For 13 of Brevard County’s 17 high school football teams, today is the opening day of district competition.
Since teams began practicing on Aug. 5, there have been clear favorites for district championships. There also have been apparent contenders for playoff spots, which go to the top two teams in each district.
Palm Bay, after all, has been to the playoffs each of the 17 years since Dan Burke became the head coach. Merritt Island has made 30 playoff appearances in its history, and Cocoa has been to at least the state semifinal round six years in a row.
That kind of tradition places the “favorite” tag on programs even before a season opens.
Still, there had been little hard evidence until teams began playing, particularly in a year when teams have moved to new district alignments. Now that Week 4 has arrived, we offer an updated look at what to watch for in each district containing area teams.
Class 7A, Dist. 12: Eau Gallie, Martin County, Melbourne, Sebastian River, Viera
Contenders: Whereas Melbourne and Sebastian River looked like the leaders in August, Eau Gallie has opened 3-0. Credit Bulldogs coach Todd Wilson for calling the Commodores a favorite before a down was played. Those two neighboring schools play tonight.
Surprise: Local fans thought Eau Gallie would be the surprise team, but Viera’s 3-0 start has been even more of a shock after the Hawks won just one game in 2012.
Games to watch: Tonight’s Melbourne-Eau Gallie game will set the pace, proving whether the Commodores are playoff quality. If Eau Gallie wins, the Oct. 4 game against the Hawks could be huge.
Class 6A, Dist. 14: Bayside, Ft. Pierce Westwood, Heritage, Okeechobee, Jensen Beach, Port St. Lucie, South Fork
Contenders: Bayside and Heritage are the two teams with winning records, and the Panthers look like a clear favorite. The Bears are working under a new coach in Jerrod Ackley, and he seems to be transforming the program into his own fairly quickly. That makes south Brevard the center of the District 14 universe.
Surprise: There may not be one. The Bears and Panthers are playing the only other two teams in the district with wins. If they remain unbeaten, this race could come down to a south Brevard blockbuster.
Games to watch: Bayside visits Heritage on Nov. 1. Barring an upset between now and then, that’s the big one.
Class 5A, Dist. 12: Astronaut, Merritt Island, Palm Bay, Rockledge, Satellite, Titusville
Contenders: Toughest district in the land? Maybe. What is for sure is at least two deserving teams will end their chase for a state title on Week 11. Merritt Island and Palm Bay were obvious picks in August, and they may still get the two playoff spots. But Astronaut looks strong, and Titusville is rolling.
Surprise: The Terriers seemed to be building with Andy Price taking over the program for the 2012 season, but his departure looked like a recipe for disaster. Then new coach Wayne Lawrence came along and pumped up the program even more.
Games to watch: Actually, try not to miss too many, but focus on a few. Tonight’s Merritt Island-Astronaut meeting is the first big game. On Oct. 3, Palm Bay gives Titusville its first major test. The War Eagles play at Palm Bay on Oct. 18, the same night Merritt Island is at Titusville. A week later, the Mustangs host the Pirates in what could serve as a district championship.
Class 4A, Dist. 5: Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Jones, Atlantic, Space Coast
Contenders: Cocoa will be the favorite until another team proves it can beat the Tigers. Orlando Jones has been the toughest challenger, but those Tigers are 0-3 and have been shut out twice.
Surprise: Could Space Coast be a playoff team? The Vipers are improved and building confidence.
Games to watch: When Jones visits the Vipers on Oct. 4, the team that most threatens Cocoa will be determined.
Class 3A, Dist. 3: First Academy, Holy Trinity, MCC, Orangewood Christian, Trinity Prep
Contenders: First Academy was the bully of its district last year, and that was a problem for both Melbourne Central Catholic and Holy Trinity. Whether the Royals are “down” or not is to be determined. Perhaps the Hustlers, whose offense has been nearly unstoppable, could be in line for a crown.
Surprise: Holy Trinity won its first two games despite low numbers and key departures. It’s still unlikely the Tigers can beat any of the top contenders, but it’s not impossible. Additionally, 2-1 Trinity Prep could be in the mix.
Games to watch: MCC visits First Academy on Oct. 4 and hosts Trinity Prep two weeks later.
» Melbourne at Eau Gallie, 7
» Merritt Isl. at Astronaut, 7
» Palm Bay at Rockledge, 7
» Satellite at Titusville, 7
» Space Coast at Cocoa Bch., 7
» South Fork at Bayside, 7
» Jensen Beach at Heritage, 7
» Santa Fe Catholic at Merritt Island Christian, 7
» Cocoa at Delray Beach American Heritage, 7
» Viera at Sebastian River, 7