Madison County dashes Sharks’ title hopes

Five-time state champion Madison County brought the Port St.
Joe football season to an abrupt ending Friday night at Shark Field, with the Cowboys
riding out of town after a convincing 45-6 win.





Now 9-3, Madison County faces the 9-1 Blountstown Tigers in
Blountstown Friday, Nov. 26, with the winner advancing to the Class 1A
semifinals against either Baker or Chipley the following Friday. Blountstown
advanced with a 42-0 thrashing of their next-door neighbor, Liberty County.

After an initial exchange of punts, Port St. Joe appeared poised
to score from their own 12-yard line when senior Colin Amison threw a beautiful
spiral to a wide-open Nick Jefferson, but the ball fell harmlessly to the turf
when the senior split end could not secure it, forcing the second Shark punt of
the evening.

Unfortunately for St. Joe, this kick traveled out of bounds
after a distance of just nine yards, giving Madison County ideal field position
at the Shark 21-yard line.

On the first play, Cowboy running back Tommie House appeared
to take it all the way to the house, but his score was nullified by a holding
penalty.

During the ensuing drive, both teams would commit the first of
12 personal foul penalties for the game, three of which were offsetting. Emotions
ran high the entire contest, which saw 29 yellow flags thrown for the game.

The Cowboys managed to work the ball down to the 5-yard
line, but another holding penalty followed by a delay of game forced a field
goal try by Keoni Nelson, whose 37-yard boot sailed through the uprights and
gave Madison County a 3-0 lead with 2:19 remaining in the first quarter.

They would not relinquish the lead in spite of the Tiger
Sharks efforts.

Forcing another St. Joe punt, Madison County began its next
drive at the Shark 49, and seven plays later faced a fourth-and-eight at the
33-yard line.

Quarterback Jamie Hampton lofted a pass that a well-covered
Jonathan Akins caught in the end zone for the first Cowboy touchdown. Nelson’s
extra point increased the Madison County lead to 10-0 at the 10:06 mark of the
second quarter.

Disaster struck for Port St. Joe a mere four plays into the
next Shark possession when Keshaun Mitchell juggled and then intercepted
Amison’s pass and sped untouched for a 62-yard touchdown. Nelson again booted
the extra point, and suddenly the Sharks were on the opposite end of a 17-0
score with 8:49 left before halftime.

The Shark offense began to click on this drive, highlighted
by junior D.J. Oliver’s 20-yard burst to mid-field. Two plays later, Amison
found Jefferson in an uncovered Cowboy defensive seam, and the speedy receiver
raced to the end zone for what would be the lone Shark score of the game.

Although the extra point failed, the Sharks had cut the
deficit to 17-6, and the home crowd’s level of optimism grew when St. Joe took
over on downs after denying the Cowboys on fourth down of their next
possession.

Two false starts, however, prevented a St. Joe advance, and senior
Justice Peacock came on to punt. The Sharks would get one more chance before
halftime, but the half ended on a fourth-down incomplete pass.

After the Band of Gold put on its final, and stellar,
halftime show, Port St. Joe kicked off to Madison County to start the second
half.

Another personal foul pushed the ball back to the Cowboy
25-yard line, but Hampton thrust a dagger into Port St. Joe’s hopes of a
comeback when, on the first play of the second half, he followed blockers
around the right side and would not be touched on his way to a 75-yard
touchdown sprint.

Hampton, who rushed for only five yards in the first half,
would go on to frustrate St. Joe with his legs in the second half, gaining
another 118 yards on the ground.

Now down 24-6, and the Cowboy defense focusing on Oliver,
St. Joe resorted to its passing game. During the next drive there would be more
personal fouls, and another punt to return the ball to Madison at mid-field.

Behind the legs of Hampton and House, the Cowboys consumed
more than five minutes on a 12-play, 55-yard drive that culminated with Hampton
scoring from the 1-yard line. After Nelson’s kick, the score grew to 31-6.

With the Cowboy defense continuing to stifle the St. Joe offense,
Peacock came on to punt once more to return the ball to Madison with less than
two minutes in the third quarter.

On the second play of this possession, Hampton appeared to
take it the distance from the Madison 38-yard line, but another holding penalty
negated his run.

The Cowboys still had the ball as the final frame began, and
four plays into it they expanded their lead when House scored from 10 yards
out. Nelson’s kick gave the visitors a 38-6 lead with 10 minutes still to be
played.

Port St. Joe, who found little success on the ground against
the stout Cowboy defense, had no choice but to fill the air with passes during
their final three possessions.

The final Cowboy score came after a Shark loss of downs at
their own 8-yard, and a quick, and meaningless, score and extra point occurred.

Going for it on fourth down deep in their own territory at
that point was never a question for Tiger Shark coach Tanner Jones, because “at
the end, I’d rather be swallowed by Jaws than nibbled by minnows.”

The other two possessions ended when passes found their way
into the hands of Madison’s Orient Livingston, whose second pick resulted in
three different personal foul penalties, and with a now-running clock,
essentially ended the game.

Madison County, which won state championships in 2001 and
2007 in Class 2A, and from 2017-19 as a 1A school, “was a powerhouse before
they got in 1A,” said Jones.

“They’ve played for state championships in the past,” he
said, noting the Cowboys also were state runners-up five times – 1998 in 4A,
2003 and 2004 in 2A, and 2011 and 2012 in 3A.

“At the end of the day,” said Jones, “there’s a great
coaching staff over there, they have great athletes that work (hard), and you
can’t take anything from them.

“But (the loss) stings a little bit, knowing that we had a
team that worked their tails off all off-season,” he said. “I’m very proud of
our guys, (proud of) the season they’ve had, the things they’ve done, how much
they’ve grown, how much they’ve accomplished.”

Jones spoke highly of seniors Aiden Gainer, Justice Peacock,
and Kobe Flowers, who “rolls his ankle early in the game, (got taped) and he
keeps on playing.”

Also, Jones said “Nick (Jefferson) did drop one, but he came
back and redeemed himself, and he played great on defense. Colin (Amison) has a
torn ACL (and) he’s been playing on it for nine ball games. Dakota (Quinn) goes
out in the second series of the first game (Marianna),” missing the entire
season.

“The last two years,” he said, “we’ve built our offense and
our culture on these seniors, and they stepped up and exceeded our
expectations.

“I’m even more excited about the future,” Jones said. “I
know we’re graduating (some) great young men, but what we’re bringing back,
it’s going to be special.”



Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper NonDoc.com during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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