Congratulations and good luck to Manatee High School and La Salle College High School as they both play, respectively, for the Florida and Pennsylvania state football championships this weekend.
First off good luck to my cousin Joey Roche, longtime teacher at THE Manatee High school, self proclaimed Provost of Saint Joseph's University-South, and a generous supporter of St. Joseph's Preparatory School and my old basketball team. Manatee knocked off perennial national powerhouse St. Augustine last weekend and will play Plant tonight for all the marbles. Working the end zone again?
Secondly good luck as well to my buddy Kevin Dougherty, the patron saint of North Philly, the Dean of Discipline at the Young Scholars Charter School, and the defensive backs coach of LaSalle. They will take on State College High School in Hershey tomorrow night.
Drive safely couz...
Wake-Up Call: Plant-Manatee matchup not surprising
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After last week's seismic shift in prep football, the Plant Panthers (12-1) and Manatee Hurricanes (13-1) emerged to earn spots in Friday night's Class 5A football state-championship game in Orlando.
Now that the stunning news has settled, should we really be that surprised?
The Panthers went into Lakeland's Bryant Stadium, a place where opponents rarely win, and throttled the Dreadnaughts 20-0.
The Hurricanes were just as thorough, defeating two-time defending state champion Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, the nation's No. 1-ranked team by USA Today, 28-20 in the other 5A state semifinal.
Nearly everyone was expecting Lakeland vs. St. Thomas Aquinas. Well, why not? In four of the past five seasons, that was the 5A final.
Now it's Plant vs. Manatee, the unexpected matchup.
But make no mistake.
Both teams deserve to be here.
Last week's results were not a fluke.
"With all due respect to St. Thomas Aquinas – they've been a great team for a number of years and they still are a great team – they got knocked off by a better team in Manatee,'' Plant coach Robert Weiner said. "I knew how good Manatee was (it defeated Plant 49-33 in a preseason exhibition game on Aug. 28), but everyone was talking about St. Thomas Aquinas in mythic proportions, like they would just roll to the state finals.
"We've got it on film now and it's not one of those things where you say Aquinas would've won the game nine out of 10 times and this is just that one time when Manatee won. No, Manatee outplayed them. They were the better team on that night. All teams at this level of the playoffs have heart and great character, but Manatee is so fast and physical and flies around the football. This was a well-deserved victory by Manatee.''
Now the Hurricanes might be facing an interesting psychological hurdle...
La Salle defensive stars eager to make memories in state final Philadelphia Daily News
NOW IN their fourth year at La Salle High, Ryan Saraceni and Vinny Migliarese boast a treasure trove of football memories.
Not all involve playing.
La Salle 35, Ridley 7 Lancaster Catholic 23, W. Catholic 21 LaSalle Wins State Quarterfinals
We take you back to Nov. 24, 2006. The night after Thanksgiving. Before a monstrous crowd, the Explorers were playing St. Joseph's Prep, at Northeast's Charlie Martin Memorial Stadium, for the Catholic Red championship.
Ryan and Vinny were in the stands. Their brothers, Rob and Joe, respectively, were on the field, playing key roles in what became a 14-7 upset win for their school.
If you were there, you could have easily picked out the younger brothers.
"It was a pretty cold night," Ryan remembered. "But all I had on was shorts and a T-shirt. And by the time we all ran on the field to celebrate...well, I was down to my britches."
As for Vinny. Down at field level, as the students yelled and screamed and congratulated every player in sight, he wasn't to Ryan's right. Wasn't to his left, either. In fact, he was exactly where he'd been all evening.
"When everyone ran down, I was the only kid left in the student section," he said. "Literally, the only one. I was on crutches. I remember thinking right then, 'This has to happen again, so I can enjoy it.'"
It did, and then some.
La Salle last year captured the CL AAAA championship. This season has again yielded that prize, along with the City Title and a deep run in the state playoffs.
How deep? Tomorrow night at 7 o'clock at Hersheypark Stadium, the Explorers will meet State College to determine Pennsylvania's very best large-enrollment squad.
The 5-10, 205-pound Saraceni will start at inside linebacker. The 5-11, 165-pound Migliarese will line up at cornerback. Together they've made a series of big plays throughout the postseason.
Among their current goals: to achieve lifetime family bragging rights.
"I've already been giving my brother a hard time, because he didn't win a City Title," Migliarese said, smiling. "If I'm able to have a state title over him, too, that would be awesome."
Said Saraceni: "There's always friendly competition between brothers. The longer this has gone on, more of that has melted away. He's so excited about this. Wants it for me so much."
So, Older Bro is talking about it?
"Talking about it? Probably more than I am," Saraceni cracked. "He photocopies the game plan each week, because he wants to know everything that's going on."
In that 2006 memory-maker, Rob Saraceni, now playing lacrosse at St. Joseph's University, served the Explorers at cornerback. Not only did he recover a fumble, he forced another within inches of the goal line, and Greg Frantz returned it 96 yards for a touchdown...