Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee clinched its 25th district title in the last 31 years with its 51-9 victory over Sarasota (Fla.) High Friday night. But for the No. 2-ranked team in the RivalsHigh 100, there is much more on the line as the national title chase is heating up heading into the playoffs.
Senior quarterback Cord Sandberg said that the team is looking to close the season hoisting a championship trophy.
Manatee has been the team pushing top-ranked River Ridge (La.) John Curtis since the two rose to the front of the rankings on Sept. 24.
This week it continued its chase for top billing by playing a balanced game and scoring in every phase of the game.
Manatee opened the contest with a 47-yard touchdown from Sandberg to Brodrick Yancy on the first play from scrimmage just nine seconds into the first quarter.
"I actually throught I underthrew it," Sandberg told the paper. "I threw it, and I saw the defensive back put his hands up like was going to make the catch, like it's going to fall right in his hands ... honestly, I throw it and hope for the best."
After dominating rival school Palmetto (Fla.) High last week and throwing only five pass in that contest, this week the team opened up the air game and threw for 245 yards.
Sandberg connected with Marquel Hines and Kelvin McKnight for touchdowns on the night, moving his season total to 23 through the air with just one interception.
Manatee head coach Joe Kinnan said that throwing the ball more frequently was part of the gameplan.
"We tried to mix it up a little bit," he told the paper. "We felt we needed to do some different things."
In mixing it up, the rushing attack also found the end zone three times as Trevon Walters scored twice on his five carries and Marquise Dawsey, a four-year starter on the defensive line, punched in a 1-yard rush.
The defense forced a safety in the third quarter, and then the special teams got on the board by returning the free kick for a 66-yard touchdown by Darryl Brookins.
Manatee closes its regular season next week against Bradenton (Fla.) Lakewood Ranch and will then start its move through the Class 7A playoffs where it could pick up a trio of quality wins if it is able to claim a state title.
BIG WIN FOR BERGEN CATHOLIC: Under normal circumstances, this is a spot that would be used to point out Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic and its mid-season slide. But with Hurricane Sandy as the backdrop, for the week it was far from normal.
In the only game of the week that involved a New Jersey team, Bergen Catholic boarded a bus and played Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate, winning in overtime 48-42.
Bergen Catholic, as it had done in the last two games against Montvale (NJ) St. Joseph Regional and Ramsey (NJ) Don Bosco, jumped out to a lead but slowly watched it evaporate. Bergen had seen its 39-30 lead early in the fourth become a 42-39 deficit with one minute left to play and the program's first three-game losing streak in 13 years was nearing a reality.
Then Ryan Rose kicked a game-tying field goal to force overtime after missing a game-tying extra point against St. Joseph three weeks prior.
Then Jon Germano hit J.J. Kulcsar for the game-winning touchdown.
While it wasn't the way the team drew it up and certainly not the most confidence-inspiring victory, it was a reason to celebrate for a group that needed something positive to happen.
BCS, HSFB STYLE
In this space two weeks ago the debate regarding the similarities at the top of the RivalsHigh 100 poll and the BCS Rankings was a bridge worth crossing. This week, as the four-team discussion in college football fires up, there is a foursome on the high school level that may be comparable.
River Ridge (La.) John Curtis will play the role of Alabama and the top-ranked team that has been largely untested. Curtis has allowed one touchdown and one field goal against its first-team defense all season, and those points came in the first and second games of the season. The offense has balance with a plethora of running backs who will all play on the next level, a game-managing quarterback that, if needed, can lead the team, and a talented receiving corps that is overlooked by the style of play that program uses. The schedule is the lone weak link in the argument for this team, but none have looked more dominant on the year. Moving Curtis from the top line will be tough regardless of the strength of schedule working against it.
Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee, previously the Oregon of the comparison, is now morphing into the Kansas State for the debate. Manatee is led by its do-everything quarterback and has played a solid, if under-the-radar, schedule when compared to its national title counterparts. Its offense is not as high-octane as others, and its defense is not as respected; but overall there is no weakness to point at when it comes to the claim for the top spot. The remaining schedule should bring some tests, but nothing that will make this team an underdog.
The No. 3 team is DeSoto (Texas) High, and its counterpart on the college level is Oregon. DeSoto has the spread offense that runs up and down the field scoring points. It has a defense that has shown itself to be suspect at times and maybe not national-title worthy. The schedule for DeSoto has been better on the high school level than that of Oregon, and there is still a lot of meat on the bone for DeSoto to make it through a tough Texas 5ADI playoff format. But questions as to how serious of a national title caliber team is will linger with the defense hanging a cloud over the debate.
Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward is the current No. 4 team in the RivalsHigh 100 and plays strong defense and balanced, albeit sporadic, offense similar to that of Notre Dame. Like the Fighting Irish, St. Edward has the best schedule of the four in the discussion as it has wins over Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder, Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier, Cincinnati (Ohio) Moeller, and Cleveland (Ohio) St. Ignatius. Also like Notre Dame, it has had to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Victories over Moeller and St. Ignatius saw team rally from deficits to win. Against Moeller it overcame a 42-21 second half lead by scoring four unanswered touchdowns, and against St. Ignatius the team trailed into the fourth quarter before scoring two touchdowns to close out a 20-13 win. Also, like Notre Dame, there are still multiple challenges in front of the team that many feel can trip it up. But if this team is a true team of destiny -- as some are labeling Notre Dame -- anything can happen.
