News Section: Sports
Manatee Destroys Ft. Pierce 51-0 to Win Third Straight Regional Championship
Ja Juan Pollock leads 'Canes with 4 TD receptions
FT PIERCE – In the beginning of the season, we were calling Manatee a second-half team. Given to slow starts, followed by 30-40 point second halves, the 'Canes seemed to find their rhythm after the halftime break. By the midpoint of the season, however, Joe Kinnan's squad started hitting their stride earlier in the game, and it was usually just after the 1st quarter when the real damage was done. That was the case Friday night against Ft. Pierce Central when a 28-point 2nd quarter put the game out of reach after just 24 minutes of play.
In the first quarter, Manatee was just a couple of clicks off. RB Trevon Walters, who was injured and did not practice all week, fumbled his first carry, leaving the Cobras with good field position, though the Manatee defense was able to step up and prevent the score. The 'Canes failed to connect on a few close-but-no cigar passes, as Ft. Pierce's talented secondary showed solid man-to-man coverage, and QB Cord Sandberg overthrew a couple of open receivers before settling in for a 5-TD pass performance.
By the end of the first, it was 3-0 Hurricanes on a 36-yard field goal by Greg Moss. But just over a minute into the second quarter, Manatee had put up two scores, both courtesy of Walters. The defense turned up the heat and that's when it happened – the Hurricanes imposed their will. The tenacious Manatee D kept Ft. Pierce's possessions short, as defensive ends Marquis Dawsey and Blake kept QB Sam Vaughn under constant pressure, and the tackles and linebackers stepped up to shut down Cincinnati-bound RB Marcus Levy.
Midway through the second, QB Cord Sandberg hit Ja Juan Pollock on a 39-yard TD pass, before another three and out for the Cobras put the ball back in Manatee's hands. The 'Canes executed a beautiful 91-yard drive that was capped off by Sandberg hitting Walters on a 23-yard screen pass for yet another score. Moss was perfect on the point after attempts giving Manatee a 31-0 lead at halftime in a game that no longer seemed competitive.
Freshman running back Johnny Lang, who is quickly emerging as a future star, took over so that Walters could rest his ankle, and the 'Canes didn't miss a beat. In the third, Sandberg hit Pollock for three more TD passes, including a beautiful 48-yard strike to put Manatee up 51-0 before the end of the quarter.
That triggered the running clock through the final quarter, and even though two roughing the passer calls and a late hit helped push the Cobras inside the five, the Manatee defense, led by Marquis Dawsey who had a huge night, stuffed Ft. Pierce to preserve the upset. The Hurricanes, who barely survived Ft. Pierce 13-10 in last year's playoffs, won the game 51-0 without ever even needing to punt!
Manatee (13-0 and averaging 52 points per game) simply breaks teams down. They take them apart piece by piece with violent precision until all that remains of championship caliber teams is the primitive instinct to survive. That moment, that point in the contest when it ceases to become a competitive event and becomes a mere exhibition of superiority, has been happening earlier and earlier, even as the teams they face get better and better (Ft. Pierce was 12-0 and had just broke into the national rankings in one poll).
The Manatee Hurricanes simply won't be denied. Ranked No. 1 in the nation by all three high school polls, they've earned their reputation as the preeminent prep team in the land. If there's a program that can challenge them – anywhere – I have yet to see them. And I'm growing fairly certain that is because such a team does not exist. The Hurricanes travel to Ft. Lauderdale to take on St. Thomas Aquinas next Friday night in the state semi-finals. The Raiders are 11-2 and one of two teams standing between Kinnan's boys, a second straight and 6th state title for the school, as well as the elusive High School National Championship. Something tells me they're in for a long night.