BRADENTON -- Just when he appeared down and the play appeared dead, Trevon Walters, clutching hard to a shovel pass, somehow twisted his way out of the scrum that had formed near the line of scrimmage.
Then he darted toward the sideline and zipped away from a defender before another grabbed his jersey. As the home side of Hawkins Stadium grew louder with every step he took, Walters lunged and slid across the goal line for a touchdown.
If there was one moment that represented Manatee's gritty 44-34 win over Miami Central on Friday, it was that: Walters, a junior running back, showing his resolve, just as the rest of the Hurricanes did in running their record to 3-0.
"We're focused. Our coaches did a great job preparing the kids," said Manatee coach Joe Kinnan, whose team entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, MaxPreps and SI.com. "We went out and played hard."
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So did the Rockets (1-2), who began the year ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today before they fell to Grayson (Ga.) in Week 1 and defeated nationally-ranked Booker T. Washington last week.
Down 23-7 at the half, Miami Central scored on its first two drives of the second half, trimming Manatee's lead to two and forced the Canes to punt from their own 19 with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter. But the Rockets were flagged for roughing the kicker, moving the ball to the 34 and giving Manatee a fresh set of downs.
Walters scored less than a minute later on the aforementioned shovel pass,
which went for 54 yards.
"We've been working the whole time on keeping my balance, and they've been telling me about keeping my feet," said Walters, who totaled 227 yards rushing and receiving and added a game-salting 85-yard touchdown run late in fourth quarter, "and it showed.
"This is exciting, man," added Walters, who moved to the area from Alabama late in his freshman year. "It's just fun down here. I love it."
The Hurricanes also got some big plays from their defense late in the first half. Defensive lineman Marquis Dawsey sacked Rockets quarterback Joseph Yearby before Malik Brooks' pass deflection forced a punt.
Quarterback Cord Sandberg's 11-yard strike to Anthony Lauro with less than 21 seconds left made it 23-7 at the half.
"We had some opportunities, and the roughing the kicker penalty hurt us bad," said Rockets coach Telly Lockette. "Proud of my kids because they never stopped fighting. We just have to be smarter."
Sandberg passed for 219 yards and Marquel Hines had two catches, both of which went for touchdowns.
It wasn't all good news for Manatee. Defensive lineman Blake Keller was hit while playing special teams and was taking to Blake Medical Center for precautionary reasons late in the third quarter.
But the Canes managed to rise above the injury, and the Rockets, and are perfect heading into a bye week before playing at Southeast on Sept. 28.
Will Friday's win be impressive enough to keep Manatee atop some of the national polls?
"I have no control over that," Kinnan said. "We think we're as good as anybody. We would have liked to not let them score 34, but we were able to put 44 up, and that's impressive."