Keyon Fordham took the snap from the shotgun, rolled to his left and wasn’t passing.
Instead, the Manatee High senior turned the corner and headed toward the end zone’s front left pylon on a fourth-and-goal play that would decide if the Hurricanes could conjure more of their famous Manatee Magic.
Fordham, though, wasn’t prepared for how fast Sarasota Riverview’s defenders closed the gap.
“When I went, I tried to reach out with the ball (over the goal line), but I guess the ref didn’t see the ball,” Fordham said.
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Granted, Manatee (5-3, 4-1 district) still needed a two-point conversion, an onside kick recovery and a field goal to force overtime had Fordham’s run been deemed a touchdown.
But the play was symbolic of the difference between the two teams Friday night at Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium.
Riverview’s smashmouth offense piled up the rushing yards, while its physical lines controlled both sides of the trenches to win a pivotal Class 8A-District 6 showdown, 24-13.
Following the Fordham stop, the Rams (4-3, 4-1 district) grinded out the last three minutes for their third straight win in the series to set off a water-cooler bath for head coach Josh Smithers and an on-field celebration twice — first, delaying the postgame handshake line and then after the handshake line ended.
“It’s just disrespectful,” Fordham said. “If we would have won at their house, we wouldn’t have done that.”
Fordham said they’re told to practice how they play, and he added he didn’t feel they practiced very well this week.
The Rams gave up 51 points in a loss to Lithia Newsome last week. That’s the same team Manatee defeated 42-7 on Sept. 14.
Head coach Yusuf Shakir said the issue was effort during the first half.
“We couldn’t wake up,” Shakir said.
Riverview outgained Manatee 234-109 in total yards of offense in the first half, which gave the Rams a 21-6 lead at halftime.
Rams running back Ali Boyce had two touchdowns in the opening half and finished with 205 rushing yards on 37 carries.
“He’s our guy,” Smithers said. “He’s a four-year starter and he led us the way a senior should lead us.”
Fordham went in at quarterback for starter Anthony Squitieri to open the third quarter, and the Canes scored a touchdown on five plays with Fordham capping it with a 45-yard burst to pay dirt.
But a Riverview field goal late in the third quarter put the game back to a two-score margin, and the Canes didn’t have a chance to close it until their final offensive series.
Consequently, Manatee went from having a chance to win a district championship — and clinching an automatic playoff berth — to having to rebound quickly in its final two games.
A season-finale at defending 7A state champion Venice could determine if Manatee heads back to the postseason in 8A.
“Venice will be a lot of (playoff) points for us to gain,” Shakir said. “So we’ve just got to come ready to play.”