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New preps football playoff system does what it sets out to do

By Bob Putnam
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Clearwater Central Catholic High School varsity football coach Chris Harvey watches his players during a team football practice on Tuesday (9/5/17) at Clearwater Central Catholic in Clearwater.

After 53 years of playoff football, the Florida High School Athletic Association decided to overhaul its format, implementing a points-based system this year to determine how teams qualify.

District champions still were awarded in Classes 8A-5A. Every other playoff berth was decided by how many points teams accumulated to boost their overall average (wins and strength of schedule were key).

On Sunday, the brackets were streamed live on nfhsnetwork.com, then posted on fhsaa.org.

There were few surprises.

The FHSAA was trying to eliminate mismatches and the lopsided scores that accompanied them in first-round games. And the new system mostly took care of that.

But it did create plenty of rematches with teams that faced each other in the regular season. There are seven rematches involving Tampa Bay teams, some of which met in the past two weeks.

In 5A, Jesuit and Jefferson play Friday ó 11 days after facing each other in a makeup district game. The Dragons won 17-16 in overtime.

"Weíll be ready for them," said Jesuit coach Matt Thompson, who had already figured out his opponent before Sundayís announcement.

Some grudge matches also are being renewed in the postseason. Tampa Catholic plays at Clearwater Central Catholic, marking the first time since 2012 the rivals have squared off in the playoffs.

"Thereís really not a whole lot I would change about the new system," CCC coach Chris Harvey said. "For the most part, they got it right. They got the four best teams in our region in the playoffs, and thatís a good thing.

"There are some things they could change, and I certainly didnít like having to pay $9.95 to watch a livestream to see the playoff brackets, but itís a good start." (The brackets were released for free an hour later.)

Harvey said the system is similar to the one used in Division II football.

"I was an assistant at North Alabama and they would announce the brackets on a Sunday, just like theyíre doing here. So I was already familiar with the way it works."

CCC had its bye this past week to have more time to prepare for its upcoming playoff opponent. Trouble was, the Marauders didnít know whom they would play until Sunday.

"We had an idea of who we would play, and prepared for two different opponents," Harvey said. "At least we had a head start, even if it might have just been an extra day of preparation. Itís hard to complain too much because the new system has corrected a lot of what was wrong."

Another goal of the revamped format was to create a more fair ó and balanced ó field. For example, Miami Central, which won four straight state titles from 2012-15, missed out on the playoffs last season after going 6-2. The Rocketsí two losses were to eventual state champion Miami Carol City and rival Miami Northwestern (in double overtime).

All three teams, as well as Miami Norland, qualified for the playoffs from the same district, something that never would have happened under the old system where only district champions and runnerups made it.

It also made the regular season interesting, with games in the final week playing a significant role in determining postseason berths. In Class 6A, Region 3, Clearwater clinched the eighth and final spot, finishing ahead of Punta Gorda Charlotte.

The margin to determine that final spot: 0.39 points.

Times staff writer Rodney Page contributed to this report.

High school playoffs

All games 7:30 p.m. Friday. Admission is $8.

REGION QUARTERFINALS

Class 7A

No. 6 East River at No. 3 Plant

No. 7 Gaither at No. 2 Viera

No. 5 Wiregrass Ranch at No. 4 Lake Nona

No. 8 St. Petersburg at No. 1 Venice

No. 7 Bloomingdale at No. 2 Tampa Bay Tech

No. 6 Palmetto at No. 3 Pinellas Park

6A

No. 6 Barron Collier at No. 3 Largo

No. 8 Clearwater at No. 1 North Fort Myers

No. 7 Chamberlain at No. 2 Mitchell

No. 8 Sebring at No. 1 Armwood

No. 5 Hillsborough at No. 4 Lake Gibson

5A

No. 6 Jesuit at No. 3 Jefferson

No. 7 Tarpon Springs at No. 2 Lakewood

No. 6 Clay at No. 3 Hernando

No. 7 River Ridge at No. 2 Zephyrhills

No. 8 Nature Coast at No.1 Baker County

REGION SEMIFINALS

3A

No. 4 Tampa Catholic at No. 1 Clearwater Central Catholic

No. 3 Calvary Christian at No. 2 Lakeland Christian

2A

No. 4 Southwest Florida Christian at No. 1 Cambridge Christian

No. 3 Admiral Farragut at No. 2 Indian Rocks Christian

No. 4 Zephyrhills Christian at No. 1 Victory Christian