Manatee Head Coach Joe Kinnan
photo by Dennis Maley
BRADENTON – The Manatee Hurricanes so utterly refuted anyone's prediction (including my own) that Friday's game against undefeated Palmetto would be competitive, that they've likely ensured no one will again demonstrate such audacity this season. In beating the previously-undefeated Tigers 62-0, they also sent a message to every team that will cross their path on the road to a 6th state title and the mythical High School National Championship: Look out.
The question mark for Palmetto this season had been a defense ravaged by the graduation of nearly all of its key players. While the young replacements have stepped up to become a major part of the team's 2012 success, most notably in a 9-7 win against DeSoto earlier this season, they were no match for the high-powered offense of Joe Kinnan's Hurricanes. Manatee marched up and down the field at will all evening, effortlessly moving the chains until they hit pay dirt time and again.
Palmetto showed flashes of spark, but was unable to sustain drives or keep from making the sort of mistakes that become all too common under the relentless pressure of an awesome defensive force. Despite a squad of receivers that outmatched the Hurricane secondary one on one, young Palmetto QB Chris Tuten was unable to set up in the pocket and make the quick decisions and confident throws that may have been able to exploit their only obvious advantage.
Palmetto needed a seasoned passer like Trent Miller, who menaced the Manatee secondary last season when Palmetto came withing 3 points of upsetting the Hurricanes. While the endlessly-talented Tuten has the potential to be all that and more, the sophomore signal caller showed he wasn't quite yet there yet on Friday night, when faced with the talent of Manatee and their awesome defensive line, probably the best front four in the entire United States.
Cord Sandberg and Trevon Walters
photo by Dennis Maley
On offense, Thor Miller and the Hurricanes massive offensive line dominated the trenches, opening holes wide enough to fit a Cadillac that QB Cord Sandberg (82 yards rushing/2 TD's) and RB Trevon Walters (160 yards rushing) took advantage of all night long. On defense, the 'Canes simply beat up the Tigers. There's no other way to say it. On Palmetto's first possession, Manatee DE Marquis Dawsey took a personal foul for body slamming Palmetto's number-one playmaker Corey Crawford.
The penalty notwithstanding, the play set the tone for what was to come – four quarters of raw and rugged football that would leave Palmetto looking like they'd just endured an entire brutal game when the siren blew at half-time, Manatee leading 41-0. Star RB Josh Hicks was pounded all evening, dropping and bobbling pitches as the Manatee defense converged. There were bad throws, bad snaps, botched punts and absent-minded penalties that just kept piling up as the 'Canes imposed their will and the Tiger's mental game began to break down.
There might be a team out there somewhere that can compete with the 'Canes, but it's hard to imagine who that might be. As they perfectly executed a well-developed game plan Friday night, Manatee proved themselves a well-coached, well-disciplined team with such immense talent that it would seem they could only beat themselves in an utter lapse that seems all too unlikely. As the game pressed on, Kinnan's deep bench of young reserves continued to pile up points, making it clear that such dominance over other local programs is likely to last for years to come, even though the last time a team from Manatee County beat the 'Canes was Southeast, all the way back in 2006.
Much was made of the comments Palmetto Coach Dave Marino made in the Herald Tribune on Thursday, but Marino did the only thing he could: make the case that his team was not playing immortals, just a very good high school football team that, like any other team, could be beaten. Coach Kinnan didn't take kindly to the diss, and regardless of whether he used it to motivate his squad, they made a clear statement nonetheless.
But Marino wasn't off base. Manatee's defensive line has struggled with dynamic runners who could get outside the tackles, giving up over 300-yards rushing to Cypress Bay and 200-plus to Venice. Cord Sandberg has never been the type of QB who could move the ball down field with deep throws and precision drop-back passing. And the Manatee secondary has been beaten deep consistently this year, benefiting more than a few times from bad passes or bumbled receptions, most notably against Miami Central.
But when your QB can hit his bullet outs every single time and drag three defenders, while rushing better than most half backs, things tend to open up, especially when you have underrated receivers like Maquel Hines and Ja Juan Pollock who are so good after the catch. When your defensive line makes an opposing QB's night seem like something between a root canal and a car crash, he tends to hurry passes and miss wide open receivers, who themselves get a little antsy after being stuck time and again after the grab by vicious tacklers, even if they were a step behind on the route. Put simply, great teams can thoroughly overcome weaknesses.
On Friday night, Manatee once again demonstrated why despite a few obvious shortcomings, they remain the unstoppable force that opposing coaches have to pretend they're not in order to keep their teams from suffering defeat before they step onto the field. The Hurricanes play as a team on every down. They have each other's back when coverage is blown or a player is beaten, and enough of them are doing exactly what they are supposed to on enough plays to more than compensate for the handful of occasions where one of them is not. In a word, they execute.
Marino later made the same complaint in that article as others have been griping for years. Everyone wants to go to Manatee. Yes, they do. Joe Kinnan has built an institution; a culture of excellence in which more is expected of players, who learn above all else, to expect more of themselves. That is Kinnan's legacy. He molds the eager boys of the area who climb his ranks into the fine young men who leave his program. 19-3 less than two seasons into his first head coaching job, Marino seems set on his way toward building something special of his own. Friday night just demonstrated that such elite success is a long road traveled and that it doesn't happen overnight.
Next week, Marino's Tigers have a chance to recover from a brutal loss and win a District Championship against a surging Southeast and his old mentor Paul Maechtle. Doing so will be the first real test of his career, the first time his team hasn't already exceeded expectations before the game has begun. Becoming great is not about whether you get knocked down, but whether or not you climb back up when you do. A 5A state championship is still within Palmetto's reach and snapping right back to beat the Seminoles Friday night will be the first step in proving they are a championship-caliber team.
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