ST. PETERSBURG -- Their most prolific receiver confined to the trainer's table after twisting an ankle during the game's first series, the Manatee Hurricanes went back to what they do best: ground and pound the football, grind down the opponent and grind down the clock.
With that reliable approach came a customary result: a district championship.
The Hurricanes sped past St. Petersburg 51-13 on Friday at Stewart Field, a result that coupled with Riverview's win over Palm Harbor University, allowed Manatee to clinch the Class 8A-District 7 title.
It's the fifth straight championship for the Hurricanes (8-0, 2-0), who open the Region 2 playoffs Nov. 15 at
Hawkins Stadium. Manatee hasn't lost a postseason game at home since December 2005.
"That's what we want," said coach Joe Kinnan, whose team has made the playoffs in eight of the past nine seasons.
Fueling Friday's attack was senior running back Trevon Walters, who rushed for 283 yards on 27 carries and three touchdowns. Walters saved his best for the game's final two quarters, stockpiling 214 yards during the second half, when Manatee outscored the Green Devils (5-2, 1-1) 35-7.
"We picked it up as a team," Walters said. "The offensive line started blocking well. The perimeter, the wide receivers started blocking well."
The Missouri-bound back endured a scary moment in the first half, when he took a blow to the head while trying to catch a pass. After being tended to by Manatee's trainers, Walters returned and ripped off a 22-yard run to help set up Austin Snowden's 27-yard field goal, which gave Manatee a 16-6 at the half.
"It kind of made me mad, because my teammates and trainers said it was a cheap shot," Walters said. "It kind of woke me up, too It kind of scared me a little bit, but it was all right. I'm good."
Each team blocked a punt in the first half, with St. Petersburg recovering the ball at the Manatee 13 and scoring on an 8-yard run by Deangelo Reaves, which trimmed Manatee's lead to 7-6 with six seconds left in the first quarter. Travon Rumph got a hand on a Green Devils' kick in second quarter, setting up Walters' 1-yard touchdown run and a 13-6 Manatee lead 7:00 before halftime.
A 2-yard run by Walters gave the Canes a 23-6 lead early in the third quarter before a 95-yard interception return by Jake Moore brought St. Petersburg to within 23-13 with 3:05 left in the third quarter.
But Walters added another touchdown run late in the quarter, and Manatee scored three times in the span of four minutes during the fourth period to pull away and claim the district crown.
"First step, win the district," Walters said. "Now we get to the playoffs and try to get to state."
Before that, Manatee hosts Fort Lauderdale's University School next, which entered the week ranked 12th in the nation by Rivals and 20th by USA Today. Manatee is ranked 15th by Rivals and 24th by USA Today.
"That'll be a war," Kinnan said.