The area’s only team to play for an FHSAA state title in the decade, the Canes helped put Manatee back on the national radar with their run to the Class 5A final. After a 9-1 regular season earned them a playoff berth, they rolled past St. Pete Gibbs, St. Petersburg and Palm Bay Bayside to win the program’s 11th regional title. The next week, Manatee beat St. Thomas Aquinas, ranked No. 1 in the nation, to reach their first state final since ’93. Despite a furious second-half rally, the Canes fell to Tampa Plant 21-14, ending the season at 13-2. Ace Sanders (South Carolina) and Brion Carnes (Nebraska) earned Division I scholarships, while juniors such as Mike Blakely, Quenton Bundrage, Drakkar Wilson and Quinton Pompey had breakthrough seasons.