EAST MANATEE -- Braden River beat Venice twice, eliminating the Indians from the postseason, and didn't face Manatee this season.
Yet members from both programs have shown support for the Pirates as the lone playoff team from the 941 area code.
"Coming back from the bus last week and we saw (Manatee's) Kavious Price tweet something out at us, and (Venice) coach (John) Peacock's been very gracious sending me a couple text messages," Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said. "It's cool. It's a community thing. During the season, we're rivals. And as the season goes on, we try and turn to support each other. So it's been very neat and very humbled by the community that has come out to support us."
Part of that community is Southeast's legendary former head coach, Paul Maechtle, who had his own battles with Braden River's Class 7A state semifinal opponent on Friday, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
Maechtle was at the Pirates' practice on Wednesday this week, and Bradley said he's gotten some advice from area coaches that have faced Aquinas in the past.
"The first year Coach (Eric) Sanders and I were here, he really opened up to us," Bradley said. "Guys like him and (former Bayshore head coach) Jean Gordon were really kind to us and welcoming to us, and telling us to hang in there when things didn't start off well."
That 1-9 start to Bradley's tenure is a distant memory as the Pirates turned out a perfect regular season last year before reaching this year's Final Four against a program that's captured eight state championships.
Aquinas is loaded with weapons on both sides of the ball, which is typical for the program that current athletic director George Smith built into a dynasty among Florida football teams.
This year, the Raiders are in their first year under head coach Roger Harriott. a former player at Aquinas, and have run the ball at will during the playoffs. The club has exceeded 250 rushing yards in each postseason victory.
"It starts there, hopefully we can make them one-dimensional. When they are two-dimensional, they are a dangerous team and they're going to be a dangerous team (anyway)," Bradley said. "... They've got athletes all over the place."
And if that occurs, then the Pirates' strength on defense -- their ball-hawking ways -- can flourish.
The secondary has tallied 27 interceptions this season, and seven in three playoff wins. The Pirates picked off Plant City quarterback Corey King three times in last week's 7A-Region 3 championship. The social media hashtag that's often used around most teams is also utilized among Braden River's secondary, and that is the "No Fly Zone."
"Just not allowing passes over us," said junior defensive back Demetrius Lawson, who has a team-leading seven interceptions. "We have confidence in our DBs to go after the receivers."
The test on Friday seems daunting, but Lawson and Co. aren't intimidated, either.
"It's tough, but at the end of the day we are all in high school," Lawson said. "We're all teenagers, so being based off that you just can't get scared. You have to have that confidence in you that you are just going to go out there and do what you do every Friday ... because as soon as you second guess yourself that's when big plays happen."
Like Braden River, the Raiders have generated quick starts to games all year. Aquinas has outscored opponents 285-66 in the first half, while limiting teams to 14 points in three playoff games.
An additional strength to Aquinas is the special teams game, where they routinely capitalize on forcing opponents to go a long, long way to score.
"They thrive on field position. Last game against Mater Academy, Mater Academy I don't know if they got the ball past midfield till the second half," Bradley said. "(Aquinas) were dominant on special teams and field position."
Junior wide receiver Juwaan Jenkins had the game-clinching touchdown catch-and-run for Braden River last week. Jenkins, who battled through an injured leg, said he's ready to go at full health this week.
"At this level, this time of the game, four teams left, it's either man up or shut up," Jenkins said. "So either I'm going to go out there and make some plays and make some things happen or they're going to make some plays and make some things happen."
The Pirates are the fourth county program to battle Aquinas, and are aiming to become the third, after Southeast and Manatee, to defeat the Raiders.
"They've kind of been the Achilles heel of this county and for obvious reasons," Bradley said.
IF YOU GO
What: Class 7A state semifinal
Who: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas at Braden River
When: 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $9 for tickets, $5 for parking.