The Manatee Hurricanes had three primary goals in mind when they decided to travel to Alabama to play Hoover, a nationally touted football program that is considered among the best in the country.
The Hurricanes didn't reach their objective of coming home with a victory, but head coach John Booth said he met his other goals, which was no small thing.
"We wanted to find out where we were as a football team and play an opponent that will make us a better team as the season goes on," Booth said.
Despite the Canes' 42-21 loss, Booth and his staff said they learned a lot about their football team and liked what they saw.
One of the best sights for Booth was the play of wide receiver Reggie Carter, who set personal career records with seven receptions for 140 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown catch.
"Their DBs would press me and then back off, and it gave me the opportunity to run my routes and catch the ball and get up field," Carter said. "It took a lot of hard work, and the whole offense was behind me. We made the right plays and executed. AJ (Colagiovanni) did a great job of getting me the ball. That is a pretty tough team, but we will take the loss, learn from it and get better."
Though the offense struggled at times and had trouble handling Hoover's two- deep defensive line, Booth said he saw a lot encouraging things.
"Reggie had a breakout
game and it was good to see," Booth said. "Hoover is one of the best teams in the country and we did a lot of good things. But when you play good teams and miss opportunities you don't often get them back. We had a chance for a couple of interceptions that we didn't get and then we had an open receiver down the sideline we didn't hit."
Colagiovanni showed he has matured and capable of leading the offense. The junior threw a touchdown pass and ran for another while completing 16 of 30 passes for 187 yards and did not commit a turnover.
"It's a big game and we are all frustrated (in the beginning). We just needed to to settle down and focus and when we focused we did great," Colagiovanni said. "We put up 14 points. But it's hard, everyone is going for the win. This has nothing to do with what our season is going to look like. Our goal is still to win a state championship. No one likes to lose. It's a bummer, but we were playing a great program."
Even the play that changed the momentum of the game had a lot to do with good fortune for Hoover rather than a Canes mistake.
Manatee sophomore back Sir Williams batted a pass thrown by Hoover quarterback Chris Vacarella, and unfortunately for the Hurricanes the ball fell right into the hands of Quincy Cox, who took it for a 72-yard touchdown and a 28-14 lead for Hoover with 1:40 left in the first half.
"Sir Williams had a nice break on the ball, and they just got a lucky bounce, but that's football," Booth said. "We've got to start fast and finish opportunities. We came out flat and maybe overly excited in the first half and spotted them 14 points pretty quick.
"We had a couple of kids who were making their first varsity start in a pretty hostile environment and saw some thing good things from them. We just didn't make the plays when we needed to."
Special teams coach Dennis Stallard said he was pleased with his units and singled out long snapper Andrew Zink and punter Nick Null.
"We had a lot of young teams and overall they played well. Special teams is all about effort and desire," Stallard said.
Manatee has a lot of history to draw from in not allowing this one loss put a dent in its season.
The Hurricanes started the 2011 season 1-2 and won the Class 7A state championship. Last year, they lost on the road to Ware County, Ga., in their opener and reached the Class 8A state semifinals.
"I don't like to talk about previous seasons, but we are finding ourselves in the same position," Booth said. "I liked what I was hearing from kids after the game. They were saying the right thing, that we will grow from this we will learn from this; that is what you want to to hear."