For the first time since 2007, Manatee County doesn’t have a district champion.
A run of seven consecutive district titles for Manatee, dating back to 2009, officially came to an end Friday just as Venice ensured neither Braden River nor Palmetto, which won a district title in 2008, could steal the Class 7A-District 11 title away on the final day of the district season.
There are still three Florida High School Athletic Association playoff teams from the county, but all three will begin their quest for a state championship on the road after late-season hiccups cost them a chance to win their districts.
For the Hurricanes, the loss to Sarasota Riverview in early October that did them in. For the Pirates, a loss to the Indians in Venice two weeks ago was the cause. And for Southeast, the postseason wasn’t within their grasp until the final quarter of the Class 5A-District 11 season.
“They responded as well as I could’ve hoped,” said Seminoles head coach Rashad West, who is in his first year back with his alma mater. “I don’t know if I could’ve even expected the response.”
The Noles lost their chance at a Class 5A-11 championship with a loss to Wauchula Hardee, then saw their chances fade through most of Friday’s game. Sarasota Booker led until Southeast’s touchdown and game-tying two-point conversion with 9:12 remaining. Even after the Seminoles tied the game, the Noles needed a blocked punt to set up the game-winning touchdown in a 28-21 win.
The Noles are also the only county playoff team that doesn’t know its destination for the first round of the playoffs. Fort Myers Dunbar, Naples Lely and Immokalee will play a three-team tiebreaker Monday in Fort Myers to determine the Class 5A-District 12 champion.
“The last thing we talked to our kids about was trying to help these seniors, giving them an extra game or two,” West said. “Just giving them an extra life.”
Braden River and the Canes were the area’s only defending district champions. The Pirates were always more of a longshot — the Indians are a state-title contender and Braden River faced them on the road — and must travel to Naples to play Gulf Coast in the first round of the playoffs in two weeks.
The Hurricanes, however, were the overwhelming favorite in Class 8A-District 6. But on Oct. 15, Riverview staged one of the biggest upsets of the season to end the Canes’ stranglehold on Class 8A-6. The Rams led Manatee wire-to-wire in Bradenton, putting the Hurricanes on their heels for the first time in almost a decade.
“Coming back on Monday was pretty rough. The kids were really disappointed. I think all of us were really disappointed,” Booth said. “We didn’t play very good.”
The loss was the Canes’ first in a district game since 2009, when Joe Kinnan was coaching Manatee and the seniors on this year’s Hurricanes team were in elementary school. Booth said the Canes haven’t carried themselves any differently since the loss, but there was a sense of complacency prior to the upset.
Offensively, at least, two of Manatee’s best performances have come since the loss to Riverview, thanks in part to quarterback A.J. Colagiovanni’s returning health.
The senior broke his foot during the offseason and wasn’t at full speed until the season’s midpoint. Two weeks ago in Riverview, he threw for 185 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 58 yards. On Friday in Lithia, Colagiovanni threw for five touchdowns and 377 yards to beat Newsome, 63-41.
A trip to Orlando to face Dr. Phillips, which knocked the Hurricanes out in the region semifinal last year, will be another challenge. Offensively, the Canes have the weapons to potentially spark an upset.
“Our attitudes had gotten a lot better and our desire to work harder had gotten better,” Booth said. “It was a good lesson learned for us.”