BRADENTON — As the ball tumbled end over end, Quenton Bundrage positioned himself near the sideline, bent his knees and held out his hands.
Then he made the catch and zipped untouched into the end zone.
Suddenly, all the momentum belonged to Manatee.
So did the game.
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Spurred on by Bundrage’s 79-yard kickoff return, the Hurricanes rallied to beat Lakewood Ranch 34-7 during Homecoming at Hawkins Stadium.
The quick strike came right after the Mustangs took a 7-0 lead on the strength of a run-heavy drive that chewed up nearly eight minutes.
“It was instantaneous. It tied the game up,” said Manatee coach Joe Kinnan. “So we were down for only like, 10 seconds.”
Lakewood Ranch (3-2) took over at its own 6-yard line with 5:58 remaining in the first quarter. Using a steady diet of running back Taryn Laws, the Mustangs eventually got the ball to Manatee’s 2 before Laws ran around the right end for a touchdown with 10:47 left in the half.
Eleven seconds later, however, Bundrage brought the Canes even. And after Evens Dorene deflected a Lakewood Ranch punt attempt, giving the Hurricanes (4-0) the ball on their own 47 at the 7:58 mark, Manatee took the lead for good when running back Mike Blakely — crowned Homecoming king at the half — tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Bundrage at just under the seven-minute mark.
But Bundrage wasn’t done. On the half’s final play from scrimmage, he was on the receiving end of another touchdown pass — this one a 31-yard heave from quarterback Cord Sandberg — to hand Manatee a 20-7 lead heading into the half.
“He played good,” Kinnan said of Bundrage, who shook off an early fumble. “He showed he’s an outstanding player.”
Lakewood Ranch coach Shawn Trent declined to comment after the game.
Blakely took care of the scoring in the second half, running in touchdowns for 16 and 7 yards. He finished with 110 yards on 13 carries.
Bundrage had eight catches for 109 yards, and defensive lineman Blake Keller, inserted after Chris Pompey tweaked a knee, had two sacks.
A scary moment occurred in third quarter when Lakewood Ranch’s McKenzie Hathaway collided with teammate K.J. Brown. Hathaway walked off the field with the help of his coaches, but Brown was strapped onto a stretcher and taken to an area hospital. He was moving his arms and legs, however, and gave the crowd a thumbs-up as he was wheeled off the field.
Laws had 28 carries for 110 yards for the Mustangs, who open Class 4A-Disrict 10 play next week against visiting Port Charlotte.
Manatee begins its Class 5A-District 10 schedule next week, as well, when the Hurricanes host Sarasota.
“We’ve got to do a better job initially than what we did,” Kinnan said. “Usually, we play pretty good in the first quarter and flop around in the second. (Tonight) we flopped around in the first quarter and played good in the second.”