Manatee High started its Class 8A-Region 2 semifinal Friday night against Riverview with three excellent quarters.
Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, everything unraveled in the fourth quarter as they allowed 21 consecutive points to turn a tight game into a 49-27 loss.
The defeat was their fourth in a row to the Rams, a stretch that includes a 24-13 loss last month that cost them a district title.
“We had our chances,” Hurricanes coach Yusuf Shakir said. “We had our opportunities. We had our shots. We didn’t take advantage of them. That’s what it is.”
Hurricanes quarterback Anthony Squitieri opened the scoring with a 3-yard rushing touchdown with 7:13 remaining in the first quarter, but the Rams responded with a 7-yard touchdown pass between wide receiver Michael Hayes and quarterback Sean White.
The Rams (9-3) added consecutive touchdowns in the second quarter to extend their lead to 21-6, but Squitieri rushed for a 1-yard touchdown with 3:39 left in the second quarter and threw a 5-yard touchdown to wide receiver Keyon Fordham with 9 seconds left in the opening half to pull his team to within one point, 21-20, going into halftime.
“We were up like 21-6 and let them right back in it,” said Rams coach Josh Smithers, whose team plays host to Orlando Dr. Phillips in the Class 8A-Region 2 championship next Friday. “We told the guys we’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing and knock off the silly stuff.
“We did that pretty much the second half.”
The seventh-seeded Hurricanes were close at halftime despite trailing the third-seeded Riverview in total yards 241-121. Fordham rushed for a 53-yard touchdown to give the Hurricanes (8-5) a 27-21 lead with 8:58 left in the third quarter, but Rams senior running back Ali Boyce responded with a 13-yard touchdown to give his team a 28-27 lead it wouldn’t lose.
“He breaks tackles, and he’s just unbelievable,” Smith said. “If we need something, I’m going, ‘Give the ball to 22, call the play for 22.’ It’s a luxury to have him.”
Boyce — who finished with 28 carries for 185 yards, giving him more than 5,000 rushing yards in his career — added another rushing touchdown just 31 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Rams wide receiver Zy Grable then caught two touchdown passes over a 12-second period to give his team another 14 points and turn what had been a tight game into an easy win.
The loss ends what had been something of a rebuilding year for the Hurricanes, who used many inexperienced players. Three of their top four rushers were either freshmen or juniors and two of their top three receivers were sophomores or freshmen.
“And we had a lot of older guys who were playing for the first time,” Shakir said. “It was just a very young, inexperienced team all the way around this year. We’re just going to try to build on that next season.”