The biggest high school game in the state will be played in Fort Lauderdale Friday night as the Manatee Hurricanes (13-0) square off against the St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders (11-2).
The matchup is not a rarity by any means. Both teams have been amazingly successful in recent years. Together, they boast 11 state titles. Aquinas was the last Florida team to win a national title back in 2010, something the Hurricanes have a shot at should they win tonight.
Aquinas has had the better of the rivaly in recent years. The teams met in the state semifinals in 2010 and the Raiders ran away with a 31-7 victory, a state and a national title. The Canes won in 2009 to the tune of 28-20 but the Raiders won in 2006 and again in 2005. The Hurricanes have five state titles to their credit, the Raiders have six.
It's the closest thing to a Lakers/Celtics rivalry that high school football in Florida has. The Hurricanes would like nothing more than to even up that state title tally.
The teams have striking similarities. Both have veteran quarterbacks and lineman. Both have very balanced offenses. Both have star-studded defensive lines. Both have played big-time, out-of-area games that garnered national attention. Both teams fell in close games to New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep, albeit, Manatee in 2011.
That 2011, loss is the last time the Hurricanes dropped a descision. Both teams faced Class 8A powerhouse Miami Miramar. The Canes won a decisive 41-6 battle and Aquinas lost a 27-24 nail-biter in overtime on a controversial call at the goal line.
The odds favor the Hurricanes in this year's matchup. Typically, the roles were reversed. The Raiders usually come in as the higher ranked team. However, this year, the Raiders come in with two blemishes on their record and ranked seventh in the state.
The Hurricanes are riding a 25-game winning streak and are ranked number one in the state as well as number one in two of the three national polls. What's more, the Hurricanes have been obliterating opponents. The Canes have outscored their 2012 opponents 612-141. They won their three playoff games so far with a combined score of 172-19.
Don't expect Friday night's game to be a blowout though. Brian Piccolo Stadium in Fort Lauderdale is renowned for being one of the toughest places to play in the state and expect the Raiders to be ready for the Hurricanes. It should be the game of the year and possibly the de-facto state championship game for Class 7A.
Bradenton Patch reporter Andy Warrener will be tweeting live updates from the game. Follow him at @jawarrener to keep up with the action.