Manatee spent part of its sporadic moments as a team together before Monday’s game against Palmetto watching a flaw in the Tigers’ punt-return unit. When Palmetto opts to drop back blockers rather than sell out to block the punt, the Tigers leave running room. Joshua Booker, one of the Hurricanes’ punt protectors and the Canes’ top running back, studied the special-teams unit. Manatee wanted to leave him the opportunity to call for a fake if it was there.
John Booth didn’t expect the call to come on a fourth-and-12 from the Hurricanes’ own 34-yard line near the end of the second quarter. When Booker took the field with the Canes’ punt team he wasn’t planning on making the call. He didn’t tell his head coach and didn’t run the idea by special teams coach Dennis Stallard. Manatee lined up and Booker saw Palmetto’s blockers sagging. He made the call.
“I saw everyone sitting back and not blitzing,” Booker said. “It was a ballsy call. I had to call it.”
Booker broke one tackle and then darted down the left sideline for 30 yards. A late hit after the play tacked on 15 more, making the fake the longest play from scrimmage for either team at Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium. Three plays later, Tarique Milton ran in a 15-yard touchdown out of the Hurricanes’ wildcat formation for the decisive score in the Canes’ 7-3 win in Bradenton.
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I had to do what I had to do and it worked out.
Joshua Booker, Manatee running back
In a defensive struggle, during which Manatee (1-1) had four drives cut short by turnovers, Booker’s unorthodox call was the pivotal moment. Even in the second quarter, it was the rare big play in a game designed to be swung by one or two of them. The Tigers (1-1) never managed to recover, finishing with only 141 yards of total offense a week after Hewitt-Trussville put up 78 points against the Hurricanes in Trussville, Ala.
For Booth, the brief run was a whirlwind of emotions. He was caught off guard when Booker took off with the ball and even more perplexed when he saw the junior needing to break to tackle to reach a first down. It wasn’t until Booker was past the marker that relief could finally wash over the third-year coach and even then he had to clear some stuff up with Stallard.
“Please let me know when you give a fake like that,” he told his special teams coach.
“I didn’t call it,” Stallard told him.
“I’m glad he did it,” Booth said. “It just shows how heady he is. He saw the exact look that we talked about that they gave on film and it worked, so I’ll take it.”
The run provided a glimmer of redemption for Booker, too, during one of his worst games as a varsity player. The running back did lead all players with 108 yards on 18 carries, but he gave away the ball three times with fumbles and only had two runs go for longer than 13 yards. One was the fake and the second was a 22-yard scamper ending with a fumble.
But no one on either offense was much better. Manatee quarterback A.J. Colagiovanni was held to 106 passing yards and lost a fumble. Palmetto held Milton, the top wide receiver in Manatee County, to three catches for 47 yards. Quarterback Jason Spicer Jr. was the Tigers’ most productive offensive player and managed only 52 yards and an interception plus 41 yards on 20 carries. Palmetto’s only three points came after Colagiovanni’s first-quarter fumble at his own 36 set up kicker Freddy Manriquez for a 45-yard field goal. Once Booker called his fake and the Tigers fell behind, Palmetto averaged only 2.3 yards on its last 39 offensive plays.
“We’ve got to put it on the offense. It’s our fault,” Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said. “We’ve got to do a better job of making plays on offense. Defensively we played outstanding. We’ve got to be better on offense.”
Manatee 7, Palmetto 3
PAL— Freddy Manriquez 45 field goal, 6:46
MAN— Tarique Milton 15 run (Daniel Reyna kick), 3:37
Rushing: Palmetto: Elijah Davis 8-19, Jason Spicer Jr. 20-41, Herman White IV 2-0, Corian Brown 8-26, Sidney Pompey Jr. 1-(-2), Total 39-84; Manatee: Booker 18-108, A.J. Colagiovanni 11-4, Milton 4-14, Scott Voltaire, Total 34-125.
Passing: Palmetto: Spicer 8-18-1, 57, Total 8-18-1, 57; Manatee: Colagiovanni 8-17-0, 106, Total 8-17-0, 106.
Receiving: Palmetto: Pompey 2-0, Reggie White 1-5, Jacob Sullivan 2-26, Davis 2-12, Korey Waters 1-8, Total 8-57; Manatee: Jernard Porter 3-16, Milton 3-47, Jadan Robinson 1-33, Javarius Pollock 1-10, Total 8-106.