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ROUND 1: Let The State Playoffs Begin

When the 2017 high school football season began in the third week of August, nobody could have predicted the way things went this year.

From Hurricane Irma and the many makeup games that would follow in the weeks after the storm - to the point system that was designed to make things a lot better and more exciting - this was a season that everyone will take a look back on for years to come.

Now, as we head toward the "second season" in the Sunshine State, the destination is Orlando - where the best 16 teams in Florida well head during the second weekend of December.

When the FHSAA football playoff brackets were released last Sunday - in a live selection show, the South Florida region placed 30 high schools in the tournament that begins tonight (Thursday).

Favorites such as Deerfield Beach and Miramar advanced in 8A, along with Plantation and Western from Broward County.

Among Broward's 7A schools are 3-time defending champion St. Thomas Aquinas, upstart West Broward and Nova. Dillard is the only 6A school that the county will send into the first round.

Where Broward definitely shines is in 5A - where nationally rated and defending state champion Plantation American Heritage and Cardinal Gibbons go in as favorites.

University School (4) and Chaminade-Madonna(3A) are the only  two smaller schools who will be action in the first weekend.

Once again this year, Miami-Dade will not be left out of the first round. While Miami Booker T. Washington did not qualify in 4A, which made huge headlines across the state, there were others who did make an impact.

As defending 8A state champion Miami Southridge is in the playoff mix again, the Spartans are not alone. District foes Palmetto, South Dade and Homestead are there as well. So are Belen Jesuit, North Miami, Miami High and Christopher Columbus.

As 7A has long belonged to St. Thomas Aquinas - with the Raiders rolling to three consecutive state titles, programs such as South Miami, Mater Academy and Doral Academy have all played well this year.

Where this tournament really takes on a tournament feel is in Class 6A - where four teams (Northwestern, Central, defending state champion Carol City and Norland) all made the opening round of the playoffs.

Miami- Dade County is well represented in the smaller classifications with  defending 2A state runner up Champagnat Catholic, Everglades Prep (3A) and surprising Monsignor Pace (4A) all ready for the opening round.

Here is a rundown of the games this week. Enjoy the Race For Orlando - with some top-flight action taking place:


2A - Naples St. John Neumann (9-0) at Champagnat Catholic (5-2), Milander Stadium, 7. Last year's runner up will hope to follow last year's path under head coach Dennis Marroquin. Coach Damon Jones and his Celtics were unbeaten this season – as a No. 3 seed.

WINNER GETS: No. 1 Moore Haven or No. 4 Glades Day.

8A - Miami High (8-1) at Palmetto, Tropical Park (8-1), 7. A very usual first round game with two teams this impressive this year. The Panthers and Mike Manasco have really made a huge impression – as district champs. The Stingarees are also a program – under the direction of Sedrick Irvin – that has things rolling, suffering only a one-point loss to district champion and No. 1 seed Columbus.

WINNER GETS: Either district champion Belen Jesuit or defending 8 state champion Southridge.

8A - South Dade (8-1) at North Miami (6-3), Traz Powell Stadium, 7. Before the season began, everyone expect South Dade to be in this game – maybe even as a district champion. But the Pioneers were not even in the discussion. First year head coach Pat Colon and his captured the district title.

WINNER GETS: Top seed Christopher Columbus or upstart Homestead.


3A - Delray American Heritage at Chaminade-Madonna (7-2), 3. On the surface, the Lions certainly have a huge advantage - turning up the heat over the past few weeks on both sides of the ball, but head coach Dameon Jones and his team will take nobody for granted. The Stallions are well coached with Keith Hindsley and very young, setting the table for the future.

WINNER GETS: Either district champion North Palm Beach Benjamin or Everglades Prep.

3A - Everglades Prep (5-4) at North Palm Beach Benjamin (7-2), 7:30. Here is one of those games where two teams, not used to the playoff mix, will have a chance to get to the second round with a victory. The Panthers are coached by former Miami Beach standout Tobar Wilson, who is bringing this program along. Veteran head coach Ron Ream has the Buccaneers rolling along.   

