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Manatee rolls to 11th regional title

PALM BAY — Brion Carnes was supposed to take the snap and do what he does best.

Throw the football.

Then things changed.

“They brought pressure,” said Manatee’s senior quarterback.

Actually, Palm Bay Bayside threw nearly everybody available at Carnes during the final seconds of the second quarter of Friday night’s Class 5A-Region 3 title game. And Carnes managed to elude one pair of hands. Then another.

And then another. He streaked down the left sideline, running 47 yards, not stopping until he reached Bayside’s 24 and to set up a crucial score.

“That was big,” said Canes coach Joe Kinann.

Big enough to seize momentum just before the half and spark Manatee to a 31-14 win, clinching the program’s 11th regional championship and third since 2005 amid a chilly and persistent rain.

The Hurricanes (12-1) head back to Bradenton to face Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (13-0), the top-ranked team in the nation, in next Friday’s state semifinals, with the winner playing for the Class 5A state title on Dec. 11 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Carnes ran for 72 yards, threw for 98 and had a hand in two scores. But his biggest play was the aforementioned run, which came just before halftime and one play after the Bears (8-5) cut their deficit to 14-7.

Two plays after the dash, Carnes hit wide receiver Quenton Bundrage for a 7-yard score 20.6 seconds before the half.

“I broke two or three tackles, and luckily, I had the sideline,” Carnes said. “I got tired after a while, my legs started giving out.”

Such was the story all night — every time Bayside, playing in its first regional final, drew close, Manatee answered and drew further away, as the Canes did in the fourth quarter when the Bears cut the deficit to 24-14 with 9:39 remaining on Richard Burrows’ 27-yard touchdown toss to Jhomo Gordon.

On Manatee’s ensuing drive, Carnes faked a handoff to Mike Blakely, spun and cruised down the left sideline for a 49-yard TD.

“I hollered at him to give it (up),” Kinnan said. “Luckily, he didn’t hear me.”

But he saw plenty.

“I read the end coming real hard, trying to tackle Mike, so I pulled it out,” Carnes said. “Hey, I (saw) green.”

It’s hard to blame Bayside for targeting Blakely, who finished with 133 rushing yards and two touchdowns, giving him 360 rushing yards and five scores in Manatee’s past two wins.

Sophomore kicker Nick Tankersly, called up from junior varsity to spell an injured Colby Lengel, converted all three extra points and booted a 35-yard field goal.

And though Manatee’s defense was susceptible to the pass — Burrows threw for 214 yards — the Hurricanes limited Johnnie Hicks, the Bears’ 1,000-yard rusher, to 96 yards on 27 carries and have given up 36 points in three playoff games.

Now Manatee faces the powerful Raiders, who defeated the Hurricanes in the state semifinals in 2005 and ’06.

“Right where we want to be — we’re one of four now,” Kinnan said. “And we’re playing at home, so that’ll be good. And maybe it won’t rain.”