Continuing where they left off in December, the Port St. Joe boys soccer squad figuratively fought their way to three wins during the first week of the new year and improved to 9-5 for the season and 4-0 in the district.
On Monday, Jan. 3, the Tiger Sharks scored three goals in the second half to overcome a 1-1 halftime tie and defeat the North Bay Haven Buccaneers 4-1.
Junior Jaydon Gant led the scoring with two goals, followed by sophomore Lance Larry and senior Elias Alexander with one score each.
Alexander also “had two nice lobs to Gant, who broke away from the Buccaneer back line for the second and third goals,” said Shark coach Bobby Alexander.
Sophomore Taylor Burkett contributed two assists to the Shark cause as well.
The team “played lights out on defense, which led to some great counterattack opportunities,” said Coach Alexander.
“(Goalkeeper) Fisher Vandertulip registered another shutout, (because) the North Bay Haven goal was an ‘own goal’ by one of our center backs in the 11th minute,” said the coach. “We tied the game on a penalty kick by Elias in the 31st minute after Taylor Burkett was fouled in the box.”
“After the half, solid tackles and great distribution from (senior) Porter Hodges led to opportunities for the midfield to set up multiple attacks,” he said.
Coach Alexander said he was proud “every player got minutes, and we played our most complete game of the season.”
Two days later, Jan. 5, saw a rematch between St. Joe and Franklin County.
At the first meeting in Eastpoint on Dec. 15, the Shark victory was tainted by some unsportsmanlike drama at the end of the match, but extra precautions such as a third official and the added presence of both school superintendents subdued any onfield or post-game negativity.
Instead, the Sharks, led by Gant’s five goals, did their talking with their feet as they completely dominated the match, winning by a final score of 7-0.
Gant’s first two goals gave the Sharks a 2-0 lead at halftime, and he continued his scoring blitz with three more trips to the net in the second period.
Junior Kaiden Pitts added the sixth Shark goal, and senior Justice Peacock notched the seventh and final score with just under two minutes to play.
Vandertulip continued his stellar play in goal with seven saves.
“I know (Seahawk) Coach (Bill) McCullough, and he is doing a great job there,” Coach Alexander said after the game. “He wants to have a program that’s excelling, and they are (getting better). He is a very professional man, and I hope that I am. We both talked to (our) boys, and whatever happened the last time (we played) was uncharacteristic. It was outside the norm.
“(Fans) saw a great game out there tonight, with great young men who showed respect for each other and played well,” he said.
After the match, McCullough attributed much of the loss to “our legs not (being) back from the Christmas break yet. We have some work to do to be in shape to run a full competitive game without losing speed. Most of the second-half goals came as a result of fatigue and Port St Joe’s ability to move the ball without bad touches or silly passes.
“We fully expect to meet St. Joe again in the district championship,” he said. “We are excited for another opportunity to test ourselves against them.”
Franklin County’s record fell to 7-5 on the season, 1-2 in district play.
The Sharks traveled to Defuniak Springs on Saturday, Jan. 8, to take on the Walton Braves, who jumped out to a 2-1 lead at halftime before the Tiger Sharks rallied in the second half to claim the win by a 3-2 margin.
Gant, Larry, and Alexander again provided the scoring firepower for St. Joe, and Vandertulip prevented further Braves scoring with a shutout in the second half.
St. Joe played at Wakulla this Tuesday, Jan. 11, and will end the regular season with home games against Walton on Jan. 15, Rutherford Jan. 18, and Freeport Jan. 21.