With Braden River's quest for a state championship ending in last week's Class 7A semifinals, the high school football season concluded for area programs.
So it's the perfect time to take a look back at the top 10 games involving area teams from the 2015 season.
A game's magnitude, where a playoff berth was up for grabs, a battle of state- or nationally-ranked teams, a rivalry showdown or high stakes for a postseason clash, was valued in determining the list.
However, the sheer excitement from each game that made the cut was a top factor in how the list was chosen. Agree or disagree? That's part of the fun. So let the debate begin with the Herald's Top 10 prep football games of 2015:
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1. Manatee-Palmetto, Sept. 4
Rivalry? Check. Vibrant atmosphere? Check. Wild and frantic finish? Check. Those ingredients made this game the unanimous choice for No. 1 in 2015. The Hurricanes, representing the south side of the Green Bridge, and the Tigers, repping the north side, met in Week 2. The rivals didn't disappoint as 3,624 fans witnessed a 36-35 Manatee victory that came down to Canes' senior kicker Nick Null nailing a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds. Palmetto benefited from six Manatee turnovers with 28 points. The Tigers even held a nine-point lead with 3:18 left before the Canes stormed back with a Kavious Price 57-yard catch-and-run from quarterback A.J. Colagiovanni that yielded a touchdown and set up Null's heroics.
The game was televised on the Brighthouse Sports Network, marking just how important it was in the regular season. It more than lived up to the hype.
2. St. Thomas Aquinas-Braden River, Dec. 4
Roughly 4,000 people crammed into Pirate Stadium to witness Braden River, the No. 2-ranked team in 7A, play its first-ever state semifinal. The opponent was none other than No. 1-ranked Aquinas, the holder of eight state titles. The final score read 27-10, but it was much closer than that. The Pirates held leads of 7-0 and 10-7 before Aquinas caught a huge break with a fumble recovery that led to a pivotal first-half closing score. The result ended a journey for the 19 seniors that saw a 1-9 freshman season evolve into a 14-1 senior campaign. No bigger sign of how much it meant to get that far was Marshall-bound senior offensive lineman Alex Salguero sitting in solitude on the turf long after the final whistle and final postgame speech occurred, as well as several other players who were embraced by the Pirates' coaching staff.
3. Braden River-Plant City, Nov. 27
On Black Friday, a day reserved for shopping, the Pirates weren't hitting the stores. Instead, they were standing toe to toe with the Raiders in Plant City, eventually grinding out the program's first region championship, 17-7, on the Brighthouse Sports Network. The Pirates fumbled twice to keep things close toward the end before junior receiver Juwaan Jenkins trotted into the end zone off a short pass when Plant City's defense had tried triple-teaming tight end Ryan Neuzil. Jenkins was labeled the fifth or sixth option on the play by head coach Curt Bradley, and it provided the plethora of fans that made the trek from Bradenton a joyous ending. The stakes, which sent the Pirates into the 7A semifinals, were gigantic.
4. Venice-Braden River I, Oct. 16
The Pirates played Venice twice this season, but it was the first meeting in October that made the cut. Until that game, Braden River had never beaten the Indians in football. Utilizing nose tackle Michael Walker on the offensive line to partner with Salguero for the first time in the year, the Pirates limited what Indians' star defensive end Jarrod Hewitt could do. Braden River's Raymond Thomas cranked out a 78-yard touchdown run on the opening play, keeping it loud on the Pirate Stadium home side, and the Pirates eventually opened a 20-3 lead. Venice quarterback Bryce Carpenter generated a second-half surge before Kyle Thoma's field goal and a Paul Wiggins interception sealed Braden River's 17th straight regular-season victory, its first over Venice, and the biggest in program history to that point as both clubs were ranked in the top five in the state at the time.
5. Southeast-Wauchula Hardee, Oct. 23
It's a game the Seminoles were perceived to have no business winning. Their backs were against the wall after dropping a crucial district game to Englewood Lemon Bay the previous week. And their starting quarterback had left the team earlier in the week. So instead of folding up shop with the odds against them, the Noles avoided elimination from playoff contention with a 21-14 victory in hostile territory. Normally a running back, Kevin Johnson filled in at quarterback and provided the winning touchdown with a 12-yard pass to Tyler Stevenson with 1:20 remaining in the district game that buoyed the Noles to a playoff berth the following week.
6. Tallahassee Lincoln-Manatee, Sept. 11
For all that went right for Manatee in its Week 2 win over Palmetto, the opposite happened in Week 3 against Lincoln. The Hurricanes saw their 56-game winning streak against Florida opponents and 30-game winning streak at home snapped with a 24-21 loss. Nick Null, who booted the game-winner in the waning seconds against Palmetto, misfired on a 38-yard attempt in the closing minute. The Canes committed two turnovers in the second half, blowing an 18-point first-half lead, and were gouged for 233 rushing yards.
7. ODA-St. Petersburg Catholic, Oct. 9
An epic comeback culminating in overtime with a backup quarterback spelled definite inclusion in this top games of 2015 list. The Thunder, a Class 2A program, welcomed 3A St. Pete Catholic. The Barons used their bigger bodies to crank out a 19-0 lead, then an injury to ODA quarterback Gus Mahler allowed freshman Anthony Squitieri to work some magic. Squitieri engineered the 19-point fourth-quarter comeback. The Thunder scored at the end of regulation to tie it, missed the extra point that allowed for overtime, then watched their defense produce a goal line stand before Squitieri connected on the winning OT scoring play with Kendall Johnson.
8. Bayshore-Sarasota Booker, Oct. 2
With an inauspicious start to the year, where the Bruins scored just seven total points in the first four games, Bayshore found a breakthrough. The Bruins peeled off the first of their two wins this season, 17-14, against the Tornadoes and kept playoff hopes from fading for the time being. It came down to a 27-yard field goal from Jesus Urdaneta with time expiring. The Bruins also erased a 14-7 fourth-quarter deficit when Ryan O'Neill plunged into pay dirt from 1 yard out.
9. IMG Academy-Paramus (N.J.) Catholic, Oct. 23
A nationally televised game saw the No. 1 recruit for the Class of 2016, Paramus' Rashan Gary, go up against the top quarterback for this year's class in IMG's Shea Patterson. It was Patterson on the right side of the 28-20 final score. He hooked up with Drake Davis for an 87-yard touchdown pass and Tony Jones also rumbled in a 59-yard rush for third-quarter scores that kept the Ascenders' perfect regular season and national ranking.
10. Bradenton Christian-ODA, Oct. 2
Offensive fireworks ruled the roost in this all-area private school matchup that doubled as a district game. BCS and ODA combined for 839 yards and 95 points. The Panthers outlasted the Thunder, 55-40, behind junior quarterback Dominick Otteni's six total touchdowns. He threw four scores and ran for two more, while generating 269 passing yards and 115 rushing yards. Squitieri made his first varsity start at quarterback and added four touchdown passes for ODA.
Honorable mentions: Lakewood Ranch-Arcadia DeSoto; Southeast-Englewood Lemon Bay; Southeast-Sarasota Booker; Braden River-Venice II.