LIVE OAK — Despite a loss in its regular season finale, the Suwannee Bulldogs are headed back to the playoffs.
The Florida High School Athletic Association unveiled its postseason brackets Sunday morning and the 5-5 Bulldogs secured the eighth and final berth in the Region 1-5A playoffs under the state’s new RPI rating system that figures in a team’s winning percentage, its opponents winning percentage and the winning percentage of its opponents’ opponents.
Suwannee, which had been ninth in the first two RPI releases, moved up to the final playoff berth in the rankings heading into the last week of the regular season. The Bulldogs remained there even after a 77-48 loss to Dublin, the top-ranked team in Georgia’s Class 2A. The Fighting Irish are undefeated at 9-0, providing a boost to Suwannee’s strength of schedule — opponents’ winning percentage.
The Bulldogs’ reward for their second straight postseason appearance is a date with the region’s top-ranked team for the second straight year as well. It also means a rematch for Suwannee and Wakulla. The War Eagles, 10-0 and the top seed in the region, rallied past SHS 28-18 on Oct. 11 in a District 3-5A meeting.
Also qualifying for the Region 1-5A bracket are second-seeded Pine Forest, Parker (third seed) and Raines (fourth seed), who all will host Friday’s playoff openers. The fifth seed is Westside, with Godby sixth and Baker County seventh.
In Class 1A, both Lafayette and Branford closed their seasons with wins Friday and the positive finish paid off for the Hornets.
LHS, which had been battling Dixie County for a top 2 seed and a first-round bye in the six-team region playoffs, leapfrogged the Bears for that second seed. Dixie lost 43-8 to Westside on Thursday to finish the regular season 6-3. The Hornets are 9-1, while top-seeded Madison County, the two-time defending state champion, is 8-2.
Lafayette, after the open week, will host the winner of Dixie County and Union County, the region’s sixth seed.
Branford, meanwhile, will head to Hilliard for a regular season rematch in Friday’s first round despite its three-game winning streak to close the season. The Red Flashes, who are 6-4 with a 26-14 win against Branford at home Oct. 4, are making their first postseason appearance since 2014.
The 6-4 Bucs, meanwhile, snapped an 18-year playoff drought a year ago. They now search for their first postseason win since that 2000 appearance, which would mean a second-round game against the Cowboys.
Fort White, Bell and Hamilton County rounded out the region, but will miss out on the postseason.