WINNER GETS: It will be either the No. 1 seed Chaminade-Madonna Lions or the No. 4 seed Delray American Heritage.

4A - Belle Glade Glades Central (7-3) at University School (7-1), 7:30. Here is a very rare playoff home game for the Sharks, who had a huge season. Head Coach Daniel Luque has been the perfect for this team - as they face off with head coach Jesse Hester and the Raiders for the second time this year. University School won 13-7 back in August.

WINNER GETS: It will be the winner of the No. 2 and No. 3 battle between surprising Monsignor Pace and Key West.

4A - Key West (8-1) at Monsignor Pace (8-1), 7:30. Here is one of those games where the two teams have certainly fought hard enough to get into the playoffs. Veteran head coach Joe Zaccheo and his Spartans have truly fund thing around this season - with several key players stepping up. The Conchs and head coach John Hughes have endured Hurricane Irma and have bounced back this season.

WINNER GETS: It will be either No. 1 seed University School or No. 4 Glades Central.

5A - Cardinal Gibbons (9-1) at Orlando Jones (9-1), 7:30. This is one of those meetings that could easily be a region final, but the talent that is in 5A has given this game a first round spotlight in Orlando as head coach Matt Dubuc and his talented group will look to make a run at a state title - which begins against Elijah Williams' Fighting Tigers. This may be one of the state's better opening round meetings.

WINNER GETS: It will be either No. 2 seed Rockledge or No. 7 seed Palm Bay.

5A - Merritt Island (6-3) at Plantation American Heritage (9-0), 7:30. The last time head coach Pat Surtain and his team lost was two years ago - an the defending state champion Patriots would love to keep it that way against a competitive Mustang team under the direction of head coach Jeff McClean. Both have very impressive seniors classes as well.

WINNER GETS: It will be either No. 4 Fort Pierce Westwood or talented No. 5 seed Orlando Bishop Moore.

6A - Carol City (6-3) at Fort Lauderdale Dillard, 7:30. These two programs are certainly no strangers to each other - playing a number of times during the years. As the defending state champion Chiefs make the trip to Fort Lauderdale, first year head coach Benedict Hyppolite and his team believe they have the kind of program that can get back to Orlando. The Panthers have also been up and down this season, but as district champions and hosting the first round meeting, believe they can also shock some people as well.

WINNER GETS: It will be either No. 2 Daytona Beach Mainland or No. 7 and very surprising Norland.

6A - Miami Central (8-2) at Palm Bay Heritage (7-3), 7:30. This was a tough game a few years back when these programs got together - and as the No. 5 seeded Rockets take another first round road game, it appears that veteran head coach Roland Smith and his team will be ready - on both sides of the ball as they want another shot at rival Northwestern. The Panthers are led by head coach Mark Ainsley who will have his team ready to go.    

WINNER GETS: It doesn't get any better in 6A - as it will be either No. 1 Northwestern in a rematch - or No. 8 seed Palm Coast Matanzas.

6A - Norland (6-3) at Daytona Beach Mainland (6-4), 7:30. As many continued to watch the Buccaneers through the years and have been impressed by what Scott Wilson's teams have done in the past, this is a huge challenge for the host team - as the Vikings come in with veteran head coach Daryle Heidelburg and a team that will present problems as a much faster overall program that has had by far the toughest schedule of the two programs. Nobody will be surprised if the Vikings win this first round game. Nobody!

WINNER GETS: It will be either Carol City or Dillard in the next round of the playoffs.

6A - Palm Coast Matanzas (6-3) at Miami Northwestern (7-2), 7:30. On the surface, this is a six hour bus trip that will be the first for this northern Florida program that will more than have its hands full with a Bulls team that wants to send this impressive senior class of with a state championship. There is no question that this is a game that head coach Max Edwards and his program should have no problem with. The Pirates and head coach Robert Ripley are building, but not ready for the speed and talent that they will be facing.

WINNER GETS: Everyone is rooting for a Miami Central-Northwestern rematch, and it could very well be a reality.

7A - Mater Academy (6-4) at Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer (8-2), 7:30. On the surface, if you know what head coach Jack Daniels and his Panthers from Palm Beach Gardens can do, this should not even be a game. But the Lions have played hard and clawed their way into the playoffs once again this season. This will tell a lot about this program – for the future as well.

