FORT PIERCE -- This time last year, Joe Kinnan stood in the middle of Hawkins Stadium in the wake of the Class 7A-Region 3 final, criticizing himself for calling too conservative of a game offensively and praising his defense for bailing him out.
Friday night, in the middle of Lawnwood Stadium in the wake of yet another regional final, Kinnan, Manatee's head coach, praised his entire team.
Quite a difference a year makes.
The Hurricanes bulldozed to their fourth straight regional championship and 14th overall with a 51-0 pasting of Fort Pierce Central, the same Fort Pierce Central team that nearly pulled off an impressive last fall in Bradenton.
The rematch, however, proved to be no match at all.
Manatee (13-0) triggered yet another running clock in winning its 25th straight game and reaching its fourth straight state semifinal in front of roughly 9,000 fans Friday.
The Hurricanes head to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas next week, marking the fifth time since 2005 the teams have met in the final four.
"We're healthy," Kinnan said, "and we just move on now."
The game got off to an ominous start for the Hurricanes when running back
Trevon Walters fumbled on the game's first play and the Cobras recovered on the Canes' 23-yard line.
Fort Pierce Central, which lost last year's title game by three points, failed to get past the 18, however. And when quarterback Sam Vaughn's fourth-down attempt sailed out of bounds, Manatee had all the momentum it needed.
"Our defense rose to the occasion and stopped it," Kinnan said. "I think that sort of set the tone for the rest of the night."
A 36-yard field goal by Greg Moss gave Manatee a 3-0 after one quarter - just before a pair of explosive skill players took over.
First came Walters, who missed last week's game with a bad ankle. The junior ran for 155 yards before halftime, scoring on runs of 5 and 14 yards, and hauling in a 23-yard toss from Cord Sandberg in the waning minutes of the second quarter.
"Besides the first one, Trevon (Friday) was awesome," Sandberg said. "Shovel (passes), hitting the hole hard, and ball security was awesome."
The second half belonged to Ja Juan Pollock, who teamed with Sandberg on three third-quarter touchdowns and added another in the second quarter.
"If we stay healthy," said Sandberg, 18 for 28 for 204 yards and five touchdown passes, "we're pretty good. Our playbook this year has little more variety in it than last year. We're reading a lot of different things we didn't read last year, and we have the athletes to make it happen."
Manatee's defense has allowed 19 points in four postseason games dating back to last year's 7A state final and Friday marked its third shutout this year.
"We've really improved since the beginning of the year," said defensive end Blake Keller. "Spring, we didn't know how defense was going to be. We lost some key players. But a lot of people stepped up and now we're putting up goose eggs in the regional final."
And Manatee is now a win away from getting a chance to defend its state title.
"Super excited," Keller said