High School Sports

Prep Rally | Football's district races enter home stretch

BRADENTON

We don't get traditional fall weather in this part of the world -- do palm trees change color? -- but October still means something to prep football fans.

Welcome to the stretch run.

The regular season ends with a batch of relatively meaningless games Nov. 7, and the playoffs begin Nov.14. So these next three weeks are what you have been waiting for, a litany of win-or-go-home games with postseason fates hanging on every pass, run and parachuting penalty flag.

So let's take a look at the districts involving local teams:

Class 8A-District 7

There's a big ballgame Friday at Hawkins Stadium, where Bright House Sports Network will be on hand as Manatee hosts St. Petersburg in a battle of teams with 1-0 district records. This is a four-team district so each game is key, and this one is no different. Depending on what happens in the meeting between the district's two other teams, Riverview and Palm Harbor University, either the Hurricanes or Green Devils can clinch a district title. Does that make this the de facto district championship game? Not so fast. Each team was 1-0 entering last season's meeting, too, and after losing to Manatee, the Green Devils lost to Riverview and failed to make the playoffs. Riverview and Palm Harbor University are each 0-1 in district play, and the loser of Friday's game is eliminated.

Class 7A-District 10

While the district's lead dog, Braden River, gets some rest, Palmetto hosts Lakewoood Ranch in a huge meeting. The Mustangs (1-1 in the district) are in must-win mode because a 2-2 record won't cut it without a ton of help. The Tigers (1-0) have some margin of error, but a win Friday night not only enhances their playoff and title hopes but puts the Mustangs' chances on life support. Sarasota meets North Port down south and a Sailors win mathematically eliminates the Bobcats and officially makes the chase for two playoff spots a race between four teams instead of five.

Class 5A-District 13

The Seminoles may be 0-5 out of the district but they've won their one district game and host 2-0 Arcadia DeSoto on Friday in a game between the only undefeated district teams in a five-team district. The winner takes a huge step toward clinching a postseason berth as well as a district title, and DeSoto can clinch Friday with a win if Bayshore beats Wauchula Hardee. As for the Bruins, a loss Friday night officially knocks them out of the postseason race. Booker (1-1) is off, so if Southeast loses and Hardee wins, that will make for three 1-1 teams with two weeks of district play remaining.

Class 3A-District 6

Oh, if every district were this easy: Three teams that each play two district games. Cardinal Mooney visits Out-of-Door Academy on Friday night and can clinch a playoff berth and turn an Oct. 31 game against Fort Myers Bishop Verot into a true district title game. A Thunder win means Mooney has to win next week in order for all three teams to meet again for a tiebreaker Nov. 3.

Class 2A-District 5

Saddled with three losses, Bradenton Christian, the only team in the district on this side of the Sunshine Skyway, is out of contention for the program's first playoff berth. But at 4-3 overall, the Panthers have a shot of achieving their first winning season since putting up a 7-3 mark in 2010.

John Lembo, prep sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080. Follow him on Twitter @JohnLembo1878.

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