Devin Cuttino hit a wide-open Jabara Pearson on a 57-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game, and Port St. Joe went on to beat Rutherford 34-0 last Friday night, September 23, at Shark Field.
“Coach (Toney) Powell thought of a great play,” said St. Joe coach Tanner Jones. “He set it up, and we talked about it all week. ”
For the game, Cuttino completed seven passes to five different receivers for a total of 133 yards and the Pearson score.
Following newcomer Jaydon Gant’s kickoff to the Rams, Rutherford backs ran for a first down before Kellen Speights leaped to intercept a pass at the St. Joe 19 yard line.
Recently granted eligibility by the FHSAA, Speights made an immediate impact in his first game as a Tiger Shark with this interception and a later fumble recovery.
Despite two holding penalties, the Sharks completed an 81-yard drive that took nearly four minutes off the clock with a LaJuan Zaccaro 38-yard touchdown run that can only be described as a thing of beauty.
Taking the handoff, Zaccaro started up the middle, then pivoted to his right toward the sideline before turning left and sprinting to the end zone for the score while taking advantage of timely blocking by his teammates.
Continuing to fill in for the injured DJ Oliver, Zaccaro “is getting better,” said Jones. “The more he runs, the better we’re going to see him get.”
Playing barely more than the first half, Zaccaro rushed for 73 yards and the score, but had runs of 27 and 24 yards called back because of penalties.
Zachery Burkett’s extra point gave St. Joe a 14-0 lead with 6:05 remaining in the first quarter.
After forcing a Rutherford punt, the Sharks mishandled the ball and allowed the Rams to recover the ball at the St. Joe 14 yard line.
But the Shark defense held firm, and returned the ball to the offense just inches inside the five yard line with only 1:14 left in the initial frame.
“I love our defense,” said Jones. “It’s a home run defense, and we hit more than they did.” For the game, the Shark defense held Rutherford to only 30 total yards of offense.
Aided by two illegal blocking penalties, the Rams forced a St. Joe punt at the 9:29 mark of the second quarter, but Andrew Sheppard recovered a fumble at the Rutherford 30 on just their second play of the drive.
This time, St. Joe quickly capitalized, taking only three plays to score on a Cuttino pitch to TJ Jenkins from the 16 yard line.
Although Rutherford blocked the extra point attempt, St. Joe’s lead increased to 20-0 midway through the second quarter.
The Rams returned Gant’s kickoff to the 25 yard line, and were aided by a St. Joe personal foul penalty, but just three plays later, Asher Peacock’s jarring tackle caused a fumble, which Speights recovered and returned to the Rutherford 49 yard line.
Each team exchanged a punt before the Tiger Sharks began another scoring drive with 3:55 before halftime.
Cuttino hit Pearson on a bubble screen for nine yards, then Jenkins for six on another bubble screen before PJ Jones went to work.
On three consecutive runs, the senior running back ran for 21, 3, and the final yard for the score.
Burkett’s extra point try gave St. Joe a 27-0 lead at halftime.
Following a halftime show featuring each school’s band, Gant kicked off to Rutherford to start the second half.
Once again, the St. Joe defense forced a three-and-out, with Corbin Butts nearly blocking the Ram punt, which traveled only 14 yards to give the Sharks a short field at the Rutherford 29.
Three plays later, Jones raced 21 yards for his second score of the night, aided by a nifty block by Butts along the way. Jones finished the night with 80 yards rushing and two scores.
Burkett added his fourth extra point of the evening to give St. Joe a commanding 34-0 lead, and with 8:46 remaining in the third quarter, a running clock ensued.
“Our 2’s came in, and played well” the rest of the way, said Coach Jones.
“We had some penalties that we definitely have to fix,” he said, “but overall it was a good game for us.”
”Jaydon kicked the ball off great,” added Jones, “with two (of his kicks) down to the five yard line, This is the first football game he’s played in, and as he has more practice, he’ll get even better.”
Jones also had high praise for Zachery Burkett, who “came in and made all of his extra points except for the one that got blocked, and that’s on us.”
Part of Burkett’s success, Jones said, is owed to “Eli Harris, the best holder in the state of Florida. He is great at what he does, and I love watching him do it.”
Asked about the status of DJ Oliver, Jones said that “I’m not sure. We’ve got to figure out what’s most important for us, our season, and for DJ moving forward with his career. If we get DJ back in week 10, that’ll be great for the playoffs.”
“We’ve just got to do what’s best for him, and right now our other guys are stepping up for us. LaJuan and PJ are running the ball great, Kellen will be able to run the ball for us, and we still have Corbin. Devin’s running the ball,” he said.
“We’ve got some weapons. We’ve just got to keep working.”
Keep working, indeed. Blountstown is up next, and will bring its 4-1 record to town on Friday, September 30.
PSJ JV win 36-18 over Rutherford JV
The night before the two varsity squads squared off, Port St. Joe defeated Rutherford 36-18 in a JV contest.
Quarterback Darren Angelino completed seven passes for 117 yards and a touchdown, and ran for another 140 yards and three scores.
Donnell Hill rushed for 80 yards and a score, and Aydan Davis hauled in three passes for 65 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m proud of how our guys played,” said St. Joe JV coach John Simpson. “They were able to move the ball efficiently. I enjoy watching (Angelino) grow, and everyone around him as they continue to get better each week.”