MANATEE COUNTY -- The Manatee Hurricanes continued their roll toward a national championship Friday night, thoroughly stomping the Venice Indians in one of their most dominant performances of the season. The Palmetto Tigers, once favored to win the 5A state title, continued a late season slide that started with their 62-0 loss to the 'Canes, coming up short against Lake Wales to end their season.
Manatee coach Joe Kinnan
photo by Dennis Maley
As good as the Hurricanes have been all season long, they seemed to reach another level in that Week 8 route of the Tigers and have maintained their peak through post-season play. Coach Kinnan's squad is playing like a well-oiled machine, the defense giving up only a combined 34 points in the last 5 games, while the offense has averaged nearly 60. When you consider that each of those games saw the Manatee starters playing little more than one half, you can understand how utterly invincible an already impressive squad now seems.
On Friday, the starters were up 49-0 when the halftime whistle sounded and the Indians, who'd scored 27 points against Manatee earlier this season, could still manage only a single score, playing mostly against second-stringers. The Hurricanes are now three games away from a sixth state title and go on the road to face Ft. Pierce Central next week, one of the better teams Manatee will have faced this season.
At 11-0, the Cobras bring the powerful mental tool of a team that hasn't known defeat, though they haven't played anywhere near the sort of grueling schedule that the 'Canes have this season. When they face Manatee on Friday night, they will experience a level of talent unlike anything they've come upon. While Manatee has been on the field with other Florida powerhouses like Miami Central and Miramar this season, Ft. Pierce has been matched relatively soft. On paper, Manatee is still an enormous favorite among the undefeated teams.
Palmetto, who never seemed to recover from their historic loss to Manatee, couldn't manage to return to early-season form on Friday night, losing 17-14 at Lake Wales, a team that despite a mediocre 6-4 regular season, has now eliminated both Palmetto and Southeast in successive weeks. Palmetto, who early on had shown one of the most dynamic offenses in the region despite a string of injuries, was averaging well over 30 points a game by mid-year. However, despite having most of its players healthy during the later part of the season, the Tigers went 2-3 in their last 5 games, scoring less than 20 points in each loss.
Coach Marino loses nearly all of his offensive weapons to graduation this year, including RB Josh Hicks, as well as his trio of star WR's: E.J. Burston, Shaq Harris and Cory Crawford. Palmetto will look to rebuild in 2013 around young QB Chris Tuten, a sophomore who showed flashes of tremendous potential throughout the season, as well as a young defense that was suprisingly solid this year.
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