The drive to December continues Friday night with Manatee County’s three remaining playoff qualifiers resuming their championship quests.
All three teams — Braden River, Manatee and Palmetto — were victorious on the road in their postseason openers, and all three again hit the road for their region semifinals.
Two matchups — Manatee-Riverview and Braden River-Venice — feature district rivals and are rematches from the regular season. The third features Palmetto making the short trip to Valrico Bloomingdale, which is coming off the first playoff win in program history.
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 region semifinals approaches:
Manatee at Riverview
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: The seventh-seeded Hurricanes (7-4) upset No. 2 Kissimmee Osceola 28-17 to advance to the Class 8A-Region 2 semifinals. The third-seeded Rams (8-3) extended their winning streak to four with a 41-22 rout of Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast in their playoff opener.
About Manatee: Making their 10th straight postseason appearance, the Hurricanes won their playoff opener for the first time since 2015. … A 24-13 loss to visiting Riverview on Oct. 12 cost Manatee the 8A-District 6 title and a first-round playoff game at home. The Canes get another shot, with the winner advancing to the region championship game. … Quarterback Anthony Squitieri was superb in the first-round victory, completing eight of 12 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, and adding a rushing touchdown. … Keyon Fordham (50-yard touchdown run against Osceola) and Irone Jackson (62-yard touchdown reception last week) are big-play threats every time they touch the ball. … Brandon Shannon had 11 tackles to lead the defensive effort against Osceola, and Demoundrey Evans delivered a game-sealing interception to send Manatee to the second round and the rematch with Riverview. ... The Canes are 1-point underdogs, according to Joe Pinkos’ forecast.
About Riverview: The Rams have been on a roll since a surprising 51-45 loss to Lithia Newsome on Oct. 5, winning four straight in dominant fashion, averaging 38 points per game while allowing 13.3. … The four-game winning streak started with the 11-point victory over Manatee in mid-October. … Running back Ali Boyce scored four touchdowns — three rushing and one receiving — in the win over Treasure Coast. … Boyce and Michael Hayes both rushed for more than 100 yards in the postseason opener.
What’s next: The winner will face either top-seeded Vero Beach or No. 4 Orlando Dr. Phillips in the region final.
Braden River at Venice
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: The fifth-seeded Pirates (9-2) held off No. 4 Plant City 28-23 to advance to the Class 7A-Region 3 semifinals. The top-seeded Indians (10-1) opened the defense of their state championship with a 59-23 rout of No. 8 Tampa Bay Tech.
About Braden River: The Pirates have lost five straight against the rival Indians and were eliminated from the playoffs by Venice each of the previous two seasons. … Braden River and Venice are meeting in the postseason for the fourth straight year. The Pirates blanked the Indians 17-0 in 2015 en route to the state semifinals; the Indians won 64-42 in 2016 and 41-32 in 2017. … Braden River won its playoff opener for the fifth consecutive season. … Running back Brian Battie carried the Pirates to their first-round win against Plant City, breaking free for 374 yards on 39 carries and scoring four touchdowns. He has 2,066 yards and 25 touchdowns this season while averaging 9.5 yards per carry. … Braden River again will be without wide receiver Knowledge McDaniel, the 2017 Bradenton Herald offensive player of the year who was ruled ineligible by the FHSAA for receiving impermissible benefits. … The Pirates have won six straight games since suffering a 24-21 loss to Venice on Sept. 28. ... Even though Braden River lost by only three points in the regular-season meeting, the Pirates are 24-point underdogs, according to Joe Pinkos’ forecast.
About Venice: The Indians have won 10 in a row since a season-opening loss to Vero Beach, including the 24-21 victory against Braden River on Sept. 28. … Venice’s margins of victory since beating the Pirates: 52, 57, 43, 28, 31 and 36 points. … The Indians went 4-0 against Manatee County public schools during the regular season, beating Lakewood Ranch (65-0), Braden River, Palmetto (56-28) and Manatee (44-13). … Quarterback Hayden Wolff (three touchdowns passes against Tampa Bay Tech) and running back Brandon Gregory (four touchdowns in the playoff opener) lead the way for a balanced offensive attack.
What’s next: The winner will face either sixth-seeded Valrico Bloomingdale or No. 7 Palmetto in the region final.
