|photo by Tiffany Tompkins-Condie|
The Class 7A Tigers will be joined by Manatee in Class 8A and Cardinal Mooney in Class 3A as each team begins its march toward a potential trip to Orlando's Florida Citrus Bowl, home of the state championship games.
Here is a look at each team's postseason picture.
MANATEE - Just because the top-ranked Hurricanes (10-0) don't have to worry anymore about Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, which is now in 7A, that doesn't mean their road to Orlando gets any easier.
In fact, it may be the hardest its been since coach Joe Kinnan's return to the sideline in 2005.
It begins Friday against the 9-1 Vero Beach Indians, and while only two of their wins came against teams with a winning record, the Indians have a solid quarterback in Dalton Stokes, who has thrown for 2,220 yards.
The winner gets either 9-1 Fort Pierce Central or white-hot 7-2 Riverview, whose only two losses have come to Manatee and Class 6A playoff qualifier Venice. Perennial powers Orlando Dr. Phillips or Tampa Plant probably await whomever makes it to the Region 2 final. And what does the Region 2 champ get for a reward? A probable state semifinal against Apopka, which set a state scoring record this year with 529 points despite losing Nebraska-bound quarterback Zack Richardson to a concussion in Week 1.
Not easy. At all.
PALMETTO - That loss to Sarasota not only cost the Tigers (5-5) a chance of winning their second district title in three years, it also cost them some fuel - they open the Class 7A-Region 3 playoffs tonight in Tarpon Springs against East Lake.
And East Lake isn't exactly a delightful first-round draw: The Eagles are fresh off the first perfect regular-season in program history and are ranked second in the state in Class 7A.
The Tigers have had some success on the road under coach Dave Marino, who took over in 2010. Palmetto traveled to Immokalee in 2011 and returned to Manatee County with its first regional title in 25 years, and opened last year's playoffs with a win at Auburndale. So it has happened before.
And if Palmetto gets by the Eagles, the region's clear-cut favorite, things open up. Largo Pinellas Park or Sarasota await in a semifinal, and either Charlotte, Port Charlotte, Melbourne, or Melbourne Eau Gallie will come out of the other side for the Region 3 final.
Of those teams, only the Pirates (No.9) were ranked in the final Associated Press poll of the regular season.
The Region 3 champion, however, probably has to meet Aquinas or top-ranked Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer in a semifinal.
CARDINAL MOONEY - Classes 1A through 4A may have one fewer round than their bigger counterparts, but the Class 3A Cougars (7-2) still have a tough road to hoe to Orlando.
Mooney hosts a Region 3 semifinal tonight against St. Petersburg Catholic in a rematch of an Oct. 11th meeting the Cougars won 14-12 in St. Pete.
All three of Catholic's loss have come to playoff teams, including Clearwater Central Catholic, which the Cougars-Barons winner probably faces next week for the regional title.
CCC ended the regular season ranked fifth in Class 3A and took IMG Academy to overtime on Halloween before losing 19-13 in Bradenton.
The Marauders are the only ranked team in the region, which also includes traditional powers such as Hollywood Chaminade and Pahokee, as well as Fort Myers Bishop Verote, Miami Westminster Christian and West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman.