For a half, Miramar’s football team stood firm against Bradenton Manatee, one of the nation’s best teams.
But the Patriots’ inexperience caught up to them during a nightmarish second half that led to a 41-6 loss Sunday at Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium.
Miramar (0-1), the Class 8A state runner-up last season, was outscored by the Hurricanes 35-0 in the second half of a nationally televised game on ESPN2.
Manatee (1-0), the defending Class 7A state champions which entered the week ranked No. 3 nationally by ESPN, scored 41 unanswered points after Miramar took a 6-0 lead.
“We’re young, but we don’t want to make excuses,” Miramar coach Damon Cogdell said. “We saw some good things and some bad things, but we’re still excited about this team and we have nine more games to improve.”
The Patriots, who return only one true defensive starter in linebacker Jermaine Grace and four on offense, played like a much more experienced team early.
Senior running back Alex Lee, who finished with 122 yards on 10 carries, broke a 46-yard run on the game’s fourth play that set up Miramar’s lone score.
Wide receiver Sean Avant made a spectacular leaping catch in traffic on a fade pass from quarterback Nick Jeanty for the touchdown. In his first start, Jeanty completed 12 of 18 passes for 87 yards, but threw two of Miramar’s three interceptions.
Miramar’s defense surrendered a pair of field goals, but limited the damage with two big stops following what could have been costly miscues.
A big hit on Manatee quarterback Cord Sandberg popped the ball loose just as he was a couple of steps from running into the end zone for a go-ahead score. Senior Terence Gaskin recovered for Miramar.
Manatee defensive end Blake Keller, a UCF commit, blocked two punts, including one for a touchdown in the second half.
The first nearly set up a score in the second quarter. But Miramar’s defense held the Hurricanes to a tying field goal with seconds left in the half.
“I was proud of the way we fought, causing the fumble before the half,” Grace said. “We looked like the Dark Side in the first half. We’re a first- and second-quarter team right now. We have to focus on learning how to finish all four quarters.”
More mistakes early in the second half, however, opened the floodgates.
A late hit out of bounds after stopping Manatee on third down kept a drive alive.
Four plays later, the Hurricanes broke through when Sandberg hit Trevon Walters for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Keller then blocked his second punt, picked the ball up and scored from 15 yards.
Manatee had all the momentum on its side at that point, scoring again on the next drive when Walters ran the ball in from 15 yards for a 27-6 lead to cap a 21-point third quarter.
“We had a couple of breakdowns, and you can’t win when you throw three interceptions and have two punts blocked,” Cogdell said. “We just have to get back on the road and get better.”
Miramar opened a season on the road for the second time in three seasons. Two years ago, the Patriots suffered a one-point loss at DeSoto, Texas, with a young squad that eventually became a 13-1 state runner-up team in 2011.
Cogdell believes this experience and playing in tough upcoming games against a schedule that includes some of Broward’s best — Pompano Blanche Ely, Oakland Northeast, Weston Cypress Bay, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas and Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson — will help the team mature quickly.
“This trip was a great experience,” Cogdell said. “It reminded me of a state championship game in terms of preparation. We just have to get back to the drawing board and I think we’ll be OK.”
BRADENTON MANATEE 41, MIRAMAR 6