BRADENTON -- Up by 42 points, and a berth in a fourth straight regional final all but assured, Manatee lined up at its own 2-yard line Friday night.
Venice was on the offensive, looking to punch in another score during a Class 7A-Region 3 semifinal.
Four times, the Indians tried to run it in.
Four times, they failed.
It may not have meant a whole lot in the end -- Manatee cruised past Venice 56-7, sending the Hurricanes to Fort Pierce Central next Friday to play for a berth in the final four.
But it was a testament to a Hurricanes defense that had something to prove during Friday's rematch with the Indians, especially because Venice totaled 227 yards on the ground during the teams' regular-season meeting.
"The offense made a little fun of us, Coach (Joe) Kinnan made a little fun of us, because (Venice) did have a lot of yards on us the last game," said defensive tackle Derrick Calloway. "When we get made fun of, we don't like that."
So the Indians had to pay. Venice's rush
ing duo of Terry Polk and Kale Youtzy, who combined to accrue more than 3,500 yards this year, teamed for just 127 on Friday, and the Indians were limited to 220 yards of offense in losing to Manatee for the sixth time in three seasons.
"We didn't play real well defensively (in the regular season meeting)," Kinnan said, "and we executed much better (Friday)."
They put some points on the board, too. Defensive lineman Marquis Dawsey scooped a Venice fumble and returned it 20 yards for a second-quarter touchdown a minute before Youtzy, Venice's quarterback, dropped a snap that landed right in the hands of Manatee linebacker John McElfresh.
McElfresh sprinted 47 yards for another score, giving the Hurricanes (12-0) a 42-0 lead with 9:25 remaining in the first half.
Darin Ardis and Arin Pruitt collected nabbed interceptions for Manatee.
"I don't mind watching them go and score," said Manatee quarterback Cord Sandberg, who threw for two touchdowns and ran in another. "It was kind of cold on the sideline, not being able to go in. But if the defense is scoring, that's awesome."
Manatee running back Trevon Walters, who twisted his ankle last week against St. Petersburg Northeast, was in uniform but didn't play. Instead, freshman Johnnie Lang took a brunt of the carries and wound up rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns on nine attempts.
The Hurricanes did take a hit in the third quarter when defensive back Willie Smith collided with a teammate in the end zone while diving for a tipped pass and had to leave the game. Smith was on crutches and wearing a brace on his left knee after the game.
"It doesn't look good," Kinnan said of Smith, a senior who has a team-high four interceptions this season.
Looking to win its fourth straight Region 3 championship, Manatee now hits the road to face the Cobras (11-0) in a rematch of last year's regional final, which the Canes won 13-10 in Bradenton.
"They were a great team. They had athletes," Sandberg said. "It's definitely going to be a challenge going over to Fort Pierce."