It's Manatee, not Aquinas, as No. 1 in semifinal

It's Manatee, not Aquinas, as No. 1 in semifinal

jlembo@bradenton.comDecember 4, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Manatee and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas are meeting in a state football semifinal.

This isn't anything new.

The Hurricanes and Raiders, who clash 7:30 p.m. Friday at Brian Piccolo Stadium, have met four times in the past seven years.

The only difference this year, however, is each team's role: Manatee is ranked No. 1 in three polls and considered a favorite.

Aquinas is the underdog.

"It's switched," said Manatee coach Joe Kinnan. "We haven't been the favorite the four previous times. They were the favorite -- they were the overwhelming favorite."

The Hurricanes (13-0) are the defending Class 7A state champions and ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 1 in the nation by ESPN, MaxPreps and USA Today.

The Raiders (11-2) were named prep national champions for the second time in three years in 2010 but lost last year's Region 4 final to Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer.

They have won eight straight this season but are unranked nationally in any major polls, including Rivals, which ranks Manatee third.

Aquinas is also ranked fifth in the state in Class 7A.

"They're very good. They're capable of winning it all," Kinnan said of the Raiders, who have won six state championships and two national titles. "They've got good offensive linemen, they've got speed at the skill positions, they've got a great defensive lineman, they've got linebackers that can run and hit. … And they've got a quarterback (University of Houston commit John O'Korn) that really can do a lot of stuff like Cord (Sandberg).

"He can throw and he can run."

The Raiders cruised past Manatee in 2005 and erased a 15-point halftime deficit to beat the Hurricanes in '06. But Manatee struck a huge blow in 2009 with a 28-20 win over Aquinas in a 5A state semifinal.

The Raiders entered the '09 meeting having won 37 straight games, back-to-back 5A state titles and ranked No. 1 in the nation.

"We basically had nothing to lose. Everyone thought it was going to be a blowout and they were going to roll right past us," said Manatee defensive end Marquis Dawsey, a starting freshman on the '09 team. "But we stuck together and we pulled through."

This time, the Raiders will be trying to knock the Hurricanes, winners of 25 straight, off their perch.

"I never thought we would have got all the way to No.1," Dawsey said, "maybe high up there, like top five. Never No.1. But it's a good feeling, though."

Aquinas dominated the team's last meeting, routing Manatee 31-7 in 2010, and is the last Florida school to beat the Hurricanes.

"We owe them one. They took it to us," Dawsey said. "But we've got to go out there and play our game hostile territory.

"Probably the best team we've faced."

And they'll be doing so in a game were the stakes are the same even if the circumstances have changed.

"It's always good to be a favorite, but it's also good to be an underdog," Dawsey said, "because no one expects an underdog to win, so that makes us push extra hard. Knowing we're No. 1, we've got to try to protect something."

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