VENICE -- More important games await Manatee and Venice than the one they played Friday night.
And neither team has to wait long because both enter the playoffs next week.
But each team's regular-season finale in front of an overflow crowd at Powell-Davis Stadium was stuffed with big hits and big plays. And it resulted in a big win for the Hurricanes, who came out on the right side of a 10-0 score.
Manatee (9-1) has won nine consecutive meetings between the two, but were few were as tight as the latest one, which was scoreless before running back Johnnie Lang scored from 4 yards out on the second play of the fourth quarter.
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"It was a great challenge for us," said Manatee coach John Booth. "It was a great week of preparation; pregame was great, with so much energy and enthusiasm, which is what you want. And it was much like a playoff atmosphere here."
Each team's offense showed life late in the first half but neither came away with points. Manatee turned the ball over on downs when it failed to convert a fourth and 1 from Venice's 38, and the Indians missed a 46-yard field goal attempt.
The Indians (9-1) appeared to catch a break early in the third quarter when they recovered Kelvin McKnight's fumble on a punt return to begin a drive on its own 48. But Travon Rumph blocked a 35-yard field goal attempt, triggering a scoring drive capped by Lang, who finished with 137 yards on 31 carries after he was limited to 34 yards on his first 10.
"Like always, we just go back in the locker room, see what plays work for us and we come out and execute it," Lang said. "We were much more physical in the second half."
Manatee then turned the game over to its defense, which allowed 23 rushing yards against a Venice team that came in averaging more than 222 per game. The big play came from Malik Mitchell, who picked off quarterback Bryce Carpenter on Manatee's 22 with 9:00 remaining in the game.
"The defense is playing strong, and they've been our strong suit all season long," Booth said after watching the unit record its second straight shutout. "The defensive line was getting pressure on (Carpenter) and was able to contain him. He's been their leading rusher all season long so we knew we had to keep him in the pocket. And if we could force him to throw, it kind of gets him out of his comfort zone a little bit."
Manatee reached Venice's 21 on the ensuing drive and went for a first down on fourth and one before a procedure penalty sent the Canes back five yards. So Booth sent out the kicking team, and Nick Null hit a 43-yard field goal, putting Manatee ahead two scores with 4:17 remaining.
"A (43)-yard field goal, into the wind -- that was huge," Booth said.
The Hurricanes open the Class 8A-Region 2 playoffs at home next week against Fort Pierce Central, while the Indians host Tampa Hillsborough in the Class 6A-Region 3 quarterfinals.
On Friday, each team received quite the tune-up.
"It felt like a playoff game," Lang said. "Playoff mode, right here -- it started right here."