Alan Dell

Commentary | Manatee gets defensive to survive, advance

BRADENTON -- Jim Phelan says he doesn’t know the names of the offensive players on the Manatee High football team.

“I’ll get to know them by the time we have our banquet,” the Hurricanes defensive coordinator said.

No one on the Canes offense will take offense because if it wasn’t for Phelan’s defense, they’d be putting away their equipment on Monday.

Phelan’s defense beat Fort Pierce Central on Friday night in the Canes’ 13-10 victory in the Class 7A-Region 3 championship.

The offense didn’t score a touchdown and struggled all night. It got so bad Manatee head coach Joe Kinnan, known for his offensive wizardry, set aside his genius.

“I didn’t call a very good game. Hopefully next time I will do better,” Kinnan said.

Phelan and his kids didn’t complain because that’s the way they like it.

“Our job is not to let them score and we didn’t. We just defend. I don’t pay attention to what the offense does. I know their numbers, but I don’t even know half their names,” Phelan said.

Phelan and his kids got into a chess match, which led to the biggest play of the game when Derrick Calloway forced a fumble in the end zone and Roshaun Goff recovered it to give Manatee a 10-3 lead in the third quarter.

“Their offensive linemen were calling things out and our guys felt they were stealing our signals so I switched things on them,” Phelan said.

Phelan called it his this-and-that defense. When he signaled something in, it wasn’t, and when he didn’t, it was.

It might seem confusing, but the Canes love it and it got them six points.

“On that fumble recovery, we ran a stunt without me signaling it and got a touchdown so maybe it helped,” Phelan said.

“I saw the running back cut back and I said I got to give him a shot,” Calloway said. “I stuck my arm out and grabbed the ball out of his hands. It was an ugly win, but we came through.”

Goff turned out to be the right man in the right place, but he says that’s the way it is for this defense.

Somebody is always in the right place.

“The running back reversed field and then I saw one of my teammates knock the ball out and I went for it,” Goff said. “I was saying in the locker-room the defense was going to have to score a touchdown for us to come out with a victory and we got it. We don’t think it’s tough on us. It’s part of the game and that’s why we practice so the defense can perform like we did tonight.

“The offense didn’t score tonight and it happens like that sometimes. I was never worried because we know how to play.”

The Canes offense kept shooting itself in the foot all game. They played tentative in the first half and had two dropped passes that would’ve given them first downs. A fourth-quarter drive that would’ve put the game out of reach got nothing because of penalties.

“I thought we would do some things a little better running the ball. But they went back and started stacking the box and changed a little bit of what they were doing coverage wise and kept us off balance,” Kinnan said. “We never got into a rhythm in the first half and in the second half when we got into a rhythm, we would get a penalty.

“It was not one of my better games. I will do better next week.”

The Canes shut down Fort Pierce’s Pistol Offense, which was averaging more than 41 points per game, and sacked quarterback Marcus Sigmon six times.

The Cobras got a touchdown with 7:26 left to cut their deficit to 13-10 and then Kinnan played it conservatively on offense and put the game back on the defense’s shoulders.

Nobody complained, Phelan said.

“We want the game in our hands and felt we could handle it,” Phelan said. “Yeah, Joe called it conservatively, but we came through. Their little swing pass hurt us twice and that’s how they got their 10 points, but other than that, we played pretty good.

“I wasn’t worried on their last drive after they had scored because our guys love to play,” Phelan said. “We had fun out there. And we owed the offense one. They helped us out against Palmetto.”