ENGLEWOOD — The last time the Lemon Bay football team traveled to the east coast, it left with its only loss of the season — a season-opening 33-27 defeat to King’s Academy of West Palm Beach.
Today when the Mantas board their bus destined for American Heritage in Delray Beach, they’ll have a chance to leave with a piece of history.
Lemon Bay (8-1) has never won a second-round playoff game or finished with a record of 9-1 or better.
“I don’t know that any of us would’ve foreseen what we’ve done,” Lemon Bay coach Don Southwell said of his team’s 8-1 season. “Not only have we won eight in a row, but it’s been pretty easy.
“At this point, when it’s win or go home, we want (the players) to know about (the history at stake), because it’s extra motivation. I don’t think it’s a distraction. I think it’s, ‘Hey if we put everything into Friday night, we can be remembered here as the best.’”
Lemon Bay opened last year 0-7 before winning the final three games of the season to make the playoffs. But even that late hot streak couldn’t prepare this year’s group for what was about to come.
“I would’ve been a little surprised,” said senior quarterback Austin Andrle on what he would’ve thought last year if he knew the Mantas would be 8-1 this year. “I mean the odds weren’t really with us. But I would’ve known about this group coming up as seniors, and I could’ve seen it.
“We’ve been blocking through the whistle. We have non-stop effort for everything.”
Making history is rarely easy, and American Heritage will surely represent Lemon Bay’s toughest test of the year.
A three-time state championship program, the Stallions won just half of their six games this season, but are still ranked as the No. 147 team in FL — 42 spots ahead of Lemon Bay.
The Stallions, led by sophomore quarterback Dylan Rizk (offer from Kentucky), are a pass-happy offense with four receivers who had at least 14 receptions, including three-star FAU commit Brandon Schabert.
But it’s not just a passing attack for the Stallions, as they have two capable running backs in Trey Rainey (514 yards, 6.9 yards per carry) and Clay Cannon (351 yards, 8 yards per carry) as well.
American Heritage is dangerous on defense, too, with a tough front seven that features three-star South Dakota commit Earl Miller.
“They have some explosive players on offense,” Southwell said. "They have two running backs who are as good as anyone we’ve seen this year. They have a stable of tall receivers. They’ve got a gun-slinger at quarterback. And their defense is just solid.
“There’s some future college football players in their front seven. You look at their record and see they’re 3-3, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. They’re a good football team. We’ll have to play really well.”
But even though American Heritage is a team worthy of respect, the Mantas are a formidable opponent, too.
Lemon Bay has showcased an explosive offense with several capable playmakers and a defense that’s shined all year.
Tonight, the Mantas will have their shot to prove they’re the real deal. If they are, they’ll be remembered by many teams after them.
“They’re probably gonna underestimate us a little because of the strength of schedule,” Andrle said. “They have some reason to, I guess. Then again, we’ve blown these teams out, but whatever.
“If we come out strong, we have a shot. It would be cool if we could go down in history.”
Players to watch: Austin Andrle, Henry Schouten, Jason Hogan, Aaron Pasick, Jacob Sekach, Everett Baker, Louis Baldor.
Last meeting: N/A
Prediction: Vinnie Portell (30-11): Lemon Bay 35-31; Patrick Obley (29-11): American Heritage 35-27; Scott Zucker (29-12): Lemon Bay 28-24.
Riverdale (2-5) at Venice (8-3), 7:30 p.m.
After taking some days off during the bye week, Venice will be back in action at Powell-Davis Stadium this Friday against Riverdale in a regional quarterfinal matchup.
But even though the playoffs have officially begun, the Indians should be in for another easy week.
The Raiders went 2-5 this season, winning games against Cape Coral and Golden Gate early before losing four straight to end the regular season.
Stopping teams has been an issue for the Raiders, who have surrendered at least 40 points in four of their losses.
A run-heavy team that operates with a single-wing offense, Riverdale put 40 points on Fort Myers in a loss — scoring over 12 points for the first time this year.
Players to watch: Colin Blazek, Chuck Brantley, Steffan Johnson, Jayson Platt, Myles Weston, Keyon Sears, Weston Wolff, Ethan Mort, Martin Ramos, Logan Ballard, Elliot Washington.
Last meeting: N/A
Prediction: Portell: Venice 46-12; Obley: Venice 48-6; Zucker: Venice 42-14.
Charlotte (7-2) at Palmetto Ridge (8-0), 7:30 p.m.
A week after eliminating the Tarpons’ rivals in Port Charlotte, the Palmetto Ridge Bears will try to do the same to Charlotte.
Ranked No. 18 in FL by MaxPreps, the Bears feature three-star Nebraska commit Kamonte Grimes and Malique Dieudonne (offers from Coastal Carolina, Navy, Temple, etc.) at receiver and Jaden Booker (offers from Michigan, Nebraska, Pitt, etc.) at running back.
Charlotte, however, also has a dangerous offense, led by senior quarterback John Busha.
Players to watch: John Busha, Isaac White, Keon Jones, Ethan Redden, Tai’Viahn Kelly, Connor Trim, Jaden Opalach, Logan Pritchard, Nelson Daniels.
Last meeting: N/A
Prediction: Portell: Palmetto Ridge 35-24; Obley: Palmetto Ridge 28-24; Zucker: Charlotte 24-21.