BRADENTON -- With its offense sputtering in the second half, Manatee relied on its defense to shut down Sanford Seminole on Friday night.
The Hurricanes made two key fourth down stops en route to polishing off a 37-20 victory at Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium.
"We're counting on them all season, just like we're trying to get better on offense," said first-year Manatee head coach John Booth, whose team committed five turnovers against Seminole.
The first of the pivotal fourth down defensive stands came early in the fourth quarter with the Canes (1-1) looking to protect a 30-13 lead.
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The Seminole Seminoles elected not to kick a field goal from inside the red zone to cut the deficit to a two-score game.
The outcome proved a colossal mistake as Seminole quarterback Julian Wimberly overthrew his intended receiver in the end zone, while facing quick pressure from Manatee's defensive line.
That unit, which was highlighted by the play of defensive end Kwanzi Jackson that received a strong assist from linebacker Nashon Smith, wreaked havoc on the Seminoles attacking options all game.
"I think it created some momentum for us," said Booth, who collected his first regular season win as Manatee's head coach. "And obviously kept points off the board."
Meanwhile, Manatee generated enough big plays on offense to withstand the five turnovers (two on downs, an interception and two fumbles).
Johnnie Lang toted the rock 23 times for a game-high 176 rushing yards. Manatee tallied 206 rushing yards for the game, with Lang picking up touchdowns from 6- and 43-yards.
"Instead of lighting the match toward the end of the game, we've got to start off fighting right at the beginning of the game," said wide receiver Kavious Price, who had two receptions for 54 yards.
While the defense contributed all the points in the first quarter to arm Manatee with a 9-0 lead through Smith's safety of Wimberly and Anton Henderson's 31-yard interception return, the offense saw some efficiency during a second quarter barrage that began with Kelvin McKnight's twisting grab between two defenders that ended with a 64-yard race to pay dirt and concluded with Lang's two scores.
"It was a mismatch and my quarterback kind of overthrew me," said McKnight, who had a game-high 81 receiving yards on three catches. "So I had to come up and make a play. And I just kept my balance, and tried not to step out-of-bounds. And they over pursued, and cut right on them."
But the calling card for the Canes on Friday was their defense, and the two fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter. The final stand came after Seminole recovered a Lang fumble -- that followed a multiple-tackle breaking 59-yard run -- with 2:57 remaining and the lead trimmed to 10 points.
The Canes forced two incompletions during the series and the turnover on downs carried into a Manatee insurance score to ice the game at 37-20.