FT. LAUDERDALE – The last time a Florida team had beaten a Cord Sandberg-led Manatee football team was back in 2010, when St. Thomas Aquinas routed the 13-0 Hurricane squad that was ranked No. 2 in the nation by ESPN. On Friday night, Manatee returned to Brian Piccolo Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale. Again they were undefeated, and this time they were ranked No. 1 in the country by all three prep polls, yet once again the Raiders would prevail.
Manatee once more started slow, jumping out to a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter, before Aquinas answered with a touchdown. In the second quarter, Houston-bound St. Thomas QB John O'Korn began to find his rhythm, picking apart the Manatee defense and leading another scoring drive. The Raiders offensive line managed to consistently contain a Hurricane D-line that was considered to be the best in the nation.
|St. Thomas Aquinas 35
|Manatee High 18
On the other side of the ball, St. Thomas also won the trench war, getting consistent penetration and minimizing the impact of Manatee QB Cord Sandberg, who struggled through the first half, before getting in sync later in the game, though not enough to turn the tide.
At the end of the day, the Manatee defense simply wasn't able to stop the momentum of a disciplined and consistent offense that dominated time of possession, while managing to convert in several pivotal third-down situations. St. Thomas Aquinas was able to run the ball at will, rushing for 304 yards to Manatee's 61, which allowed them to pass at leisure, without taking any unnecessary chances.
Nothing about the Raiders' performance was the sort of flashy, highlight reel stuff you'd expect to see in a win over a team like Manatee, which was perhaps the most impressive aspect – St. Thomas made it look almost effortless, as if they were running plays against their own second team. Manatee looked nothing like the dominant squad that routed undefeated Ft. Pierce Central 51-0 last week, and conversely, St. Thomas looked nothing like a team that could have lost to Miramar, who Manatee annihilated in the season opener.
The Raiders' defense took away Kinnan's vaunted spread option, and the Manatee O-line was simply unable to give Sandberg enough time to look to get the ball down field. RB Trevon Walters struggled with an injured ankle and left the game in the 4th quarter. Freshman Johnny Lang continued to impress in his place, but the 'Canes still weren't able to find the big plays needed to close the gap, never regaining the lead after their initial field goal, in a game that ended 35-18.
In the second, DE Blake Keller picked up a fumble and took it all the way to the St. Thomas 11, but the 'Canes failed to capitalize. It was that rugged stance by the St. Thomas D that seemed to reset the tone for the game and Manatee never regained the upper hand in momentum.
The loss ends an epic run in which Manatee entered the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, averaging nearly 52 points a game in their 13 victories. There will be no mythical national title, no back to back state championships, but still, no one can take away the incredible accomplishment that this class of Hurricanes have managed, or deny the thrilling excitement they gave fans in 2012.
Manatee loses a host of key players to graduation, including at least five who are expected to go on to play big-time college football next season. Yet needless to say, the 'Canes, who return such standouts as Demarcus Christmas, Trevon Walters, Johnny Lang, Raland Brewer and Marquel Hines will be back in the hunt in 2013. If they've entered the realm where a 13-1 season and a regional title is a disappointment, then that's only further proof of the level of excellence they've attained.
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