. He started the final two games of the season. The junior is now entrenched as the starter, and he is 3-1.
Peebles has a lot of connections to the Manatee High football program. His great uncle, Jackie Peebles, was a celebrated running back for the Hurricanes in the 1950s, and Steve Peebles, his dad's cousin, is an assistant coach with Manatee.
Despite those ties, this rivalry is special to the 17-year-old.
"This has always been a big game that gets a lot of fans out. Now that it's a district game, it's more important. The fact that they've won three straight adds more motivation," Peebles said. "The biggest difference with our team this year is that we've bought into our new coach (Curt Bradley). We worked very hard during the offseason and got a lot stronger. In past years, we were outmuscled."
Both head coaches are trying to downplay the rivalry aspect of this game, but the players are not shy about talking it up.
Lakewood Ranch head coach Shawn Trent argues that if his team doesn't correct the mistakes it made the past two weeks, the opponent doesn't matter.
"We are just trying to get our kids better. We haven't talked a lot about Braden River because if we don't start playing better it doesn't make any difference," Trent said. "We are a young team that makes a lot of mistakes. We had some injuries and had to move people around, and that hasn't helped. They (Braden River) are a lot better. They are a lot bigger than us and a lot more athletic than us."
Bradley says the history of this series doesn't play much into this game.
"It's a new year. Everybody we play has new guys, and we have new guys," Bradley said. "It's first game of districts, a fresh start to every season. All that matters is what happens in those four games."
Braden River's defense has come up with 11 turnovers in beating North Fort Myers and then Southeast for the first time in school history.
One of the key defenders is senor safety Kedarius Smith, a transfer from Southeast who had two interceptions in the Pirates' victory over NFM.
"I like this defense. Everybody flies to the ball," Smith said.
Cameron Pearcey is Lakewood Ranch's leading receiver with nine catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns. His brother, Chris, was the Mustangs' leading rusher last year, and Cameron would like to send him out on a good note, though Chris is unable to play.
"We try to keep an even keel for each game, but being it's so close and we went to middle school together and whatnot with these guys, it means more," Cameron Pearcey said. "We've just got to come and play every game, no matter who it is, and make sure we do our assignments. The coach has been telling us just do your job and everything will be OK."