The high school football season is inching toward the end zone. Manatee County’s public-school teams are either completing their season this week or preparing for a playoff run.
There have been plenty of highlights during the 2019 season.
Let’s start with the two teams winning district titles, bitter rivals Palmetto and Manatee.
The two schools separated by the Manatee River ended district championship droughts in 2019.
First, Palmetto breezed to its first district championship since 2011 when the Tigers swept Braden River, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda Charlotte and Southeast.
The year 2011 should ring significantly for Palmetto fans.
That season saw the Tigers reach the Class 5A state semifinals, in which they hosted Miami Norland and lost by eight points to future NFL running back Duke Johnson and offensive lineman Ereck Flowers.
This year’s group also has county bragging rights after defeating Manatee in overtime in a non-district game.
Speaking of the Hurricanes, what a way to turn around a season. Manatee dealt with injuries and a poor start. Of course, the Canes didn’t have the easiest draw to begin the year.
The 0-3 start came from playing last year’s 7A state champ, Lakeland, as well as rivals Palmetto and Braden River.
However, Manatee is surging at the right time and captured its first district championship since 2015 when the Hurricanes upset perennial area power Venice on the road last week.
Here’s a look at highlights surrounding the rest of Manatee County teams:
The Pirates are young and lost key pieces from last year’s team through graduation or transfer, but still remained poised to make the playoffs for a sixth straight season heading into Week 11.
That’s all in the face of a daunting schedule, one of the toughest in the area.
History was made this year at Braden River, too, with the Pirates’ first road victory over Manatee. The Pirates beat the Canes last season for the first time, winning before the home crowd.
The Mustangs came into the 2019 season with their third coach in three seasons and riding a 15-game losing streak.
A 3-0 start is keying a culture change and helped secure Lakewood Ranch’s first winning season since 2014.
The Seminoles won’t make the playoffs after dropping five straight games, including all four district games. That said, Southeast started 3-0 and had confidence going into its district slate.
Southeast should still be confident at how close it is to taking the next step under head coach Brett Timmons. Three of their district losses were by a combined 18 points.
It’s been a long time since the Bruins made the playoffs, let alone win a district title.
But this season? The Florida High School Athletic Association’s reclassification dropped Bayshore into a more favorable district, one the Bruins capitalized with in scoring three league victories to set up a district championship game with Tampa Jesuit last week.
Despite the loss to Jesuit, this season showed Bayshore is capable of playing for a district title now compared to where it was slotted in the past.
From never playing organized football to performing on Thursday nights, many of Parrish Community’s players got their first taste of football.
Now they’re part of the high school football landscape as the Bulls played a junior varsity slate in their inaugural season.
Next year, they’ll play varsity football under the Friday night lights, and they already have a devoted following.
Since becoming an FHSAA independent school, the Falcons have developed into the class of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference.
Saint Stephen’s played for the SSAC championship the past four seasons, winning twice, and entered the 2019 postseason as the top seed in the FBS (Football Bowl Series) bracket.
The Panthers had never won a playoff game coming into the 2019 season. That all changed last week.
They beat Riveria Beach Inlet Grove, 48-33, to secure the program’s first playoff win and book a rematch with rival Saint Stephen’s in the SSAC’s FBS bracket quarterfinals.
The Ascenders are nationally ranked, possess a loaded roster, coaching staff and facilities unmatched for high school football.
But the highlight to this season was how they performed away from Bradenton to start the year.
They had four consecutive road games and won them all, including a trip to nationally ranked Saint Joseph’s Prep of Philadelphia.