Alan Dell

Commentary | State champion Manatee Hurricanes play for coaches, each other

ORLANDO

The Manatee High football team came into the Florida Citrus Bowl and pilfered everything in sight.

They stripped the offense right out of First Coast and made its quarterback look like the ninth-grader he is and not the freshman phenom he was purported to be.

This was Sherman’s march through Georgia football-style, and out front in the trenches was Blake Keller. He led a ferocious defensive line that showed no mercy and left devastation in its tracks with eight sacks and a quarterback running for his life.

They made these Buccaneers from Jacksonville look worse than those hapless Buccaneers from Tampa, and that’s saying something.

Manatee’s 40-0 victory was a Joe Kinnan masterpiece. His offense, which had taken the last few weeks off, showed up for work energized and determined to pay their debt to the defense.

This was the kind of game that the genius of Kinnan envisions, which is why he won his fifth state title in his seventh state final appearance.

They won it for Joe, and they won it for themselves.

“I couldn’t be any happier for them. Some of these kids haven’t had a lot to cheer about in their lives, and this was real nice for them,” Manatee defensive coordinator Jim Phelan said. “During our pregame meal, I was looking at the faces of our players and thinking how so many have gone through so much with personal tragedies. I felt they needed some joy in their life and it can’t get any better than this.”

There are many reasons this team played with so much passion Friday night. It was out of love for each other, and it was because for some life has not been all that fair.

Roshaun Goff, who blocked a punt that gave Manatee a 23-0 lead in the third quarter and put the game out of reach, has had enough grief to last a lifetime.

The cornerback known as Purvis stripped the ball from a running back last week that resulted in a touchdown and carried the Canes to their semifinal win.

Last summer, his brother was shot to death.

“I got my brother tattooed on my chest, and this was all he was talking about before he died. He told me to get to the state championship and win it,” Goff said. “He is here with me with, and I love him. I did what the coaches told me to do, and I did it for them; coach Phelan and the rest of them. The last two years have been incredible. They’ve been with me through my injury and when my brother passed. They are my second family, and I wanted to give them a state championship.

“We were working on the block all week. The coach wanted me to get up front with those big guys and explode off the line and I went after it and got it.”

Defensive backs coach Tracy Sanders quarterbacked the Canes to the 1983 state title and now gets his first state championship as a coach. He feels a special kind of empathy for Goff.

“I know the Goff family extremely well, and I do know that this has certainly been a high moment for the family, seeing Purvis and the team have the success they’ve had through the course of the year. I know in some little, small way this makes some of the tragedy they experienced not feel so bad.

“Tonight our mission wasn’t just to be in the game. We were in it to win it. The last time we were just happy to be here. It was special for me because I had an opportunity to play for some great coaches, and Coach Kinnan is still my favorite coach behind Bobby Bowden.”

Despite trailing 14-0 late in the first half and getting dominated, First Coast had a chance to get back into the game when a blocked punt and penalty gave the Buccaneers a first down on the Manatee 20. But on the first play, safety Willie Smith intercepted a pass at the Canes’ 4-yard line.

It was the third straight game the junior came up with a game changing turnover.

“We went man coverage, and I trusted my instincts and got the pick.” Smith said. “The game plan was to keep on eating (their quarterback), just keep on eating. We felt we could get to the quarterback because of our defensive line. I feel great winning a state title for all the coaches and the school and for Manatee County. We did it for our city.”

It’s been 19 years since Kinnan won his last state championship in ’92 and there were two state final game losses since, but the man who has made Manatee High football a brand name won’t say which one was the best.

“They all feel great I never had a state championship that didn’t feel great though this has been a long wait,” Kinnan said. “We felt if we did not win this game it would be an upset. But we had to do what Manatee does and we did that. We played physical. We have 12 starters coming back.”

The victory was particularly fulfilling for the guys who played in the ’09 state title game, which Manatee lost to Plant City. The defeat had stuck in Clinton Heaven’s throat for two years.

“We fell short the last time we were here, but this time we prevailed because this time we came out with the tenacity to win,” Heaven said. “Last time we didn’t play until the second half. We wanted to win this for coach Kinnan. It was 19 years since he won it.”

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

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