The last time Manatee High School lost a football game to a county program, Southeast’s Dequan Williams and Darrien Grant were playing youth football.
They weren’t thinking about the Seminoles’ victory in 2006 over the Hurricanes. They were focused on simply playing the game.
Now the two are looking to write a different chapter in the longtime rivalry game pitting the two sides of Bradenton — Manatee in the west and Southeast in the east — against each other.
“It’s our last time playing Manatee as seniors,” Williams said. “I want to win. I want to win real bad.”
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Four of the previous five meetings have ended with the Hurricanes enjoying comfortable victories. Two years ago, though, Southeast kept it close, losing by 13.
“They had us on the ropes,” Manatee head coach John Booth recalled. “They had a lead there for a little while. Rivalry games always are spirited. We can’t give teams hope.”
And giving teams hope is something Manatee has done this season in three losses. Booth’s group gave up a program-worst 78 points during their trip to Alabama, while losing to Sarasota Riverview for the first time in 11 years.
To correct some defensive lapses and prepare for next week’s playoff game at Orlando Dr. Phillips, Booth is using the Southeast game as a dress rehearsal for a defense that will utilize a four-man front compared to the three lineman they’ve used this year.
And reminding his club about losing to the Rams is also good for motivation in keeping their winning streak in the series alive.
“We had a pretty good winning streak against (Sarasota Riverview),” Booth said. “We didn’t play our best and they did, and they got the win. (Southeast is) going to be fired up, ready to roll and hungry to play.”
That hunger starts with Southeast head coach Rashad West, who played in the series during its heyday.
“I sure as heck want to beat them. I can tell you that,” West said. “I don’t have any dreams of wearing red and white. I’m definitely an orange and blue guy, and we just want to beat them. We’ve always wanted to beat them. I want to beat them as much now as I did when I played.”
That’s trickled down to the players, too.
“They want to win,” West said. “They definitely want to be that team. They read the paper, they saw that and tell me and understand how long it’s been.”
But to get past the Canes, the Noles must slow down the high-octane Manatee offense while exploiting any holes they see from the Canes’ defense. And Southeast’s defense is arguably one of the better units in the county this year. Manatee wide receiver Tarique Milton said Southeast has players that flow to the ball.
Milton caught 11 passes for 216 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s 63-41 playoff-clinching victory over Lithia Newsome. He’s one of several weapons at quarterback A.J. Colagiovanni’s disposal and running back Keyon Fordham returned last week from a high-ankle sprain to inject a dose of speed from the backfield.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Grant said. “It’s going to come down to whoever makes more mistakes.”
Williams and Grant spent Thursday following their walk-through at the school tucked away in a cubicle watching game film in preparation for Friday’s 35th meeting between the two programs.
“They’re simple, but they’re good at what they do,” Williams said.
West said the Canes are much better on defense than what the stats and scores from some of their games would lead you to believe. The two sides are playoff teams this year, and despite last year’s 47-0 Manatee victory or the nine straight wins in the series, it’s a game still circled on the calendar for the players.
“I know we have a tradition of trying to keep the wins up beating Southeast,” Milton said. “I’m not going to lay down. It’s still a rivalry, so I’m going to go out there and play.”
Week 11 schedule
Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic at Out-of-Door Academy, 7 p.m.
Zephyrhills Christian at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.
Bishop McLaughlin at Bradenton Christian, 7 p.m.
Manatee at Southeast, 7:30 p.m.
Cardinal Mooney at Bayshore, 7:30 p.m.
Braden River at St. Petersburg Gibbs, 7:30 p.m.
Palmetto at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.
Desoto County at Lakewood Ranch, 7:30 p.m.