Prep football | Manatee offense special at every spot on way to 51.8 scoring average

Scoring at historic pace, Manatee offense special at every position

jlembo@bradenton.comDecember 7, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Ja Juan Pollock darted toward the end zone, stretched out his arms and hauled in a piece of history.

It was during this year's Class 7A-Region 3 semifinal against Venice, and Manatee senior quarterback Cord Sandberg had just thrown his final touchdown pass inside Hawkins Stadium.

Pollock was the receiver. To him, however, it was just another score in a season full of them.

"I was like, 'OK, we scored again. Let's go. Let's keep this going,'" said Pollock, a senior receiver.

Keeping it going hasn't been a problem this year for the Hurricanes, who are averaging 51.8 points per game heading into Friday's Class 7A state semifinal at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.

Manatee has scored at least 41 points in all 13 games this season, eclipsed the 50-point threshold six times and ran up 62 against Palmetto and 65 against St. Petersburg Northeast in the opening round of the Region 3 playoffs. Speaking of the playoffs, Manatee outscored its three postseason foes 172-19 en route to winning the program's fourth straight region title and 14th overall.

"We've never averaged this many points," said Hurricanes coach Joe Kinnan.

The 1983 Hurricanes, the program's first to win an official state championship, averaged 41.5 during the regular season but just 23.3 in four postseason games.

Manatee upped the standard the following year, scoring 45.9 points per game during the regular

season, including 83 against St. Petersburg Dixie Hollins, but were limited to 14 in a sectional playoff loss to Lakeland.

So what makes this Canes team so special?Everything, according to Kinnan.

It begins with an offensive line that returned almost completely intact from last season's state championship run. Senior Thor Miller and juniors Jake Stickler, Michael Galati, Dylan Beauchamp and Kyle Mauk are athletic and a perfect fit for a Hurricanes offense led by dual-threat quarterback Cord Sandberg.

"We have an outstanding offensive line," Kinnan said.

Sandberg, a senior, has put up mind-boggling numbers -- 34 touchdowns, one interception, 2,462 passing yards and a 72.2 completing percentage in 230 attempts.

"His stats," said St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Rocco Casullo, "are unreal."

Casullo was the Raiders' defensive coordinator in 2010, when St. Thomas Aquinas sacked Sandberg three times and limited him to 173 passing yards in a 31-7 victory during a Class 5A state semifinal.

"He was good then, but he's great now," Casullo said of Sandberg. "He's got a good feel for the offensive system and he can beat you. (Kinnan) definitely has one of the top quarterbacks in the nation down there."

It doesn't hurt that Sandberg has a versatile batch of players at his disposal. Pollock has 35 catches, Marquel Hines has 39, and Brodrick Yancy has 28. The trio has teamed for 25 touchdown receptions.

"There isn't one certain player you have to watch out for," said Pollock, who had four touchdown catches last week against Fort Pierce Central. "It makes it real easy."

Leading the ground game is Trevon Walters, who has rushed for 1,099 yards and 16 touchdown while hauling in 29 catches and four scoring receptions. And he's gotten help from freshman Johnnie Lang, who scored twice and rushed for 84 yards against Venice while Walters was out with an ankle injury, and defensive end Marquis Dawsey, who has five touchdowns as a fullback.

And the Hurricanes have committed just eight turnovers while the defense has forced 31. The defense has scored too, getting touchdowns from Dawsey, defensive end Blake Keller, defensive back Willie Smith, lineman Reynard Simmons and linebackers John McElfresh and Malik Brooks.

"When the defense plays great or they score," Kinnan said, "it's a lot easier to score."

It's been an impressive performance, especially considering Manatee lost its top running back (Leon Allen) and one of its top receivers (Ryan Taylor) from a year ago, then lost wide receiver/running back Anthony Lauro, an Akron commit, to season-ending knee surgery four games into this season.

Now the Hurricanes will try their act out in Fort Lauderdale and hope to get a step closer to winning consecutive state titles for the first time.

"They have a lot of different formations and motions, and they get the ball to their playmakers," Casullo said. "They're going to score their points; it's the best offense we've seen. We have to have a bend-but-not-break mentality, because if they start fast, it's going to be hard to catch up."

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