The 2020 high school football season may be shorter than usual, but it also has a silver lining.
Every team that opted into the postseason gets to play in the postseason, which means all four area teams are scheduled to be in action. That would rarely happen in a normal year. Below is a preview of each team's first-round matchup — some of which will be easier than others.
Riverview (7-1) will travel to Tampa to play Plant High (2-5). The Rams have been rolling since their Sept. 25 loss to Venice High, outscoring opponents 168-56 in five games. That includes last week, when the Rams defeated crosstown rival Sarasota High 28-7.
MaxPreps ranks the Rams 11th in Class 8A, while the Panthers are 40th. On paper, it appears to be a clear-cut victory for Riverview, but games aren't played on paper. Plant is having a down season, but they have been a Gulf Coast powerhouse for years. The Rams are taking them seriously. Riverview coach Josh Smithers said in October that though he was keeping his players focused on the regular season, the coaches had already begun looking at Plant video in preparation.
Plant's defense can be strong — the Panthers held Wharton High (6-1) to 10 points — but Riverview should ride home a winner if players such as senior running back Michael "Poodah" Hayes Jr. and junior receivers Omari Hayes and Jaron Glover have strong games.
The Sailors finished the regular season 5-5 in Coach Brody Wiseman's first season. There's talent on the Sarasota roster: senior Terrell Pack is a weapon on the outside, collecting 283 receiving yards and five touchdowns in six games. He also plays safety on defense, where he has the range to swat passes away and to rack up tackles. Junior wideout TJ McKay and junior running back Jarmel Holloway are also at first-year quarterback Lance Trippel's disposal, and senior linebacker Jamall Thompson is one of the best unsigned players in Florida.
Consistency has been a problem for the Sailors, though. Each time it appears the team has put it all together, something falters. They defeated Lakewood Ranch High 21-17 before the season-ending loss to Riverview, for instance. And they jumped to a 13-0 lead on Manatee High (7-1) before losing 36-13. The Sailors need to play well from start to finish in order to win games.
If they can play a full game, they have a chance. Their home playoff game against Lehigh High (4-4) will be no different. Like Sarasota, Lehigh has struggled with consistency, but has playmakers. Senior linebacker Jake Chaney (108 tackles) is committed to Wisconsin, senior wide receiver/running back Tar'varish Dawson (736 offensive yards, 11 touchdowns) is committed to Auburn, and senior defensive end DeQuaveon Fuller (six sacks, 14 tackles for loss) and senior cornerback Omarion Cooper (22 tackles, one interception) are committed to Florida State.
That's a lot of talent. The Sailors will need their own talent to bloom for them to walk away with a win.
The Tornadoes (1-7) have a tough task in front of them, facing Cypress Lake High (4-3).
Booker's lone win came in a 59-0 destruction of Bayshore High on Oct. 16. They followed a simple formula: strong defense and special teams set up the offense for success. They will have to do that again versus Cypress Lake, a team that has allowed more than 23 points in a game just once all season. Thee Cypress Lake running backs, led by senior Michael Lennett Jr., have run for a combined 983 yards. Lennett Jr. is averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Booker will need to keep that number down to limit Cypress Lake's time of possession.
On the other side, Tornadoes players like senior running back Dejuan Gordon and senior quarterback King Winkfield need to have strong games — and the offensive line needs to help them do that by consistently pushing back pressure.
Cardinal Mooney High
Cardinal Mooney (1-5) got off to a great start in 2020, defeating North Port High 42-7 on Sept. 11 in first-year Coach Jared Clark's debut.
Unfortunately, that is still Mooney's only win of the season, though they have been close to others. The Cougars have suffered three losses by 10 points or less. Once such game was a 16-13 road loss to Clearwater Central Catholic (5-4) on Oct. 30. They have a chance to avenge that loss, as the Cougars' playoff game is a rematch with CCC, again on the road.
The Cougars will have to deal with CCC's two-headed quarterback play of junior Bryson Martin (who has received interest from schools like Toledo) and sophomore Anthony Colandrea. Senior receiver Jarquez Green (51 catches, 586 yards) is their top target. On defense, CCC senior cornerback Johntavious Bonner has an offer from Bowling Green.
The Cougars will need players like sophomore running back Lauriel "Scoota" Trotman, sophomore defensive back Jaquavious Washington and senior tight end Cameron Heald to play even better than they did the first time.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.