BRADENTON -- If there was any hint of a letdown one week after the emotionally-charged rout of Southeast, it evaporated as soon as the Manatee defense stepped onto Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium on Friday night against Braden River.
The host Hurricanes pummeled the Pirates 63-0 behind a steady offense and a punishing defensive front that wreaked havoc during a first-half barrage that forced a running clock in the second half of the Class 7A-District 10 opener for both clubs.
Head coach Joe Kinnan took his starters off at the half, with the Canes leading 49-0.
And there wasn’t any let-up from the second string, especially on defense.
The backups improved upon the starting unit’s effort in holding Braden River (1-5, 0-1 district) to 15 total yards of offense before the break, with minus-3 yards allowed in the shortened second half.
“We let them have the whole second half -- you know we pulled the ones out at halftime -- and the two-defense played really well,” said Kinnan, whose club improved to 3-2 and 1-0 in district play.
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Pirates’ offensive line could do little to stop the penetrating Canes defensive line.
Manatee’s speed and drive off the ball pressured Braden River quarterback Ryan Fischer to the point he had only a couple seconds to release the football. It resembled David Carr’s tenure as the Houston Texans starting quarterback in the NFL.
“We can’t simulate that in practice,” Pirates head coach Don Purvis said. “They’re big and physical and fast. ... We’re trying to max protect and trying to get rid of the ball quick. Even the one-step throws, (Fischer) was getting hit when he threw it.”
Manatee scored early and often, too.
Junior defensive lineman Derrick Calloway broke through on the game’s opening series to block a Braden River punt that was deflected through the back of the end zone for a safety.
“We focused on getting off the ball,” Calloway said, “pretty much getting off the ball and working on our stuff.”
Running back Leon Allen scored the first of his three touchdowns before being lifted at halftime, when he took a direct snap out of the Wildcat formation for a 4-yard scamper on the immediate possession following Calloway’s block.
Quarterback Cord Sandberg also sparkled for Manatee’s offense, connecting on 12 of 13 passes for 191 yards and three TDs -- all before intermission.
“Anytime you can go out and be high percentage like that and move the ball and score points, it’s a good thing,” Sandberg said.
Ryan Taylor tallied 75 yards on two punt returns in the first half to give Manatee excellent field position, which the Canes exploited for scores, before taking over quarterback duties in the second half. He snagged his second TD with a 1-yard plunge with less than a minute remaining to cap the scoring.
The second-string defense tallied points prior to Taylor’s score, when Jorelle Simmons rumbled 23 yards to pay dirt after scooping up a Fischer fumble.