WINNER GETS: Either Nova or Doral Academy in the next round of the playoffs.

7A - Nova (8-1) at Doral Academy (8-2), 7. This is indeed one of those first round games that pits a pair of teams who showcased a lot of talent and tremendous coach. The Titans enjoyed one of their best years in recent memory, losing just once. The Firebirds were the overwhelming choice to win the district this season, and they never let anyone down. Big time potential and a lot of young players.

WINNER GETS: Always tough Dwyer and Mater Academy will battle for a second round playoff spot.

7A - South Miami (6-4) at St. Thomas Aquinas (7-2). For the Cobras, this is indeed a rare opportunity to get into the playoffs – and with an opening round against the top seed, this could be the biggest game that head coach Rick Munne and this program have played in a long time. The Raiders are three-time defending state champions. A two loss regular season does not sit well – and like they have in each of the three years – the season starts now for head coach Roger Harriot and his football team.

WINNER GETS: There are two surprising teams who are new to the playoffs in West Broward and West Palm Beach Forest Hill.

7A - West Palm Beach Forest Hill (9-1) at West Broward (7-2), Flanagan High, 7:30. What has happened in the past month in Pembroke Pines has been the birth of a very talented football team – under the direction of head coach Monte Dilworth. The Bobcats are one of the most productive offenses in South Florida. A rare playoff appearance indeed for the Falcons, who have turned it all around under a tremendous coaching staff – led by head coach Jude Blessington.

WINNERS GETS: Either top seed St. Thomas Aquinas or South Miami, making a rare playoff appearance.

8A – Homestead (6-3) at Christopher Columbus (7-1), 5. Another of those games where the Explorers and veteran head coach Chris Merritt were expected to be a high see, and they are as the No. 1 seed. A very talented and tested team. The Broncos and coach Ahmad Ward have truly come out of nowhere and earned this post-season trip.

WINNER GETS: No. 5 seed South Dade or No. 4 North Miami, who kick things off on Thursday night.

8A - Lake Worth Park Vista (7-3) at Miramar, 7:30. Over the past month, very few football programs have played better than first year head coach AJ Scott and his Patriots. So impressive has this team been, they earned a No. 1 seed after upending No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas in the season-finale. Coach Brian Dodds Cobras have been impressive, winning 6 of the 7 district games played. A very talented program heads south.

WINNER GETS: The classic first round battle between Plantation and the always tough Delray Atlantic Eagles.

8A – Plantation (9-1) at Delray Beach Atlantic (8-1), 7:30. What a year it has been for head coach Steve Davis and his Colonels – after a very tough 2016. The return of Davis and several players gave this quality team a high seed. The Eagles will host after an 8-1 season (6-0 in district play). This is always a talented group, and this year will be no different.

WINNER GETS: Top seed Miramar will host Park Vista with a second round game at stake.

8A - Southridge (5-3) at Belen Jesuit (6-3), 1. This is the last place that head coach Billy Rolle and his defending 8A state champions expected to be – on the road for the first round. But look for this gifted program to fight hard to defend that title – with some quality athletes on both sides of the ball. For first year head coach Eddie Delgado, it was a rough start, but with a 5-0 district record the Wolverines will gladly host the very first game of the 2017 state playoffs.

WINNER GETS: It will be either No. 7 seed Miami High or district champion and No. 2 seed Palmetto.

8A - Western (8-2) at Deerfield Beach (8-2), 7:30. A rematch of last year's first round playoff game with the Bucks coming out on top. Once again head coach Jevon Glenn and his talented defense will try to control another quality opponent. Head Coach Adam Ratkevich plated a very competitive schedule this season – and has the talent to really make a solid run. Things will be interesting in Round 1.

WINNER GETS: No. 2 seed Palm Beach Central will play host to Seminole Ridge.

Catch the South Florida High Sports Radio Show each Monday night (9-10) on WQAM (560AM). For the past 10 years, the players and coaches who are making the headlines, join the program. You will learn a lot!

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