The 2017 high school football season – as far as Manatee County teams are concerned – concluded this past week with Braden River and Palmetto’s playoff exits and Saint Stephen’s capturing its second straight Sunshine State Athletic Conference championship.
To that end, it’s time to unveil this year’s top 10 games involving area teams.
You’ll see close, exciting games and games with tons at stake, whether in the playoffs or ones that went far to determine a playoff berth.
There’s games involving state- or nationally ranked teams and games that featured rivals.
That’s just part of the criteria we used to decide this list. Do you agree or disagree? Let us know with your comments via email, social media or in the comments section below.
So here’s the Bradenton Herald’s top 10 high school football games from the 2017 season:
1. Braden River-Venice II, Nov. 17
Round Six turned into another classic with a standing-room-only crowd watching. There were gutsy calls for both teams. First, Braden River attempting and recovering an onside kick after cutting the score to 12-10 in the second quarter. Then Venice going for it on fourth-and-3 at Braden River’s 49 with a two-point lead in the game’s closing minutes. The Indians with wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh and quarterback Bryce Carpenter couldn’t be slowed. Neither could Braden River receiver Knowledge McDaniel. In the end, the late safety with a bad snap and an inability to cover Heiligh doomed the Pirates to a fourth straight loss to the Indians in the emotionally charged rivalry. Venice won 41-32 to eliminate Braden River from the playoffs for the second straight season.
2. Palmetto-Pinellas Park, Nov. 10
A sluggish start in a win-or-go-home game? Didn’t faze the Palmetto Tigers. Trailing throughout the first half, Palmetto picked up the intensity with a second-half surge in a first-round playoff game. Then against Pinellas Park’s wing-T offense, Palmetto’s defense forced a pivotal field goal that paved the way for a memorable two-minute drill drive. It started with a procedure penalty and an incomplete pass. Then quarterback Anthony Marino led the charge alongside superb blocking from his offensive line, receivers Kobe Mays and Derek Marino making key catches and running back Elijah Davis popping off two big runs, including the decisive touchdown in the final minute of the 28-24 victory.
3. Manatee-Palmetto, Sept. 1-2
This one took two days to finish with inclement weather pushing it back a day. It’s also a big rivalry between schools divided by the Manatee River, with Manatee High owning the series. The last time the Hurricanes lost to the Tigers was in 2004, when this year’s players were 4 or 5 years old. Palmetto dominated, overcame the bugaboo performances of the recent past against Manatee and set itself on the path for the program’s first playoff appearance since 2014. Palmetto won 35-7.
4. Venice-Braden River I, Sept. 28
Foreshadowing the playoff rematch, these two locked into a shootout in another classic right down to the end. Running back Deshaun Fenwick’s fumble on the opening drive at the goal line gave Venice the edge as Braden River played catch up. The Pirates ultimately did and when Venice missed an extra point late in the fourth quarter, Braden River had a chance to win in the closing seconds. The Pirates drove to Venice’s 14 with about a minute to play down six points. But with the game being the first one the Pirates played in several weeks after Hurricane Irma and the early-September inclement weather, cramps set in with two false-start penalties. Add in an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and two Hail Mary heaves fell incomplete as Venice escaped with a 41-35 victory.
5. Miami Central-IMG Blue, Sept. 22
A showdown between two nationally ranked programs came down to the wire. Central, a perennial Class 6A state title contender, was coming off a momentous victory at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, though the team was stuck there as the aftermath of Hurricane Irma delayed their flights home. IMG, with all its talent, struggled to contain James Cook, the younger brother of former Central and FSU star Dalvin, and Central’s other Division I-caliber running backs. But among all the stars on the field, Ryker Brazerol provided the biggest play with a punt block that sparked IMG’s second-half rally in a 24-15 victory.
6. Wauchula Hardee-Bayshore, Oct. 12
Easily the biggest upset in Manatee County this season. The Bruins weren’t expected to keep it close, let alone win. But that’s what happened. Maybe Hardee was looking ahead to the Southeast game, but that’s neither here nor there. The Bruins used a crushing defense, saw the Wildcats commit costly penalties and had enough offense to turn back Hardee 8-7 and end a 13-game losing streak.
7. Saint Stephen’s-Windermere Prep, Nov. 18
The fast start ended in a 49-21 blowout, but it was a culmination of the entire season – and careers for some – for the Falcons. The victory gave Saint Stephen’s back-to-back Sunshine State Athletic Conference championships, the first time that’s happened in SSAC history. And it happened in front of NFL legend Ray Lewis. Quarterback Fred Billy capped a memorable career with 115 total touchdowns in four years and head coach Tod Creneti received the Gatorade bath for the title win.
8. Lithia Newsome-Manatee, Oct. 30
Though the playoffs weren’t guaranteed with a win, a victory in the Monday night makeup game was instrumental in keeping the Hurricanes’ playoff streak intact. Brett Gerber picked off a pass late in the first half that catapulted Manatee past Newsome in the late-season district game. Josh Booker had two 6-yard touchdown runs wrapped around Gerber’s interception, and Sir Williams sealed the 35-28 victory with a late fourth-quarter interception.
9. Southeast-Hardee, Oct. 20
It’s the game that began Southeast’s season spiraling out of control. With a chance to control its fate for the district championship, the Noles fell flat in Wauchula, dropping the game 24-21 after leading most of the way. Turnovers and penalties cost Southeast, which then cost itself even more for the postgame fight that saw the ramifications amplified with six players suspended for the rest of the year.
10. Spring Hill Springstead-Lakewood Ranch, Sept. 22
The second of three wins to start the year was a big one for Lakewood Ranch. The Mustangs rallied from a 14-point deficit against Springstead, a team carrying bonus points for reaching the playoffs the past two years. Quarterback Justin Curtis tumbled into the end zone for the game-winner that stunned Springstead and gave Ranch its first 2-0 start in ages with a 23-21 victory.
Honorable mention: Palmetto-Sarasota Riverview; Braden River-Palmetto; Palmetto-Lakeland Lake Gibson; IMG-Miami Northwestern; Bayshore-Lakewood Ranch; Braden River-Chatfield (Littleton, Colo.); Manatee-Kissimmee Osceola; Southeast-Harmony.