Thursday, November 15, 2012

Prep football: Looking back on Manatee's perfect regular seasons

Manatee opens the Class 7A-Region 3 playoffs at home tonight against St. Petersburg Northeast, and the Hurricanes will be doing so on the heels of a perfect regular season, their fifth under coach Joe Kinnan.
Will it result in a state title?
Time will tell.
Here is a rundown of Manatee's other undefeated teams and how some of them fared in the postseason.
(A big thank you for to Herald assistant sports editor Tad Reeve and his incredibly well-researched book, 1989's Manatee Magic.)

1915, 9-0: Long before Kinnan roamed the sideline and the likes of Tommie Frazier and Cord Sandberg ran the offense, there were the Manatee Maroons, and they were good. Crazy good. Coached by Julian C. Howard, a science teacher who brought football to Manatee in 1914, the Maroons not only won every game, they didn't allow a point. The Maroons featured 13 players and played six teams - Plant City, St. Petersburg and Tampa appeared on the schedule twice - including Palmetto. Manatee closed the season with a 10-0 win over Gainesville in what was considered the mythical state championship game - the Florida High School Athletic Association didn't start officially crowning state champs until 1963.
1955, 9-0-1: Consider this Manatee's first real golden age. Led by Wheeler Leeth, Manatee won the last two games of the '54 season before winning the Western Conference championship in '55. The season began with a 13-0 win over Tampa Plant, which had defeated the Canes in 13 of the previous 14 games. It was key win - Plant went 6-1 in the conference, Manatee went 7-0 to clinch the title. Leading the way was  halfback George Henderson, who needed just 104 carries to total 907 yards and score 15 touchdowns, while Donald "Duck" Lewis, who weighed 225 pounds, anchored the offensive line. Manatee's only stumble was a 19-19 tie against Fort Myers in Week 7.
1956, 8-0-2: Leeth and his boys continued their roll, splitting the conference championship with Tampa Hillsborough after the teams played to 6-6 tie. Henderson had another big year, rushing for more yards in '56 (945) despite having fewer attempts (96) than he did the year before. He scored 18 touchdowns and added 10 extra points, giving him 118 points on the season. Manatee, which also played Tampa Plant to a draw, ran its winning streak to 24 before losing to Plant during the third game of the '57 season.
1983, 14-0: With all due respect to the 1915 Maroons, the '83 edition may be the best in school history. What's undisputed is these Hurricanes brought the school its first official state championship after scoring a 27-21 over Miami Southride in the Class 4A title game. With Kinnan on the sideline for the third year, the Hurricanes scored four shutouts, including three straight against Seminole, Orlando Park Ridge and Northeast, and were quarterbacked by Tracy Sanders, who now coaches Manatee's defensive backs. Of Kinnan's five undefeated regular seasons, this was the only one that resulted in a state championship.
1984, 12-0: The Hurricanes' defense of their first official state championship got off to a promising start. Manatee rolled in the regular season, scoring blowouts over everyone but Riverview (21-17), winning by an average of 33 points and climbing to No.1 in the state and No.3 in the country. The Canes opened the playoffs with a 42-14 Tampa Chamberlain, but were stunned in the sectional playoffs to Lakeland, which scored a 19-14 win. The game was later awarded to Manatee via a forfeit, but it didn't prevent Hurricanes fans from wondering what might have been.
1990, 12-1: A year after winning the program's third state title in seven years, the Hurricanes looked unstoppable heading into the Class 5A playoffs and were ranked ninth by USA Today prior to a state semifinal at Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee. But the Indians were too much for the Hurricanes, scoring a 35-14 win and putting an abrupt end to the Canes' 20-game winning streak. Manatee ran up 406 yards of offense but trailed 21-0 at the half, as the Indians needed 39 carries to run for 252 yards. The Hurricanes won another state title two years later, but wouldn't have another defeated season for 20 years.
2010, 13-1: Manatee jumped back into the national conversation in 2009 after beating Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, considered the best team in the nation, in a Class 5A state semifinal, and the Hurricanes kept the momentum flowing the following fall. Led by Sandberg, then a sophomore, Manatee rolled to its first district title in four years and its fourth regional title in six years. But this team was hit hard with injuries. Running back Mike Blakely struggled with ankle injuries during most of the second half of the season, and defensive linemen Drakkar Wilson and Quinton Pompey suffered knee injuries on consecutive series during a first-round playoff game against Northeast. Both underwent surgery, but Pompey never returned. The Hurricanes met Aquinas again in the semifinals, but things didn't go as well as they did the year before - the Raiders cruised, 31-7, and beat Tampa Plant the following week to win the 5A title. Manatee hasn't lost to a Florida school since.

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