News Section: Sports
Manatee Faces First Big Postseason Test
Strength of schedule is advantage in rematch with Cobras
BRADENTON –The Fort Piece Central Cobras are 11-0. Like the Manatee Hurricanes, no team has beaten them this season and when the two teams met in last year's playoffs, Manatee won by a mere 3 points. When they step onto their home field on Friday night, the Cobras will be expecting to accomplish what they have in each game this year – victory. Going into the match-up, there is however, one distinct advantage held by the 'Canes. They've been on the field with teams as good or better than Central this season, while the Cobras have not seen anything like the awesome spectacle that is this year's Manatee Hurricanes. In sports, such familiarity with worthy adversaries can sometimes make all the difference in the world.
Marquis Dawsey and the Manatee D-line were
instrumental in the 'Canes 2011 victory.
In Joe Kinnan's quest to prove that his Hurricanes are as good (or better) than any high school football team in the United States, the legendary coach (who's also the school's athletic director) has been downright audacious when it comes to scheduling. Kinnan has welcomed all comers, even taking on two out-of-state perennial national powerhouses last season – both of whom the 'Canes came within a play or so of upsetting.
When a proposed showcase with a Washington state team fell through for this season, Kinnan added Miami Central, who was ranked as high as No. 2 in the national pre-season polls. The 'Canes put 44 points on the board in their victory over Central, who went on to dominate every game that followed and are favorites to win the 6A state title. For the opener, an ESPN-televised showcase, Kinnan brought in Miramar, a 13-1 team in 2012, whose only loss was to Tampa Plant in the 8A state championship game. Manatee routed the Patriots 41-6.
Of course Manatee's schedule already included a match-up with the number-one ranked 5A school in the state – local rival Palmetto – who despite being undefeated at the time, fell to Manatee 62-0. Then of course, there's the annual rivalry game with Southeast, a program that's also been ranked No. 1 in the nation and entered the season with 24 seniors, primed for a 5A title run themselves. The Seminoles would go 8-2 on the year and win the District 10 title, but they were no match for Manatee. The 'Canes thrashed them 52-13 in week 4.
Manatee DE Blake Keller with a sack when the
two teams met in the 2011 playoffs
Ft. Pierce's schedule is a different matter altogether. Three of their opponents finished with records of 1-8, while two more were 3-6. In fact, the Cobras only played three teams with winning records and barely survived two of them, including a 14-12 victory over 6A Palm Bay (who lost 4 times this season), in a game Ft. Pierce was losing 12-0, until a lightning delay pushed the finish until the following Monday.
Does Manatee's superior schedule this season mean that a victory over Fort Pierce Central is a lock? Of course not. Any team that makes it through a Florida high school football 7A schedule undefeated is a team to be reckoned with. Still, Manatee's familiarity with the kind of talent they will see Friday night should give them an edge. They're playing a very good football team, nearly as talented as some of the best the Hurricanes have seen. But the Cobras will see a team much better than they've ever faced, and that is a daunting prospect indeed.
When junior QB Sam Vaughn drops back, he will feel the pressure of the best defensive line in the nation bearing down on him – 4 college-bound pass rush specialists, two of them already possessing NFL size. Vaughn's a talented 6'3 junior who has thrown for just under 1,900 yards with 21 TDs and only 6 interceptions, but in his first year as a starter, has not seen anything like Manatee's front four.
Star RB Marcus Levy, a talented runner who's committed to Cincinnati, will also have to try and get outside of that dominant front-four, only to contend with a vastly improved LB corps, which began the season as a question mark, but has grown solid throughout the season. Levy was able to manage a few impressive runs against Manatee in last season's game, but the 'Canes D was able to contain him when it counted.
The Cobra defense is also led by an impressive front-four, though they'll have to contend with Cord Sandberg, the versatile, 6'3” 210 lb. QB who has committed to Mississippi State and never gets past an opposing coach without comparisons to Tim Tebow. Last year, Ft. Pierce kept Sandberg and the rest of the Manatee offense out of the end zone and the 'Canes had to rely on a fumble recovery in the end zone and two field goals to pull out the win.
Like I said, the Cobras haven't seen a team like Manatee since they faced the 'Canes a year ago and the version they'll see Friday night has been even more dominant than the one that easily won the state crown last season. Beating Manatee is a tall order – one that Ft. Pierce has yet to demonstrate the capacity for. But then again, anything can happen on the gridiron – that's why they play the games.
Click here to visit our Weekend Adventures column to get direction to the Ft. Pierce-Manatee game, 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ft. Pierce High School. Click here to see the 2012 Florida 7A playoff brackets.