Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Canes-Aquinas Is Real Special

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Canes-Aquinas Is Real Special

Article excerpt

PREP FOOTBALL: Call it a national rivalry at the high school level

Three plays, three stops, one punt. That's all it was, but nothing would ever be the same again in the world of Manatee High football.

The Hurricanes' ascent to the nation's top team can be traced back to Dec. 11, 2009, an unforgettable night that restored the luster to a once mighty program and served as the springboard to what it has become today.

In the state semifinals at Manatee High, the Hurricanes shocked St. Thomas Aquinas 28-20, and to dissect that win reveals the importance of the first three plays of the game.

Had they occurred differently, perhaps Manatee football does not become nationwide.

St. Thomas Aquinas came into the 2009 game with a 37-game win streak, a No. 1 national ranking, and had won consecutive Class 5A state titles.

When Manatee made the Raiders punt on the game's first series, the Hurricanes' confidence began to surge until it could not be stopped.

"That set the tone, because then they believed they could win that game and that game has set the tone for everything that has happened afterwards," said Manatee assistant coach Jim Phelan.

Manatee travels to St. Thomas Aquinas on Friday for the Class 7A semifinals, and the rivalry is now one of the most competitive in the state.

This will be the third time the schools have met in the playoffs where national championship hopes have been on the line.

As for the epic 2009 game, the pregame speech was even more chilling than usual with several former Manatee stars making appearances.

"I've never seen it so emotional," said assistant coach Dennis Stallard.

Prior to the game, St. Thomas Aquinas players ran to midfield and did jumping jacks in front of the Manatee players. Or at least it appeared as if the team was doing them.

"St. Thomas awoke every sleeping legend who ever played in this stadium that night and they had no idea they did it," said Manatee assistant Steve Gulash. "People still dispute it, but when we came out to stretch, St. Thomas came out from their goal line to the 50 and started talking trash and jumping on our emblem and it almost ended up a fight.

"Cris Carter (former NFL player) was right in the middle of it, running his mouth and not holding people back and that was it.

"For some reason the power was in the kids and they believed."

Aquinas' first play of the game was a screen that went nowhere. Manatee's Clint Heaven made the tackle. The next play was a run off tackle and Heaven made another stop for no gain. The third play was a second screen for a few yards and the Raiders were forced to punt.

"Right then our guys knew, 'OK, we've got a shot, let's play now,'" Phelan said. "The first three plays turned this program around. I really believe that."

What the win in 2009 did more than anything was put Manatee back on the national radar. …

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