VENICE -- Ever since the spring, Manatee head football coach John Booth has been preaching "finish strong."
His players showed they must have been listening when A.J. Colagiovanni connected with Jernard Porter with no time left on the clock to give Hurricanes a 20-14 victory over host Venice in the championship game of the Trey Burton/Dri Archer 7 on 7 tournament Friday evening.
Manatee had to defeat Venice in two straight games to win the tournament after losing to the Indians earlier. For Booth, it was also another validation that Colagiovanni should be his quarterback.
"He has a great understanding of what we are trying to do offensively and can spread the ball around. He showed today he has the arm strength to throw a post route over the top or the out routes and comebacks to the sidelines," Booth said. "A.J. didn't make many mistakes all tournament. He had a great spring game and has done well get
ting all the reps during the summer."
The junior took all the snaps in the spring game and every rep in the tournament. showing a lot of poise and an arm that appears to be a lot stronger than when he was the backup signal-caller last season.
The last drive, which began with the scored tied at 14, was hectic. The clock didn't stop, and the defense is awarded four points if it gets an interception. Manatee started from midfield with 56 seconds left. The quarterback is called for a sack if he doesn't throw the ball within four seconds after it is snapped.
Colagiovanni completed four of five passes on the drive and found Porter open in the middle of the end zone.
"This is a team bonding thing, and I think our team came out and did a great job and found a way to win," Colagiovanni said. "It's perfect practice for me and my team. We have to work together, and this is a way to show we are the best. You get to learn who your wide receivers are. It's a great dress rehearsal. At the end, I was just thinking score and win."
Porter, who played JV last season as a sophomore and is listed as a second-team receiver, might have inched up the depth chart a little. He caught Manatee's first touchdown and the two-point conversion to give the Canes an 8-0 lead.
"I played my heart out today. I was thinking we had to win this game, It's a big tournament," Porter said. "On the last play, I saw an open spot and tried to get to it. It feels great,"
Porter was one of multiple receivers who stood out for Manatee. Kavious Price, Lorenz Allen, Scott Voltaire and Reggie Carter also had big catches.
Allen, who displayed his running ability and pass-catching skills in the spring game, showed again he has soft hands and can be used in various ways.
"Lorenz is a dynamic player and catches the ball well," Booth said. "He stepped up great in the spring game with just 3½ weeks to learn running back. He runs well after the catch and is going to be in the mix when we iron out our starting 22. We just don't know if he is going to be a running back or in the slot. Porter had a great spring, and we are trying to give some of those younger guys more reps."
Manatee was missing three probable starters from its secondary and got burned a few times in coverage, but Booth said he liked the play of Paul Mobley, who had several interceptions, and Sir Williams, the backup quarterback who played cornerback in the tournament and had multiple pass breakups.
"We got beat on some coverages where our corner was doing the wrong thing and left a guy open, but all in all it was a good win for us and know we have some horses in the stable," Booth said. "We stressed all spring and through the summer that how finish is important. We needed to beat them twice, and we finished strong and did."