Alan Dell

A magical night: Manatee basking in glow of fifth state championship

It felt as if 5,000 pairs of eyes were on Manatee head football coach Joe Kinnan when several of his players dumped a cooler of liquid on his head to celebrate their 7A state championship Friday night.

If you could read faces it seemed as if Joe was saying, “Hey, fellas, I am too old for this, and besides I already won four.”

Yes, maybe he is and, yes he has, but c’mon, Joe, take one for the team!

Flash back to when some New York Giants dumped a Gatorade cooler on Bill Parcells in 1986 after they won the Super Bowl to start this ritual. All the players ran away, fearing his wrath.

But Manatee’s Leon Allen ran toward Kinnan and put a bear hug on him like a little kid on Christmas morning, thanking his dad for all the presents.

Capture this moment between Allen and Kinnan in your head because it is precious.

For a few seconds prior to Allen’s best move of the night, time seemed to freeze as we waited for somebody to do something, and Kinnan stood drenched, not sure how to react.

Allen then embraced him, bringing a delectable smile to the coach’s face.

All those on the sidelines breathed a sigh of relief. Allen, you saved the day and didn’t even have to break a tackle.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one had to be valued at 40,000 after the way Manatee manhandled Jacksonville First Coast 40-0 on Friday night to win the Class 7A state title.

The senior running back is proof that for all the winning this football program does, it is about more than winning.

Love conquers all, even in football, where violence and brutality are encouraged and cherished, he showed.

Allen lived in academic purgatory for three years and couldn’t play.

The coaches saved him from the streets that would’ve swallowed him up.

And Parcells and Kinnan in the same sentence?

Why not?

Kinnan has had a better year than Will Muschamp, Jumbo Fisher, Skip Holtz, Raheem Morris and all those fellas who coach football in Florida and make a heckuva lot more money.

You might even say Kinnan has had a better year than Barack Obama.

This was the most dominating performance of the Canes’ five state championship victories and further shows Kinnan is like bottle of expensive wine that gets better with age.

This was not his best team, certainly not offensively.

But on the biggest night and on the biggest stage it played like it was.

There was no Shevin Wiggins- or Mike Blakely-type running backs and or tall, athletic receivers who would outrace defenders and make acrobatic catches. And the offensive line started three sophomores.

This was a blue-collar unit that played like a Rolls Royce.

It was put together by a brilliant mind and operated by junior quarterback Cord Sandberg, who defies the laws of human nature with his demeanor.

Kinnan and Sandberg are Manatee’s twin towers of football intellectualism. The Wizard of West Manatee and his prize pupil.

Sandberg’s shovel pass to Allen was like a broken record that left the First Coast coaches scratching their heads. It’s one of Kinnan’s favorite plays, and the Buccaneers knew it was coming, but couldn’t stop it.

It has many derivatives and is based on what Sandberg sees in the defense.

“The trap option was a staple of what we ran my whole career and hung our hats on when we ran the I-formation, even at Eastern Kentucky.” Kinnan said. “The shovel pass is very similar to the shotgun, what the trap option is to the I, and we didn’t want to go away from something that was so successful. It’s part of our veer package, which involves zone reads. A lot of times when we call it (shovel pass), it could be one of four plays depending on what the defense does.”

A similar strategy was evoked on defense, according to defensive line coach Steve Gulash.

“Their offensive line retreats a lot when they block and we get off the ball well, which gave us an advantage,” Gulash said. “Their quarterback was hesitant to break the pocket, and we knew if we applied pressure we could get to him.

“This hasn’t hit me yet. It’s kind of like when I won the state championship as a player (1992). I walked around like I was hit by a car, and a couple of days later I realized what we accomplished. I am so proud of how my kids played up front.”

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-2112.

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