FORT PIERCE - As his team was about to run its biggest play of the season, Joe Kinnan stood on the visiting side of Lawnwood Stadium and liked what he saw.
Manatee's head football coach was sure Johnnie Lang was going to take a pitch, run around the end and get the three inches the Hurricanes needed to further their fall for at least three more players.
But nothing really clicked at all for Manatee during Friday's Class 8A-Region 2 against Fort Pierce Central - this play included. With 54 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Lang stumbled a bit and was stopped at the line of scrimmage, turning the ball over on downs to the Cobras, who were whipping the home side of the stadium into a frenzy.
Moments later, Fort Pierce Central was celebrating a 17-15 victory and a trip to next week's Region 2 championship game while Manatee lamented its earliest postseason exit since 2007.
It was a bitter defeat for the Hurricanes (11-1), who lost quarterback Josh Meyer to a dislocated shoulder in the first quarter - Kinnan said Meyer wouldn't have been able to play had Manatee advanced - and couldn't stop the Cobras (10-1), who capped a 54-yard drive with Bobby Garcia's go-ahead 37-yard field goal with 1:49 left in the game.
"We just didn't do enough," said Kinnan, whose team's run of regional titles was stopped at four. "There's a difference in losing and getting beat, and we lost the game."
With Meyer on the sideline and his arm in a sling, Brodrick Yancy, a wide receiver headed to Temple, took the snaps, throwing for 113 yards while rushing for 65 yards and a touchdown.
The Hurricanes, however, went into halftime down 7-0, marking the first time since Week 1 of the 2011 season they didn't score during the first half. Not helping was the 115 penalty yards the Canes piled overall.
"Brodrick came in and did a really good job," Kinnan said. "The cadence was different, we had some offsides penalties that hurt us…The whole first half we were playing from behind the sticks."
There were other mistakes, too. Meyer's injury occurred after he threw an interception inside the red zone early in the first quarter, and the Cobras turned it into a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by quarterback Sam Vaughn.
And after Yancy's 1-yard run cut Manatee's deficit to 7-6 with 1:34 left in the third quarter, Austin Snowden missed the extra point. The Cobras compounded the pain when Vaughn (221 passing yards), while in the midst of being taken down by Hurricanes' linemen Daniel Doyle, hit a wide open Alquawn Vickers (nine catches, 179 yards) for a 90-yard touchdown on the first play after the kickoff.
Trevon Walters scored on an 11-yard run during the first play of the fourth quarter and was stuffed on the two-point attempt, making the score 14-12 with 11:53 left.
That's when Manatee appeared to take control. Doyle recovered a fumble on the Cobras' 30-yard line and the Hurricanes reached the 14 before Nick Pennebacker's 31-yard field goal gave them a 15-14 lead with 6:32 remaining.
But the Cobras responded with a scoring drive of their own, which was aided when Nehari Crawford caught a tipped pass to secure a 24-yard completion and move the ball to the 50.
"It was initially intercepted," Kinnan said, "and the guy took it away from him."
Manatee took over on its own 35 when Central's sailed out of bounds, but couldn't get past the Cobras' 45. Kinnan said he went with Lang, who missed most of last week a knee injury, because Walters (90 rushing yards) told him he couldn't go.
Walters said a groin he tweaked last week started to bother him.
"I was saying I couldn't go, but I could've went…I didn't notice it was fourth down," Walter said. "When I came on the sideline, I looked at the chains and noticed it was fourth down…
"I could've sucked it up. I've been doing it all year."
The last time Manatee didn't reach a regional final was 2008, when the Hurricanes didn't make the playoffs. And the last time they bowed out in the second round was '07, when they lost a region semifinal in Cape Coral.
"It's very disheartening," Kinnan said.