Palmetto at Bloomingdale
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: The seventh-seeded Tigers (8-3) routed previously unbeaten No. 2 seed Pinellas Park 38-21 to advance to the Class 7A-Region 3 semifinals. The sixth-seeded Bulls (10-1) blasted previously unbeaten No. 3 seed Fort Myers Riverdale 45-8.
About Palmetto: After beating Pinellas Park in their playoff opener for the second straight season, the Tigers face a Hillsborough County team in the region semis for the second year in a row. In 2017, Palmetto’s season ended with a 42-26 loss at Tampa Bay Tech. … The three teams that beat the Tigers during the regular season — Manatee, Braden River and Venice — won their playoff openers. … Quarterback Anthony Marino accounted for three touchdowns – two passing and one rushing – during the first-round victory. Marino’s scoring strikes were an 85-yard bomb to LaJohntay Wester and a 22-yard strike to Eddravian Butler. … The Tigers’ balanced offensive attack was aided by Corrian Brown and Johnny Jones, who added rushing touchdowns in the win over Pinellas Park. … Palmetto has won two in a row and five of its past six heading into the matchup with Bloomingdale. ... The Tigers are 3-point underdogs, according to Joe Pinkos’ forecast.
About Bloomingdale: The Bulls are coming off their first playoff win in program history. … With quarterback Lance Alderson sidelined with a broken foot, Bloomingdale has had to get creative under center. The Bulls used five players at quarterback in their regular-season finale, but Charles Montgomery took the bulk of the snaps against Riverdale. … The Bulls posted four straight shutouts to start the season and have held the opponent scoreless in six of 11 games. … Bloomingdale opened with seven straight wins before losing to Plant City. The Bulls have won three straight heading into the region semis.
What’s next: The winner will face either top-seeded Venice or No. 5 Braden River in the region final.
Saint Stephen’s vs. Orlando Christian Prep
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: The Master’s Academy, Oviedo
How they got here: The Falcons (10-1) beat Ocala Christian 55-9, St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep 41-3 and Mount Dora Christian 27-3 to win the Sunshine State Athletic Conference’s Coral Bay title and advance to the Florida Bowl for the fourth straight season. Orlando Christian Prep (8-2) beat Jacksonville Christ’s Church Academy 40-15 and previously unbeaten Windermere Prep 44-10 to win the SSAC’s Coastal League crown and advance to the Florida Bowl.
About Saint Stephen’s: The Falcons are riding a nine-game winning streak and are one victory away from an SSAC three-peat. After losing 33-0 to Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic in the 2015 Florida Bowl, Saint Stephen’s beat Vero Beach St. Edward’s in 2016 before defending its crown with a 49-21 rout of Windermere Prep in 2017. … Winners of 31 of its past 32 games, Saint Stephen’s has held eight of nine opponents to single digits in points during its nine-game winning streak. … The Falcons had their 22-game winning streak snapped with a 35-21 loss to Windermere Prep on Sept. 7. Since then, Saint Stephen’s has outscored the opposition 337-56. … The Falcons forced three turnovers against Mount Dora Christian and got scoring runs from Cam Vining, Xavier Williams and D.J. Clark in extending its Coral League dominance. ... Saint Stephen’s is a 21-point underdog, according to Joe Pinkos’ forecast.
About Orlando Christian Prep: The Warriors have won seven straight since opening the season 1-2, including a 34-28 victory over IMG White on Sept. 14 that jump-started the current winning streak. … Illinois State commit Jalen Carr ran for 345 yards — 254 in the first half — and four touchdowns in last week’s 34-point victory against Windermere Prep. His scoring runs covered 52, 79, 93 and 44 yards. Carr also had an interception. … Quarterback Connor Edel threw for 138 yards and two scores last week.
This week’s schedule
Class 8A-Region 2 semifinals
Manatee at Riverview, 7:30 p.m.
Class 7A-Region 3 semifinals
Braden River at Venice, 7:30 p.m.
Palmetto at Bloomingdale, 7:30 p.m.
SSAC FLORIDA BOWL
At The Master’s Academy, Oviedo
Saint Stephen’s vs. Orlando Christian Prep, 7 p.m.