The first cries of protest came from Manatee’s makeshift bench during the third minute. Sarasota Riverview striker Patrick Skladanowski slipped behind the Hurricanes’ back line and darted a pass across the box. Before Riverview forward Tyler Scholten even rocketed his shot into the back of the net, the Canes bench started to scream for an offside call Manatee felt had been missed directly in front of its bench.
The opening goal of what would eventually become a 5-0 rout painted a grim preview of what would come at Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium. The Hurricanes piled up a pair of yellow cards during the next minute and by the 18th minute the Canes were playing a man down. Twelve minutes later, Manatee was down to nine with its captain sent off in the Class 5A-District 8 semifinals in Bradenton.
“We did lose a little composure,” Hurricanes head coach Nick Ferrara said. “Some slow starts have killed us. The cards were unfortunate, as well, put us down to 10 and then once we were down to nine it was really hard to adjust with formations.”
The Canes were never able to regroup and recover after the early debacle left them shorthanded and behind at Manatee High School. The Rams (11-6-2) scored twice even before the Hurricanes (5-9-2) lost their first player to a pair of yellow cards and then tacked on three more when the Canes were short at least one player to breeze into the Class 5A-8 championship, and seal a spot in the Class 5A-Region 2 quarterfinals.
Riverview, which settled for the No. 3 seed in the district behind Manatee because of a forfeited win, will meet top-seed Lakewood Ranch in the 5A-8 championship Friday at Lakewood Ranch High School. The region playoffs begin next Wednesday.
Despite their position as the higher seed, the Hurricanes hadn’t beaten Rams yet this season. Riverview took an early-season contest by one goal in Sarasota and then the two played to a draw during the first meeting in Manatee County.
It took only nine minutes for the Rams to build their biggest lead against the Canes this season. Only six minutes after Scholten scored, Adam Bates headed in a 40-yard free kick by fellow midfielder Ross Atkin to double Riverview’s lead and send the Hurricanes reeling.
“That’s our goal in the first 20 minutes is come out ahead because it’s always tough to come back,” Rams head coach Edward Stroop said. “You want to get those first early goals, which we did. Helped a lot and then we kept our composure.”
During the next 21 minutes, the Canes unraveled. Defensive midfielder Luke Greaves was booked with his second yellow card during the 13th minute for a slide tackle from behind after picking one up early for arguing with the referee. In the 30th, defender Logan Thomasson, Manatee’s captain, got one yellow for tugging a player’s jersey to stop a break away and immediately got of his own for arguing. The Hurricanes even picked up a yellow card during halftime when one referee overheard two players griping about the officiating.
And when the Canes went to the locker room, their deficit had grown to three goals. With bookings sending them down to nine players, the already slim comeback odds shrunk even smaller.
But Manatee sustained some of its best possession during the final 40 minutes until Riverview broke through during the final 12 minutes for a pair of garbage-time goals.
“I was proud of the way the guys fought in the second half,” Ferrara said. “We kept it close. We played a better half with nine men than with 11. We’re a young team. I’ve got three seniors leaving me, I’ve got lots of sophomores, freshmen, juniors, so we’ll be back next year.”