Alan Dell

Commentary | Coach, QB wisdom key to Manatee Hurricanes’ run

Sometimes beauty can be seen only by those gifted enough to recognize it.

It has been that way the past two weeks for Joe Kinnan and his Manatee High offense.

It might seem The Wizard of West Manatee had lost the magic that enabled his offense to take up residence in the opposing team’s end zone on a regular basis.

In recent weeks, the football field’s most sacred piece of real estate was like a distant star to the Canes.

Kinnan put the onus on himself and told the team he could have done a better job with his play-calling against Fort Pierce Central. Whispers echoed through Hawkins Stadium that he had become too conservative and lost the daring that made him a hall of fame coach.

Kinnan was willing to put the blame on his shoulders, though he wasn’t responsible for some of the dropped passes and fumbles that hurt his Canes during this recent stretch.

What the Manatee head football coach has done the past two weeks is put his team in a position to win, and it’s hard to ask for more.

This is the time of year when you face the best defenses; they have a season full of videos to make adjustments. What was there three weeks ago might not be there anymore.

Kinnan squashed the notion he might have lost some of his fire Friday night in Manatee’s opening drive of the second half when the Canes trailed 7-6 and had a fourth and almost 3 at the Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer 7-yard line.

Conventional wisdom says to kick the field goal and put the pressure on the other team.

But Kinnan has wisdom that is above conventional, and he is not afraid to use it.

“Our kicker was struggling, and we felt we needed to get a touchdown. You miss a field goal, and they get it at the 20. We don’t make it, and they get it inside the 7,” he said.

Quarterback Cord Sandberg got the first down by a hair or two. It turned out to be a game changer because it forced Dwyer to go for a touchdown late in the game instead of kicking a field goal that might have given the Panthers a 17-15 win instead of their 19-14 loss.

Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry because of circumstances beyond the designer’s control. It is the mark of a good team to navigate through those rough waters.

The most chaotic moment came when Nick Tankersley was called on to attempt a field goal with less than two seconds left before halftime after Dwyer turned the ball over on his punt.

Tankersley was on the field and forgot where he had put his kicking tee. He then missed a rushed attempt that could’ve been labeled “TankersGate” if the Canes had lost by three points or fewer.

Lost in all that bedlam was the answer to why Sandberg is the perfect teammate.

With nearly everyone on the sidelines running around and screaming for Tankersley’s kicking tee, Sandberg calmly walked over to a bag of footballs on the sideline, reached inside and found it.

“I just figured that he would keep his tees in the same bag with the footballs,” the junior said.

The Kinnan-Sandberg tandem is turning out to be a better combination than Montana and Rice.

They know the difference between being smart and being foolish.

What most people might not know is that Kinnan is now dealing with an offensive line that starts three sophomores, including the center. He must evoke some caution and gentleness at times.

“They ran 63 plays, and we ran 40, so we didn’t get as many snaps,” Kinnan said. “They played their people deep and we decided to go for the higher percentage completion and maybe turn a 4-yard pass into a big gain. Nobody scored more than 14 points against their defense. Our offense did well, especially with our zone reads.

“We didn’t do a good job on third-down defense, but Willie Smith played well and Rhoshaun Goff caused the fumble that Willie picked up and ran for a touchdown. I think we tried to strip the ball too much from their quarterback, and it helped him break a lot of his tackles.”

It goes with Kinnan’s philosophy that sometimes even daredevils have to take off their capes, but that doesn’t mean they lose their boldness. It’s a matter of knowing when it’s better to exercise caution.

Wisdom triumphs over all, and Manatee seems to have it in the right places with their hall of fame head coach and a young quarterback wise beyond his years.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.