The word that best describes the Manatee-Palmetto football game is emotion.
There is never any shortage of it even though the Hurricanes have won seven straight in the series and not lost to the Tigers since 2004.
Manatee escaped with a 36-35 victory last year at Palmetto despite six turnovers with players on both teams trying to do a little too much and abandoning assignments.
“We told our guys you can’t do too much, you have to go out and take care of your responsibilities and let the game come to you,” Manatee head coach John Booth said “We can’t have six turnovers and expect to win. We kind of snuck out of there with the win, but we can’t expect that to happen again. It’s a heated rivalry.”
Palmetto certainly has the motivation, including Tigers head coach Dave Marino, who has never beaten Manatee as a head coach in six attempts.
“There are certain things we set out to do when we came here to take over the program, and one of these was to beat Manatee and build a championship program,” Marino said. “You are playing a cross-town rival, and the kids know each other and played against each other all their lives growing up. Last year maybe it was the environment, great crowd that was loud, and maybe those factors played into some of the kids being overwhelmed by the moment.”
The emotions will be high again this year, but Palmetto will take a different approach and not try to get into a shootout with the Canes, who lost 78-56 last week to Hewitt-Trussville (Ala.) last week.
“We don’t feel we have to score 40 points to win,” Marino said. “Our offense is built around controlling the clock, and our defense is solid. I don’t anticipate a lot of shootouts this year. Our defense lost only two players and our strength is our offensive line where we have four returning starters.”
Those factors plus Palmetto quarterback Jason Spicer Jr. and running back Elijah Davis are big concerns for Booth. He wants his front four to show a lot more physicality than it has in the past.
But most importantly he hopes his kids know the value of preparation.
“We didn’t do a good job as players and as coaches to get our kids dialed in last week,” Booth said. “The importance of preparation was the biggest lesson we all learned. You have to prepare and not think you are just going to walk in and play well. I think our kids understand where we are with that.”
Manatee will have Josh Booker available. The coach said he was pulled out of the Hewitt-Trussville game for precautionary reasons concerning a possible concussion, which turned out negative. The transfer was on his way to a big game rushing with 114 yards on 10 carries.
“Josh and linebacker Brandon Dossey, who was also pulled out of the game, have both been cleared. It was determined by people in the medical profession that neither had a concussion,” Booth said.
Palmetto’s defense looked solid in a 20-14 victory against Fort Myers last week, keeping the Tigers in the game until Davis won it with a 41-yard touchdown run. But Manatee’s quick strike offense is loaded with weapons.
Quarterback A.J. Colagiovanni threw for 362 yards and five touchdowns last week, and Tarique Milton showed his receiving and running skills with 289 combined yards and four touchdowns.
The problem for Manatee was defense, and Booth tried to address that in the only two days of practice he was able to get in on Monday and Tuesday.
“We graded every practice film this week and shuffled the players around and basically challenged the kids that whoever graded the highest would start this week,” Booth said. “We haven’t officially set our starting lineup at this point, but I will say the defensive players have responded well and did a nice job. With Spicer back there at quarterback, it’s a different threat than the last two years. If we get pressure in the backfield, he is mobile and can make plays where it seems to have been broken down.”
Despite all the preparation of both teams in a limited time, the coaches know with emotions running high anything can happen, particularly with turnovers.