University School hopes to get Broward County started off right at the state championships when it plays for the Class 3A state title this weekend.
But if the county is to have multiple state champions in the same season for the first time, it needs Cypress Bay to make it for the first time.
And it needs one monumental upset from St. Thomas Aquinas — the school with the county’s most championships.
Class 8A state semifinal — Columbus (9-4) at Cypress Bay (11-2): Cypress Bay coach Mark Guandolo is making his 10th appearance in the state semifinal and second with the Lightning in three seasons.
For the second year in a row, Columbus and coach Chris Merritt have made it to the brink of clinching the school’s first trip to state since 1982.
Both teams mirror each other with talented and powerful running backs and tough defenses leading the way. Columbus has been playing much better in the playoffs as has Cypress Bay.
The Lightning’s defense hasn’t been given enough credit for the tremendous performances it has had in the playoffs.
Nico Marley has led a spirited squad that shut down Deerfield Beach, Miramar and most recently posted a crucial second-half shutout of Loxahatchee Seminole Ridge that saved the Lightning’s season in the regional finals.
This is Columbus’ best chance to win a state title. But it must prove it can win a monumental game like this one on the road.
Cypress Bay can benefit from an experienced squad that still remembers the pain of coming so close to making it to state as sophomores against Central in 2010.
• Andre’s pick: Cypress Bay 28, Columbus 27.
Class 7A state semifinal — Bradenton Manatee (13-0) at St. Thomas Aquinas (11-2): Kind of like when the 1980 U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union — and the event was more remembered for the semifinal win than the actual gold medal victory — Aquinas might get more recognition long-term if it pulls off this one than for beating whoever it will play next week at state.
It still feels weird referring to St. Thomas as a heavy underdog after so many dominant seasons. But that’s the case as the consensus No. 1 team in the nation visits Brian Piccolo Stadium.
Only four years ago, the Raiders were in the lofty position Manatee is in now.
The host Hurricanes unceremoniously tossed Aquinas out of the playoffs on their home turf that season.
If Aquinas is to return the favor, it needs to play a near-perfect game against one of the country’s most efficient teams. Manatee quarterback Cord Sandberg has thrown 34 touchdowns and only one interception. Its defense is one of the country’s best with its front four all going to major FBS schools.
A fast start by Aquinas and its talented defense is almost imperative, and it must avoid costly mistakes and capitalize on any it can force Manatee to commit early.
If it doesn’t, it will be a long night in Fort Lauderdale for the home team.
• Andre’s pick: Manatee 28, St. Thomas 24.
Class 3A state championship — University School (11-0) vs. Madison County (12-1) at 1 p.m., Saturday, Citrus Bowl: I can sit here and write about all the Suns’ skill-position talent as I’ve done for weeks. But Madison County coach Michael Coe said it best on Monday: University wins its games up front with its massive and talented linemen. If they set the tone early, there’s no reason to think the Suns won’t be celebrating their first state title.
For a program that began seven years ago and one of its founders in Roger Harriott, this has the makings of a special afternoon in Orlando.
• Andre’s pick: University 31, Madison County 17.
Andre’s record – Last week: 3-0; Season: 221-64.
NOTE: All games Friday at 7:30 p.m. unless noted.