Port St. Joe sophomore Chance Gainer ran the opening kickoff untouched for a 90-yard score, and the Tiger Sharks went on to hand North Bay Haven a 41-0 drubbing Friday night at Shark Field in the pre-season opener for both schools.
With the starting 11 playing only the first half, the Tiger Sharks took a comfortable 28-0 advantage into the locker room.
Senior running back DJ Oliver, recently named the SSAC North Florida Preseason Offensive Player of the Year by Central Florida Prep, proved that the honor was no mistake as he ran for 102 yards and a score on only five carries.
Oliver wowed the home crowd, and probably the Buccaneers, with impressive runs of 16, 20, 27, and 38 yards. The latter came on a fourth-and-18 play.
His shortest run was a one-yard stroll into the end zone for the Sharks’ third score of the first half.
“I think DJ pretty much did what we expect DJ to do,” said St. Joe head coach Tanner Jones. “We’re going to get to a point where he runs the ball a lot more.”
Jones quickly pointed out that Oliver would have plenty of help in the backfield this season from senior PJ Jones, junior quarterback Devin Cuttino, and freshman Corbin Butts. “They’re really going to help
us out and give us some depth.”
Jones also included sophomore Donnell Hill in the group, “someone who runs the ball hard. We’ve just got to get him more familiar with the offense, and he’ll give us another option.” Hill gained 12 yards on one carry for the night.
Against the Buccaneers, Jones ran for 60 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, Cuttino added several flashy runs and a score, and Butts gained 40 yards and a touchdown on only three carries.
In addition to praising his running backs, Jones pointed out that “our receivers were blocking downfield for us. Coach (Toney) Powell really stresses blocking downfield.”
Cuttino also completed seven passes in the first half, with Gainer being his favorite target.
After Gainer’s kickoff return, the two teams remained scoreless until Cuttino’s nine yard run with 9:41 in the second quarter.
Senior Zachery Burkett added the extra point to give St. Joe a 14-0 lead.
Burkett would successfully kick five of six tries on the night, aided in no small measure by his holder, freshman Eli Harris.
The Sharks added two more scores in the final three minutes of the second quarter.
Taking a direct snap, Oliver casually waltzed into the end zone at the 2:44 mark, and with only 1:16 remaining before halftime freshman Asher Peacock’s interception gave St. Joe another chance.
After three plays, it appeared that the North Bay Haven defense would keep the Sharks out of the end zone, but Oliver powered his way for 38 yards down to the Buccaneer 15 with only five seconds on the clock.
After using a time out, and with time for only one more play, PJ Jones took the direct snap, ran to his right, faked a pitch, and then cut back against the grain for the score. Burkett’s kick gave St. Joe a 28-0 lead.
In the second half, sophomore Darren Angelino took over at quarterback, gaining 45 rushing yards and a touchdown and completing two passes for 32 yards.
Butts joined Angelino in the Shark backfield, and added a five-yard score with only 3:54 left in the third quarter.
Only three plays later, his interception set up the final touchdown of the game, which came when Angelino scored from inside the five yard line with 10:25 remaining.
“We love our JV’s,” said Jones. “Darren did a great job, and Corbin ran the ball hard.”
With the Sharks holding such a commanding lead, a running clock ensued and the contest ended with a North Bay Haven desperation pass falling harmlessly to the turf.
Defensively for the Sharks, several players earned helmet stickers. Senior Jabara Pearson and Peacock each had a pick, and Oliver would have had a third but for a roughing the passer penalty.
Sophomore Andrew Sheppard, senior Gavin Lee, and Butts contributed quarterback sacks, and senior Sailor Tull added a fumble recovery. Tull performed admirably at both offensive center and defensive tackle.
“We rotated a lot of our freshman and sophomore linemen, one at a time,” said Jones, “and you really couldn’t see a hiccup. They did really well, (but) we’ve definitely got a ton to work on,” added Jones.
“We had some protection issues where guys aren’t picking up the blitz, or not listening and doing what they’re coached to do.”
Another point of emphasis that Jones mentioned is that “we’ve got to get the play off quicker. I know I’m going to hear a lot about that. We’re a tempo offense and almost getting delay-of-game penalties.”
On the subject of penalties, the Sharks did receive 10 infractions on the night.
Jones acknowledged that, with his current personnel, “we have kind of transitioned from the Colin Amison-passing game” to more of a running attack with Cuttino and Angelino at quarterback.
“We didn’t run a lot of our stuff,” said Jones. There is “so much that we have been working on that we’re excited about. One set is definitely old-school Port St. Joe, which gives us a whole new dimension to our offense, (especially) with our having all these runners here.”
“We have a lot to work on, but you expect to have the turnovers (the Sharks had three), you expect to have the miscues,” said Jones.
Before traveling to Jefferson County on Friday, August 26, Jones said that “hopefully we can put it together a little bit better, we make some adjustments, maybe change some personnel in some places, but ultimately that’s a game we should win.”
Jefferson County had a 2-8 record last season.
It gives us one more warm up game, (followed by) an off-week (so) we can fix everything. Then we play Bay, and it’s on. Bay is loaded up, and it’s a whole different team from what it was last year.”
Last season the Sharks defeated Bay by a score of 48-28. St. Joe will play at Bay on Friday, September 9.