It’s one week into the high school football playoffs and just three local teams remain.
While two area teams removed themselves from the picture before the playoffs even began, the point remains — reaching the end won’t be easy.
Since the Florida High School Athletic Association began record keeping in 1963, the Venice Indians are the only local team to win a state championship — in 2000 and 2017 — but other area squads have come close.
Charlotte High has lost in the state semifinal round in 1970, 2002 and 2016 and has reached at least the regional final in eight seasons.
Everyone else, however, has struggled in regional play.
DeSoto County (2008 loss to Cocoa) and Port Charlotte (2013 loss to East Lake) are the only other area teams to make a regional final.
Lemon Bay has reached the regional semifinal three times — 1999, 2001 and 2003 — but has been in a postseason drought ever since.
North Port is still awaiting its first playoff appearance.
Even though the odds may be against the Indians, Tarpons and Manta Rays this year, there’s no reason to count them out just yet.
Here’s a look at what it will take for each team to win it all:
The Indians have the talent, reputation and coaching staff needed for a deep run into the postseason.
One thing they don’t have, however, is an easy path to the state tournament.
Even if the Indians win their next two games (home vs. Riverdale and away at Doral Academy or Homestead), they’ll still have to contend with one of the state’s best teams in the regional final.
If Venice wants to win its fifth straight regional title it will likely have to go through either St. Thomas Aquinas or Manatee on the road. The Raiders have ended Venice’s season in three of the past four years, and the Hurricanes have taken the past two district titles from the Indians.
Why they’ll be state champions: Venice finished its regular season with one of the best offenses in Florida — averaging 40 points per game against quality opponents. With a few Division-I caliber players on defense as well, the Indians have enough talent to play with just about anyone.
If Venice can get past its daunting region, the state tournament shouldn’t be any harder.
Why they’ll fall short: Venice has shined against lesser opponents in 2020, but the Indians have been exposed in their losses. If they want to add a third state title to the trophy case, they’ll have to find a way to bide more time for quarterback Colin Blazek and the offense to work.
Outside of Venice, no other area team has had as much success deep in the postseason.
Charlotte has been there often this decade, making it to the regional final three times since 2015, but hasn’t been able to break through with a ring.
This year’s group is young, but has already shown glimpses of greatness.
Led by senior dual-threat quarterback John Busha, the Tarpons have beaten contending teams like Braden River, Lehigh and Port Charlotte.
That’s good for Charlotte because the playoffs won’t be much easier.
If the Tarpons can beat Palmetto Ridge (No. 18 in FL) in Friday night’s regional quarterfinal, they’d play the winner of Dunbar vs. Island Coast.
If they make it to the regional final, they’re likely to see Miami Central High School (No. 3 in FL).
However, that would be the last top-tier team in their way.
Why they’ll be state champions: The Tarpons have the right mix of energetic youth and savvy leadership needed to win deep into the fall. If they can get past Palmetto Ridge and Miami Central — no easy feat — the Tarpons shouldn’t see another top-20 team the rest of the way.
Why they’ll fall short: There are few teams with a more difficult path to a state championship than Charlotte. The Tarpons are scheduled to play on the road in every game except the regional final — which would likely be Miami Central.
Lemon Bay (8-1)
The 3-8 Mantas made the playoffs last year, but this time around no one is questioning whether they belong.
After nearly completing a comeback in the season opener, Lemon Bay went on to dominate its competition in seven straight regular-season wins. That continued on Friday night when the Mantas rolled Lake Placid, 42-6.
The year has already been a success for Lemon Bay, but now it’s about history.
The Mantas have never won a regional semifinal game and will have a chance to do so at American Heritage (Delray Beach) on Friday night.
Why they’ll be state champions: Lemon Bay just completed one of, if not the best, regular season in school history. It’s a senior-laden group that’s excelled on offense, defense and special teams. If there’s ever been a Mantas team to win it all, it’s this one.
Why they’ll fall short: Lemon Bay has looked unbeatable at times against its schedule this year, but the Mantas have yet to play any formidable opponents. That will change this week as they travel to play three-time state champion American Heritage (Delray Beach). After that, Lemon Bay would face the winner of Cardinal Gibbons (No. 12 in FL) and Gulliver Prep (No. 36 in FL) in the regional final.