So how wide open is the Dade region in Class 8A entering the playoffs?
Columbus, the county’s last team standing each of the past two seasons, is 6-4 and not a sure bet to even get past the first round. South Dade beat the Explorers in Week 1 and is 9-1. Coral Gables also beat Columbus, won its district and went 9-1. North Miami is in the 9-1 club and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Southwest, you guessed it, also 9-1, is trying to become the first District 15 team to win a playoff game. Killian has won five in a row after a 1-4 start and looks as tough, if not tougher, than any of those listed above.
And then there’s Hialeah (6-4) and Belen (7-3) — both back in the playoffs after a one-year absence.
Brace yourselves for three crazy weeks to see who plays Broward’s best for the right to go to Orlando.
Let’s start with the best quarterback matchup of the first round. Southwest’s Dre Pickett-White and South Dade’s Khalil Render can each turn the momentum of the game with their strong arms or quickness running the football.
But victory will come with a team that can balance its passing attack with a solid running game. And that’s where South Dade, a favorite to win this region at the start of the season, has an edge. Prediction: South Dade 35, Southwest 24.
•Region 4-8A quarterfinal at North Miami Stadium — 20. Columbus (6-4) vs. 13. North Miami (9-1):
Do the Pioneers continue their Cinderella season or does Columbus, the playoff regular, spoil the party and continue its own recent surge?
The Explorers have won five in a row after a 1-4 start and allowed only nine points along the way. North Miami is much better than the teams the Explorers have shut down, however.
The Pioneers bring a tough defense that can pressure the quarterback and an up-tempo offense that commands respect. Columbus wins this game if it can successfully run the football and control the clock. If not, North Miami will make life difficult. Prediction: North Miami 30, Columbus 27.
•Region 4-8A quarterfinal at Tropical Park — Hialeah (6-4) vs. 11. Coral Gables (9-1), 7 p.m., Thursday:
The Cavaliers showed off their depth last week, beating previously unbeaten Southwest without even using running back Gregory Howell for more than a half.
Hialeah has some explosive players of its own with Alin Edouard and Henry Bussey. But if defense needs to win it, the Cavaliers have the talent in that department as well. Prediction: Coral Gables 28, Hialeah 17.
•Region 4-8A quarterfinal at Harris Field — Belen (7-3) vs. 17. Killian (6-4):
One of the season’s biggest turnarounds happened midseason at Killian when coach Corey Johnson’s young team finally got healthy and started clicking.
The Cougars have one of the most imposing defenses in the county and two of the best playmakers in the state in Jaquan Johnson and Trumaine Washington. Prediction: Killian 24, Belen 7.
•Region 4-7A quarterfinal — Miami Springs (7-3) at 6. St. Thomas Aquinas (8-2):
Coach Darryel Bethune and his staff have done a great job turning Springs around and clinching its first postseason trip since 1995. Unfortunately, things could get uglier with a motivated Aquinas coming off a loss.Prediction:
St. Thomas 50, Miami Springs 7.
•Region 4-7A quarterfinal at Milander Park — 10. Plantation (7-2) vs. American (6-4):
These two meet for the second consecutive season in this round. Plantation won last year’s meeting. Colonels quarterback Chris Lammons has done it all for them this season on offense. And if he does it one more time, it should be enough to get past a much-improved American squad.Prediction:
Plantation 28, American 21.
•Region 4-6A quarterfinal — 12. Carol City (7-3) at Dillard (7-3):
Not sure what to make of Dillard at this point. The 0-2 start followed by the seven-game winning streak followed by a 50-0 loss to Ely. Either way, Carol City and quarterback Trayone Gray might end up being the real story in this matchup.Prediction:
Carol City 26, Dillard 24.
•Region 4-6A quarterfinal at Traz Powell — Boynton Beach (9-1) vs. 2. Central (8-1):
Boynton Beach has an explosive offense that carried it to a playoff-clinching win over Hallandale and great season blemished only by a loss to Dillard. But it hasn’t faced anything close to what Central will bring Friday.Prediction:
Central 38, Boynton Beach 7.
•Region 4-4A semifinal at Traz Powell — Belle Glade Glades Central (5-5) vs. 1. Booker T. Washington (10-0), 7 p.m., Saturday:
Glades Central isn’t its old self. That should allow the Tornadoes to roll in senior quarterback Treon Harris’ return to the starting lineup.Prediction:
Booker T. 44, Glades Central 7.
•Region 4-4A semifinal at Nova — Gulliver (7-3) vs. 7. University School (8-2):
University has very little time to recover and get ready for Booker T. Washington in Round 2. But the Suns will make it happen against a solid Gulliver squad.Prediction:
University School 34, Gulliver 14.
•Region 4-3A semifinal — Pahokee (6-4) at 16. Westminster Christian (9-1), 3 p.m., Friday:
Like Glades Central, Pahokee is not what it used to be, even though it made strides this season to get back to the playoffs. This is the most talented team Westminster has ever had, and it’s good enough to get past this round.Prediction:
Westminster Christian 34, Pahokee 24.
•Region 4-2A semifinal at Ansin Sports Complex — Delray Village Academy (4-5) vs. 15. Champagnat Catholic (10-0):
Outside of Booker T. Washington, the Lions can brag about being the only other unbeaten team in Miami-Dade County. Champagnat can keep doing so one more week after its talent overpowers the visitors from Delray in this one.Prediction:
Champagnat 41, Village Academy 6.
•Region 4-2A semifinal — Dade Christian (6-4) at Belle Glade Glades Day (7-3):
The year after making it to state has had its ups and downs for the Crusaders. But coach Mike Sonneborn’s squad has grown a lot and is tough enough to pull off a road win in a tough place to play.Prediction:
Dade Christian 21, Glades Day 16.