With four weeks remaining in the high school football regular season, two of Manatee County’s six public-school programs are well positioned to qualify for the postseason and two others are well within striking distance of playoff spots.
The Florida High School Athletic Association’s playoff points system is in its second year and uses an algorithm based on a team’s won-loss record, strength of schedule, opponents’ strength of schedule and playing opponents that qualified for the postseason in the most-recent two-year scheduling cycle.
The top eight teams in each of the four regions in Classes 5A-8A earn playoff spots; in Classes 1A-4A, the top six teams qualify, with the top two seeds in each region receiving a bye to the second round.
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Here’s where the playoff chase stood heading into Week 8, with many contenders separated by razor-thin margins:
▪ Braden River (4-2) was fourth in Class 7A-Region 3, but the Pirates need help in their bid for a first-round home game since the top four seeds are reserved for district champions. Venice, which edged Braden River on Sept. 28 in a District 11 showdown, was ranked first, followed by Pinellas Park and Tampa Bay Tech.
▪ Palmetto (4-2) was ninth in 7A-Region 3, but with games against Venice and Punta Gorda Charlotte remaining, the Tigers have a good opportunity to climb in the rankings. Palmetto entered the week 0.33 points behind Clearwater Countryside in the race for the No. 8 spot.
▪ Manatee (5-2) seems well on its way to securing a postseason spot in Class 8A-Region 2, and a win against Riverview on Friday night would clinch the District 6 title and a first-round home playoff game. The Hurricanes were ranked sixth heading into this week’s action, four points and six spots ahead of Riverview, the next-closest District 6 team.
▪ Southeast (3-3) was 10th in Class 5A-Region 3, but only 0.17 points behind Fort Myers Dunbar and Fort Myers Cypress Lake, which were tied for the eighth spot. The Seminoles face two teams — Englewood Lemon Bay and Wauchula Hardee — ranked ahead of them the next two weeks, so the chance to make up ground is there.
▪ Cardinal Mooney, meanwhile, was No. 1 in Class 3A-Region 3, with the Cougars’ Week 10 showdown against visiting Clearwater Central Catholic likely to determine the region champ.
Week 8 kicked off early this week with a pair of Thursday night games — Saint Stephen’s beating Bradenton Christian 55-25 and Cardinal Mooney staying perfect with a 39-27 win over Naples First Baptist Academy.
Here are storylines to watch for Manatee County teams playing Friday night:
After the Bruins (3-3, 0-2 Class 5A-District 11) rolled to a 3-0 start, the program’s first winning season since 2004 seemed like a real possibility. But that encouraging stretch was followed by three straight losses in which they were held to 20 total points. Now comes back-to-back trips to Wauchula Hardee (6-0, 2-0) and DeSoto County (5-1, 2-0). Bayshore must find a way to return home victorious in at least one of those two games to keep its hopes for a winning season alive.
The Pirates (4-2, 1-1 Class 7A-District 11) have been dominant at home, averaging 37 points per game in victories over Manatee, Palmetto and Booker. Look for another high-scoring performance as Braden River hosts struggling Sarasota (1-5, 1-1), which is 0-3 against Manatee County teams this season, having lost to Bayshore (24-0), Southeast (15-9) and Palmetto (42-0). Braden River, Palmetto and Venice are fighting for the top spot in the district.
Coming off an open week, the Ascenders (4-1) welcome a Clearwater Superior Collegiate team that started the season with five straight victories before losing 55-0 to Rockledge on Oct. 5. In its four victories, IMG has posted two shutouts, allowed only three touchdowns and outscored its opponents 160-21. The lone loss was a 28-24 setback to perennial power Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif., which snapped the Ascenders’ 40-game winning streak.
That breakthrough victory has remained elusive for the Mustangs (0-6, 0-2 Class 7A-District 11), and it won’t get any easier the next two weeks as Palmetto (4-1, 1-1) and Braden River (4-2, 1-1) come to town. The best chance for a victory looks to be the Oct. 26 trip to one-win Sarasota. Lakewood Ranch had last week off to regroup and prepare the final month of the season.
The Hurricanes (5-2, 4-0 Class 8A-District 6) have had this game circled for weeks, though some of the luster came off after Sarasota Riverview (4-3, 3-1) suffered a surprising loss to Lithia Newsome last week. Regardless, Manatee would secure the district title with a win over the Rams. The race for the 8A-6 crown came down to this game each of the previous two seasons, with Riverview winning both. How’s this for dominant: The Canes have outscored their four district foes 177-18.
The Thunder (4-2) welcome Kennedy Catholic of Somers, N.Y., for the second straight season, this time looking to get back on track after back-to-back losses in which they were limited to a combined six points by Saint Stephen’s and St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep. ODA rolled to a 38-7 win in the 2017 matchup. Coached by Dominick Tassone, a former assistant at Southeast, Kennedy Catholic (5-0) has outscored its opponents 145-27 during its perfect start.
The Tigers (4-2, 1-1 Class 7A-District 11) return from their open week and travel to face winless Lakewood Ranch (0-6, 0-2), looking to keep pace with Venice and Braden River in the district race. After taking on the Mustangs, Palmetto hosts North Port before welcoming defending state champion Venice to Harllee Stadium on Oct. 26. Palmetto is 4-0 at Harllee Stadium (the Tigers are averaging 47.3 points per game before the home fans) and 0-2 on the road, with losses to Manatee and Braden River.
The Seminoles (3-3, 1-1 Class 5A-District 11) are 3-0 at home and 0-3 on the road as they head to Englewood to face Lemon Bay (1-5, 0-2). This is Southeast’s third road game in a row following a 28-3 loss at DeSoto County and a 30-20 setback at Cardinal Mooney. A victory over the Manta Rays would go a long way in the Noles’ pursuit of a winning season.
Week 8 schedule
Saint Stephen’s 55, Bradenton Christian 25
Cardinal Mooney 39, Naples First Baptist Academy 27
Clearwater Superior Collegiate at IMG Blue, 7 p.m.
Kennedy Catholic (Somers, N.Y.) at Out-of-Door Academy, 7 p.m.
Bayshore at Wauchula Hardee, 7:30 p.m.
Palmetto at Lakewood Ranch, 7:30 p.m.
Sarasota at Braden River, 7:30 p.m.
Sarasota Riverview at Manatee, 7:30 p.m.
Southeast at Englewood Lemon Bay, 7:30 p.m.
Clearwater Academy International at IMG White, 7 p.m.