Spring football | Canes rebound to drop Hornets

jlembo@bradenton.comMay 24, 2014 

BRADENTON -- In the wake of Manatee's spring victory over Haines City, interim coach Jim Phelan was on the receiving end of some congratulatory handshakes.

"Yeah, but it doesn't count," Phelan said with a laugh.

He knew better.

Given the circumstances surrounding the Hurricanes this spring, Phelan, who served as the head coach Friday because Joe Kinnan is out on medical leave, was elated about the team's 29-14 win over the Hornets.

"I think they played fantastic," said Phelan, a longtime area coach who also serves as Manatee's defensive coordinator. "We really handled all that stuff that was going around. We just said, 'OK, that's going on. But on the football field and between the lines, we know what we're supposed to do.' And they did a fine job."

Aside from being without Kinnan, a winner of 290 games and five state championships in 29 seasons at Manatee, the Hurricanes lost quarterback Josh Meyer to suspension after he was arrested in April.

"We just didn't worry about the outside world -- we just played football," said wide receiver Kelvin McKnight, the only returning starter on offense. "That's what Manatee is about -- we were just playing football."

There were some challenges on the field, too. The Hurricanes lost their entire offensive line and three defensive linemen, and had to break in a new quarterback in Kavious Price.

Friday's game got off to a rocky start. Manatee didn't convert a first down until the 8:38 mark of the second quarter, and Price threw a pair of interceptions before halftime.

But Price settled down in the second half, hitting McKnight with a 7-yard touchdown strike with 9:29 remaining, and threw for 65 yards.

"We just threw that kid in there -- he got no snaps last year," Phelan said. "He had 13 days of real practice, maybe 11, and that's hard to do. This is tough. It's tough on me -- I can't imagine being 15 years old being out there and having everyone yelling and screaming at you."

Manatee's first big play came courtesy of its special teams. Haines City's Derwin James Jr., considered one of the best prep players in the nation who is off to Florida State, was hit by Nashon Smith while returning a punt. The ball popped right into the arms of Manatee's Joe Robinson, who returned it 40 yards for a touchdown with 11:28 until the half.

Smith also recovered a fumble to set up one of two touchdowns scored by Canes' running back Johnnie Lang.

The one negative for Manatee was the loss of Ryan Fines, a defensive lineman who has committed to Miami, to an ankle sprain during the first half.

"When (Joe's) not there, we just do what we do," Phelan said. "And the kids ran with it, and we did really well. And I'm proud of them -- really proud of them."

Manatee plays its Kickoff Classic on Aug. 22 at Tarpon Springs East Lake, a Class 7A state semifinalist last season, before opening the regular season Aug. 29 in Georgia against Ware County.

The Hurricanes will do so with a successful spring behind them.

"We weren't worrying about anything else. We were just trying to get it right," McKnight said. "We wanted to show that just because something happened outside, Manatee is still [SoftReturn]Manatee."

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