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ports Three Manatee County Teams Head into Playoffs Friday Night

 Manatee DE Blake Keller blocks a punt against Miramar

BRADENTON – Manatee, Palmetto and Southeast all head into first round playoff action this Friday night. The 'Canes are big favorites as they host St. Pete Northeast, and Palmetto shouldn't have too much trouble on the road against Auburndale. Southeast is also a heavy favorite against Lake Wales, especially playing at home where they were undefeated this season.

7-3 Northeast fielded a good team this year, but has yet to face anything that would prepare them for the nation's top high school team, the Manatee Hurricanes. With losses to Tampa Catholic, Pinellas Park and Clearwater, the Vikings are sure to be outmatched on both sides of the ball against an explosive team that hasn't scored less than 40 points all season and has scored more than 50 five times. Manatee has more weapons than a aircraft carrier, with talent so deep that their second team players dominated most teams' first squad when they came in to mop up blowouts throughout the season. 

Northeast, who only got the District 9 playoff spot because Countryside was forced to forfeit 6 games for using an ineligible player, would need nothing short of a complete Manatee implosion to stay in the game. Assuming the 'Canes win, they could see themselves in yet another regional championship game against Venice who plays Pinellas Park (7-3), the team Manatee was originally set to play Friday night. Pinellas Park lucks out by drawing the Indians (7-3) who Manatee stomped 56-27 earlier this season, in what should be an evenly matched game.

6-4 Auburndale isn't expected to give much trouble to Palmetto, an 8-2 squad that was ranked No. 1 in the state in 5A until losing to Southeast in a game that decided the district championship. That game was just seven days after the Tigers were routed 62-0 by Manatee in a much-hyped game between two undefeated teams. Palmetto came back to score an impressive win over Trinity Catholic last week and another win Friday would set up a much-anticipated rematch with Southeast, if the Seminoles get by Lake Wales.

When Palmetto is firing on all cylinders they are downright awesome. Corey Crawford's game-breaking speed, Josh Hicks' power running and the sure hands and after the catch skills of E.J. Burston and Shaq Harris are a lot to contain, but the question in the playoffs will be whether young QB Chris Tuten can step up and take command at this level. The sophomore has been inconsistent since taking over the starting role in week 2, however, when he's on, the tall southpaw has demonstrated tremendous potential.

Southeast (8-2) has been playing good football, winning five in a row since getting hammered by Manatee 52-13 mid-season, including their 31-17 victory at Palmetto two weeks ago. The key to Coach Paul Maechtle's success this season has been his passing game. If senior QB Myles Braxton-Johnson and his corps of seasoned receivers are clicking, Courtney Allen tends to have big games. But in games where the dynamic junior RB has had to carry the full load, it's been easier for defenses to key on him, and the 'Noles have been a much less formidable team. To see the 7A state playoff bracket, click here. To view the 5A state playoff bracket, click here.

Palmetto WR/RB Corey Crawford takes off around the end against Sarasota



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