While there doesn't appear to be a darkhorse for a national title on the college level, the RivalsHigh 100 National Championship could be claimed by teams not mentioned above, and two potential title winners are Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County, which is ranked No. 6; or Cincinnati (Ohio) Colerain, which is at No. 12 in the updated rankings.
GOOSE CREEK GETS IT DONE: How you view the results of the Goose Creek (S.C.) High football team is a matter of perspective.
The No. 1 team in South Carolina and No. 26-ranked team in the RivalsHigh 100 defeated 9-1 Stratford (S.C.) High last Friday by a final score of 31-23. The end result is probably a fair measurement of how the game was played, but with Stratford scoring all of its points in the final quarter, including 15 of them in the final minute, there is a concern that Goose Creek taking its foot off the accelerator.
Goose Creek passed for 179 yards and two touchdowns -- both to star player Tramel Terry, who had 150 yards receiving -- and then pounded the ball on the ground for 190 yards to seal the win. Goose Creek also forced three turnovers in the contest -- two of which were inside its own 10 and one followed a dropped touchdown pass by Stratford.
By the middle of the third quarter, Goose Creek had amassed a 24-0 lead before Stratford began to mount a comeback.
Noah Shuler ran in a score for Stratford at the start of the fourth quarter to which Goose Creek responded before Stratford scored another touchdown inside a minute, recovered an onside kick and scored again.
The playoffs begin next week in South Carolina, and Goose Creek could find itself with contests against two of three other ranked teams in the state. It could meet with No. 70 Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern in the semifinals before playing either No. 68 York (S.C.) High or No. 69 Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe in the state finals.
TRADING PLACES: There is a three-team turnover in the RivalsHigh 100 this week, and the spots were changed in a very unique way as two Texas teams will replace two California teams and an exiting team from Pennsylvania will have its place taken by another from the Keystone State.
Previously ranked No. 58 Lake Forest (Calif.) El Toro was beaten 49-7 by now-No. 44 Mission Viejo (Calif.) High this week and fell.
Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita is leaving the rankings after it was defeated 42-15 by Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco. Santa Margarita was the No. 1 team in the preseason poll, but transfers and injuries took away multiple starters. The team was unable to overcome them and will likely end the year unranked.
Harrisburg (Pa.) Central Dauphin will be making its second exit of the year from the RivalsHigh 100 as it fell to rival Harrisburg (Pa.) Central Dauphin East, 21-19.
The trio will be replaced by La Porte (Texas) High, Manvel (Texas) High and Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep.
La Porte was ranked through Week 4 of the season before exiting. It downed then-No. 18 Galena Park (Texas) North Shore, 27-10. La Porte will re-enter the rankings at No. 51.
Manvel was considered for rankings at several points this season including being one of the last teams to miss the preseason rankings. This week it will jump into the rankings at No. 86 after defeating previously ranked Pearland (Texas) High, 42-28.
Erie Cathedral will slide into the No. 5 spot in a surprisingly strong Pennsylvania state rankings and into the No. 88 spot in the RivalsHigh 100. Erie Cathedral had been among the first to miss the rankings over the last several weeks but has allowed fewer than 100 points on the season and has shutout its last two opponents while having similar victories over common opponents in the RivalsHigh 100.
COMING UP THIS WEEK: Many states around the country are in the early rounds of playoffs, and that makes nationally ranked match-ups few and far between. This week's slate of games is a reflection of that as there are only two games featuring two currently ranked teams, and both are from the second round of games in Ohio.
The two major cities in the Buckeye State are winding down to their final two games, and that means that the season for several nationally ranked teams will come to a close this weekend. In Cleveland, No.4-ranked Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward will be hosting No. 76 Mentor (Ohio) High; and in Cincinnati, No. 12 Colerain will host No. 60 Elder for a spot in the respective Region finals.
Along with those two games, there are four power-state games feature a currently ranked team versus a team that was ranked in the RivalsHigh 100 at one point in the season. Six other games feature nationally ranked teams taking on nationally relevant competition.
Games in Georgia, Florida, Ohio, and Texas will pit current vs. formerly ranked teams as No. 6 Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County will host Moultrie (Ga.) Colquitt Count; No. 27 Delray Beach (Fla.) American Heritage looks to show it can play with schools up in class against West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer; No. 38 Cincinnati (Ohio) Moeller hopes to outscore West Chester (Ohio) Lakota East, which defeated once-ranked West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West; and No. 54 Arlington (Texas) Bowie will have a fight on its hands for its ranking and local bragging rights against Arlington (Texas) Martin.
End-of-season rivalry games will affect the rankings in four games as No. 11 Loganville (Ga.) Grayson takes on Snellville (Ga.) Brookwood; No. 51 La Porte (Texas) can ill afford a letdown from its big win this week as it hosts Port Arthur (Texas) Memorial; No. 65 Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln must contain a Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby team that will be fuming off of its first loss; and No. 81 Tampa (Fla.) Plant will try to keep pace on the road against Tampa (Fla.) Robinson.
Two late-round playoff games in non-power states round out the action this coming week as No. 31 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman will take on the state's public school flag bearer, Palo Verde (Nev.) High; and No. 82 Sandy (Utah) Jordan will battle with Highland (Utah) Lone Peak in the semifinals of the Class 5A playoffs.