The drive to December kicks off Friday night with the Manatee County area’s four playoff qualifiers opening their championship quests.
The three public-school programs — Braden River, Manatee and Palmetto — play their first-round game on the road, while Cardinal Mooney opens at home as the Cougars return to the postseason after a one-year absence.
The Florida High School Athletic Association state championship games will be held Dec. 6-8 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
Here’s what you need to know as kickoff for the first round of the playoffs approaches:
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Manatee at Kissimmee Osceola
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: The Hurricanes went 6-4 in the regular season and are in the postseason for the 10th consecutive year after earning the No. 7 seed in Class 8A-Region 2. The Kowboys went 9-1 and captured the 8A-District 7 crown in earning the No. 2 seed in the region.
About Manatee: The Canes open the playoffs at Osceola for the second straight season. As the No. 8 seed in 2017, Manatee lost 44-16. ... The Hurricanes’ non-district schedule featured games against six-time state champion Lakeland (No. 1 seed in 7A-2), Palmetto (No. 7 seed in 7A-3), Braden River (No. 5 seed in 7A-3) and Venice (No. 1 seed in 7A-3). ... Manatee went 1-4 against teams that made the playoffs, its lone win a 29-20 victory against Palmetto on Aug. 31. ... The Canes are a 7-point underdog according to Joe Pinkos’ forecast.
About Osceola: The Kowboys enter the postseason on a four-game winning streak while outscoring the opposition 158-40. ... Osceola opened the season with five straight wins before suffering its lone loss, a 21-7 setback to Tampa Jesuit, the No. 2 seed in 5A-Region 3, on Oct. 5. ... The Kowboys held their opponents to 14 or fewer points in all nine of their victories.
What’s next: The winner faces either No. 3 seed Sarasota Riverview (7-3) or sixth-seeded Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast (7-3) in the 8A-2 semifinals.
Braden River at Plant City
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: The Pirates went 8-2 in the regular season and are in the postseason for the fifth straight year after earning the No. 5 seed in Class 7A-Region 3. The Raiders went 9-1 and captured the 7A-District 9 title in earning the No. 4 seed in the region.
About Braden River: The Pirates will be without one of their top offensive playmakers as senior wide receiver Knowledge McDaniel was ruled ineligible by the FHSAA for receiving impermissible benefits. ... Braden River’s two losses — 27-22 to Jacksonville Trinity Christian and 24-21 to Venice — came against teams that combined to go 19-1 and earned the top seeds in 5A-Region 1 and 7A-Region 3, respectively. ... The Pirates averaged 45.5 points in their eight wins and went 4-2 against teams that made the playoffs. ... Braden River is an 4-point favorite according to Joe Pinkos’ forecast.
About Plant City: The Raiders are coached by James Booth, a former assistant at Manatee and Palmetto. Booth’s twin brother John was Manatee’s head coach from 2014-16. The Booth twins played at Manatee in the late 1990s under legendary coach Joe Kinnan. ... Plant City’s lone loss was a 44-24 setback against two-time state champion Seffner Armwood. ... The Raiders, who had last week off, closed the regular season with wins over Bloomingdale (24-10) and Tampa Bay Tech (24-21) to capture the district title.
What’s next: The winner faces either top-seeded and defending state champion Venice (9-1) or No. 8 seed Tampa Bay Tech (7-3) in the 7A-3 semifinals.
Palmetto at Pinellas Park
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: The Tigers went 7-3 in the regular season and are in the postseason for the second straight year after earning the No. 7 seed in Class 7A-Region 3. The Patriots went 10-0 and captured the 7A-District 10 title in earning the No. 2 seed in the region.
About Palmetto: The Tigers have a high-powered offense that topped 40 points seven times in the regular season and averaged 42.3 per game. ... This is the second straight season that Palmetto opens the playoffs at Pinellas Park. In 2017, the Tigers rallied for a 28-24 victory before being eliminated by Tampa Bay Tech in the region semis. ... Palmetto went 2-3 against teams that reached the playoffs, beating Sarasota Riverview (42-35) and Punta Gorda Charlotte (40-16), and losing to Manatee (29-20), Braden River (31-28) and Venice (56-28). ... The Tigers are a 7-point favorite according to Joe Pinkos’ forecast.
About Pinellas Park: The Patriots posted four shutouts — including three straight to open the season — and won nine games by 21 points or more during their perfect regular season. ... Pinellas Park’s closest game was a 21-13 victory over St. Petersburg Lakewood on Oct. 5. ... The Patriots dominated the opposition during the regular season, outscoring their opponents 473-90 while putting at least 42 points on the scoreboard in nine of their 10 games.
What’s next: The winner faces either No. 3 seed Fort Myers Riverdale (10-0) or sixth-seeded Valrico Bloomingdale (9-1) in the 7A-3 semifinals.
Clearwater Calvary Christian at Cardinal Mooney
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: The Warriors went 5-5 in the regular season and earned the No. 6 seed in Class 3A-Region 3. The Cougars went 8-2 in earning the No. 3 seed in the region.
About Calvary Christian: The Warriors edged St. Petersburg Catholic for the final spot in the six-team field. ... Among Calvary Christian’s five losses was a 41-40 double-overtime setback against the IMG White team on Oct. 26. ... The Warriors averaged 31.7 points per game during the regular season.
About Cardinal Mooney: Back-to-back losses to close the regular season cost the Cougars a first-round bye in the six-team field. ... Cardinal Mooney beat Calvary Christian 34-22 on Sept. 28 as part of its 8-0 start. ... Short-handed because of key injuries, the Cougars enter the playoffs looking to bounce back after lopsided losses to Clearwater Central Catholic (55-20) and Booker (30-6) to close the regular season. ... Cardinal Mooney is a 3-point favorite according to Joe Pinkos’ forecast.
What’s next: The winner travels to No. 2 seed Tampa Berkeley Prep (6-3) in the 3A-3 semifinals.
Mount Dora Christian at Saint Stephen’s
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
How they got here: Mount Dora Christian (7-3) beat Riviera Beach Inlet Grove 49-6 and Out-of-Door Academy 21-3 to advance to the Sunshine State Athletic Conference’s Coral League championship game. Saint Stephen’s (9-1) beat Ocala Christian 55-9 and St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep 41-3 to advance to the Coral League title game.
About Mount Dora Christian: The Bulldogs overcame an 0-3 start and have won seven straight as they head to Bradenton. ... Mount Dora Christian has been dominant during its seven-game winning streak, with an average margin of victory of 39.9 points.
About Saint Stephen’s: The Falcons are looking for their third straight SSAC championship and have won 30 of their past 31 games dating to the start of the 2016 season. ... Since having its 22-game winning streak snapped on Sept. 7 at Windermere Prep, Saint Stephen’s has won eight straight while averaging 44 points per game. ... The Falcons have been just as dominant defensively, holding six of their past seven opponents to single digits.
What’s next: The winner faces the Coastal League champion, either Windermere Prep or Orlando Christian Prep, on Nov. 17 in the fifth annual Florida Bowl at The Master’s Academy in Oviedo.
This week’s schedule
Class 8A-Region 2 quarterfinals
Manatee at Kissimmee Osceola, 7:30 p.m.
Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinals
Braden River at Plant City, 7:30 p.m.
Palmetto at Pinellas Park, 7:30 p.m.
Class 3A-Region 3 quarterfinals
Clearwater Calvary Christian at Cardinal Mooney, 7:30 p.m.
Sunshine State Athletic Conference semifinals
Mount Dora Christian Academy at Saint Stephens, 7 p.m.