ORLANDO — Joe Kinnan had won four state titles in his 27 seasons as the head coach at Manatee High School in Bradenton heading into Friday night. However, his team had not hoisted a championship trophy in nearly 20 years when the Hurricanes took the field against the First Coast Buccaneers of Jacksonville at the Citrus Bowl. Needless to say, Manatee ended the drought in style.
Just like the afternoon game, the Hurricanes used a ferocious defense that limited First Coast to just 108 yards, and got a superb effort from junior quarterback Cord Sandberg in an easy 40-0 victory for the FHSAA Class 7A championship in front of 5,196 fans.
“They all feel great. I’ve never had a state championship that didn’t feel great,” Kinnan said to considerable laughter from the swarm of media surrounding him after the game.
Sandberg was his usual, efficient self. He completed 13-of-17 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound lefty added 78 yards on 14 carries and kicked off the scoring fest for Manatee with a 13-yard touchdown run to cap off the first possession of the game – an eight-play, 58-yard drive that set the tone for the entire evening.
“I’m so happy for this team, and the fans,” quarterback Cord Sandberg said after the game. “It’s an honor to be a part of the team.”
But the strong-armed quarterback had plenty help. Both starting running backs – junior Anthony Lauro (135 all-purpose yards, two touchdowns) and senior Leon Allen (137 all-purpose yards) – had big contributions to the Manatee effort. The Hurricanes’ menacing defensive front – led by 6-foot-1, 300-pound junior Derrick Calloway (three sacks) – harassed First Coast freshman quarterback DeAndre Johnson into a season-worst performance. The Buccaneers (13-1) finished with minus-71 yards rushing as a team against Manatee.
“We had two things to do tonight: get off the ball and use our hands,” Manatee sophomore defensive lineman Demarcus Christmas said. The Hurricanes, obviously, did that to great effect on Friday night.
Manatee finished the season 13-2, with its only two losses coming against nationally-ranked (and undefeated) powerhouses in Olney (Md.) Good Counsel (by a score of 24-17, in double overtime) and Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep (22-16). The Hurricanes may have been left with a slightly blemished record by taking on those challenges, but ended up achieving a much greater purpose: becoming battle-tested very early on in the season when other eventual playoff contenders were beating up on inferior opponents.
“We were a hardened team – we were the only team to play either of them close,” Kinnan said.
Both Manatee and First Coast sport impressive rosters stocked with young talent. The Hurricanes return Sandberg, along with Lauro and an impressive pair of defensive linemen in the junior Calloway and sophomore Christmas. Although First Coast quarterback DeAndre Johnson struggled against the Hurricanes, throwing a pair of interceptions, he put together a phenomenal freshman campaign and only figures to get better. Junior linebacker Daniel McMillian recorded 12 tackles and projects as one of the top prospects in the state of Florida for the Class of 2013.
Regardless, there’s a decent chance Orlando could see a rematch between the two teams a year from now.
“On offense, we have seven offensive starters back and our entire front four [on defense],” Kinnan said. “We’ve got a lot of kids coming back, so we’re excited about that.”
First Coast coach Marty Lee would welcome another shot at the Hurricanes in 2012 as well, it seems.
“This game didn’t come out the way we wanted, and we didn’t play Buccaneer football,” he said. “It doesn’t take away from what we did this season. It’s a building block for us. It’s our first time here, and we hope to come back again in the years to come.”
– Manatee quarterback Cord Sandberg (6-3, 205) reports five offers to date: Auburn, Clemson, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and West Virginia. After previously reporting Auburn as his leader, Sandberg seems to have backed off of the Tigers as a favorite. Auburn offense coordinator Gus Malzahn was announced as the new head coach at Arkansas State on Wednesday.
“No, not really – not too much,” Sandberg replied when pressed for a leader following the state championship game.
For the season, Sandberg completed 183-of-252 passes (72.6%) for 2,185 yards and 19 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He also added 171 carries for 814 yards on the ground (4.8 avg.) and 10 touchdowns.
– First Coast linebacker Daniel McMillian (6-2, 215) didn’t have much to add from the recruiting update he gave last Friday night following the Lakeland game. He did say he “definitely” planned to visit Florida in the offseason, and that he currently reports around 40 total offers from colleges.
McMillian finished with a game-high 12 tackles against Manatee, and added a blocked field goal that he also recovered. As a junior, he is credited with 94 tackles on the season (23.5 for loss) and 12 sacks.
– Manatee sophomore defensive tackle Demarcus Chrismas certainly passes the eyeball test. Listed at 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, Christmas figures to be a blue-chip prospect when the Class of 2014 starts to roll into focus. USF is the only team to really extend any interest in the massive lineman to date, but there’s another BCS program that Christmas admits to being a fan of growing up.
“Alabama,” he said without blinking.
Across 15 games during the 2011 season, Christmas is credited with 41 tackles (15 for loss) and two sacks for the Hurricanes.
Justin Wells hosts a weekly recruiting video chat with Andrew Spivey on Tuesday nights from 8:30-9:30 p.m. EST. You can view the show live on the Gator Country TV page. You can also e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org—or follow him on twitter @j_wellsGC.