Commentary | Hungry, angry St. Thomas Aquinas ruins Manatee's title plans

adell@bradenton.comDecember 8, 2012 

FORT LAUDERDALE

Remember after a tough defeat when your youth football coach said how it was good to lose, that it would prepare you better for the future?

You were confused and laughed a little, maybe even thought he had lost a few marbles. Your parents snickered and said he was a loser.

But if you were at the Manatee-Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas game Friday night, you would have remembered that crazy coach. You may have even thought he was talking about this game.

Manatee came into the game a little too pure. The Hurricanes were undefeated; they were averaging 51 points per game and were widely considered the best team in America.

To break it down: Manatee had everything, and Aquinas had nothing.

In the end, Aquinas had 35 points and left Manatee with 18 and a broken heart.

Now, honestly, ask yourself who is going to fight harder? Who is going to be hungrier? Who is going to put their life on the line as football players often do.

Manatee was playing not to lose what it had. Aquinas was playing to take everything away. The Raiders were the decided underdog. All the so-called experts didn't give them a chance.

"All week long we heard how good Manatee was. All the talk was about Manatee. My kids got sick of hearing about Manatee," St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Rocco Casullo said. "It bothered our kids terribly, and I told them to change it then. Go out and do what you have to do and they did."

You could tell from Aquinas' first drive that this was not going to be a typical Manatee night. Raiders running back Fred Coppet carried a pile of defenders with him for 16 yards.

The Canes front four was touted as the best in the country and this 6-foot, 175-pound running back took the entire unit and a few linebackers for a ride that would ultimately break Manatee's spirits.

The Hurricanes might be the better team, as America said, but this game proved hunger and anger can beat talent on most nights.

The Raiders used three running backs and they broke tackles as if they were running past ghosts. When that wasn't happening Aquinas quarterback John O'Korn was carving them up completing 11 of 20 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown to go along with one he ran in.

This was a sequel to 2009 only the uniforms were switched. Back then Manatee was on its home turf and upset an undefeated Aquinas squad that was ranked first in the country.

There is something about being an underdog that can bring out the best in a team. There is something about trying to protect what you have instead of going after what you want that can bring out the worst.

"Obviously this was (like '09)," Manatee head coach Joe Kinnan said. "They outplayed us. It wasn't very good. They played a lot better than we did and you can't win when you get beat in every phase of the game. Defensively we couldn't tackle. We couldn't get off blocks and make plays. We couldn't cover the receivers. They were the far superior team tonight."

Manatee also shot itself in the foot a few times. Trailing 7-3, the Canes got a golden opportunity when Blake Keller stripped 0'Korn and returned the ball down to the Aquinas 20.

Manatee had a 2nd and 1 at the 11 and failed to score, hurting itself with two straight false starts and then missing a 28 yard field goal.

The Canes might have survived their defensive miscues if their offense had operated close to efficiency. It didn't, finishing with its lowest output of the season.

"The key was containing their quarterback, (Cord) Sandberg, and not giving up any big plays, and we controlled the line of scrimmage," Casullo said. "I am not surprised how we dominated their defensive front. Our offensive line can play. If you haven't played from behind all year, it's tough. Everything that needed to happen for us to win happened.

"We got ahead of them and then we had to make some adjustments because they are so well-coached offensively. I know defense wins games. We played fast. We showed Sandberg some different schemes, some zone drops and coverages we hadn't shown. We gambled with it and it worked. Our secondary did a tremendous job. Our guys were just hungrier. They were sick of hearing about how great Manatee was."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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