Port St. Joe celebrated Homecoming with a convincing 48-0 shellacking of the Vernon Yellowjackets on Friday, October 7, at Shark Field.
With DJ Oliver back in uniform for the first time since the Bay game on September 9, the swarming Tiger Shark defense completely shut down the Vernon offense, holding the Yellowjackets to negative 31 yards for the game.
The only Vernon first downs came courtesy of two St. Joe penalties, with the defense allowing only three plays of positive yardage. Vernon was forced to punt the ball nine times.
“So many guys were getting to the ball,” said Shark head coach Tanner Jones. “As long as we can keep getting to the ball, we’re going to create more turnovers.”
Offensively, the Shark varsity displayed remarkable efficiency in their limited playing time, churning out 238 yards and six touchdowns in seven offensive drives that consumed a mere 14 plays in slightly more than a quarter of play.
Following the initial kickoff, St. Joe began its first scoring drive, needing seven plays before Devin Cuttino ran in from two yards out.
Zach Burkett’s extra point try sailed wide left, but this would be one of the few Shark miscues on the night, and St. Joe took a 6-0 lead with 10:06 on the clock.
It would take only one play for the next score. After a short Vernon punt, PJ Jones took the direct snap and sped through the right tackle hole untouched for a 42 yard touchdown.
Jaydon Gant kicked the extra point to give the Sharks a 13-0 lead at the 8:40 mark in the first quarter.
Gant had a busy night. In addition to his eight kickoffs, he would also make good on the five extra point tries he attempted.
The Sharks needed two plays to strike again after the next Vernon punt, with Cuttino involved in both.
On first down from the Yellowjacket 37, he raced 32 yards down to the five yard line, and on the next
play he threw a strike to Kellen Speights in the end zone. Gant’s kick increased the St. Joe lead to 20-0 with 6:06 still remaining in the initial frame.
Showing his speed, Vernon receiver Ashten Freeman took Gant’s kickoff at the 10 yard line and broke up the middle all the way to the St. Joe 40 yard line before Gant brought him down.
Led by Jay Stuckey, Corbin Butts, and Oliver, the defense forced another three-and-out, with this punt traveling only 10 yards.
On the first play, Cuttino hit a wide open Jabara Pearson with a perfect spiral inside the 15 yard line on his way to pay dirt to complete the 53-yard play.
This time, Burkett’s kick sailed through the uprights, and the Shark lead increased to 27-0 with 4:13 left in the first quarter.
With Oliver, Tad Russell, and Saylor Tull leading the tenacious defensive charge, Vernon had to punt once again in spite of gaining a first down due to a Shark personal foul penalty during the short drive.
The next possession would be the only offensive blemish for the varsity Sharks, as Vernon recovered a fumble on just the second snap.
Led by Tull and Jones, St. Joe’s defense and a holding penalty forced the Yellowjackets into a fourth-and-28 punting situation, but there would not be need for the Shark offense to take the field as Chance Gainer hauled in the kick at the Vernon 48 and followed a convoy of blockers to the end zone for the fifth St. Joe score of the first quarter.
Gant’s kick gave the Sharks a 34-0 lead. Once again, the defense forced Vernon to punt to return possession to St. Joe.
On the first play of the “drive,” Oliver showed signs of complete recovery as he powered and sped his way to a 43-yard score. “He hit it like he’s supposed to hit it,” said Jones, “and did what we expect him to do. He looks fast, and he looked like he was probably having more fun than anybody else on the field.”
On defense, “if it was their guy, he was going to hit him, and if our guy got in the way he was going to hit him,” said Jones of his multi-talented senior. “Even our kids on the sideline saw that. He was happy to be out there.”
On the extra point snap, holder Eli Harris showed why Coach Jones refers to him as “the best holder in the state.”
Without losing his kneeling position, Harris reached up to grab the high snap and brought the ball down just as Gant’s toe sent it through for the extra point.
St. Joe now led 41-0 with 11:04 in the second quarter, and this would be the last appearance on offense for most of the varsity players.
The final Shark score came on their next possession. Following a 10 yard Yellowjacket punt, the Vernon defense had a moment of success when they sacked quarterback Darren Angelino for a 10 yard loss, but on the next play, Angelino pitched the ball to Butts, who flew up the sideline for a 52-yard touchdown.
Once again, Gant came in to kick the extra point, and St. Joe led 48-0 with 8:11 remaining before halftime.
Just a few minutes before the end of the first half, St. Joe punted for the only time of the game, and Pearson boomed a high kick down to the Vernon 11 yard line.
During the halftime festivities, Damari (Mari) Johnson was crowned Homecoming Queen by last year’s winner, Shadavia Hudgins.
The game well in hand, the teams played the second half with 10 minute quarters (rather than 12) and a running clock, so the remainder of the contest sped along quickly.
The Sharks did miss out on another scoring chance in the final frame when Butts received a Vernon punt inside the St. Joe 40 and weaved his way to the end zone, but because the field was littered with flags against both teams, the play was nullified and a second punt took place.
The game soon ended with no other scoring threats, and St. Joe’s record improved to 5-1, while Vernon remained winless at 0-6.
With Oliver back in seemingly complete health, Jones is still cautiously optimistic about the condition of lineman Uwenses Benedict, who sustained a knee injury on the second offensive play against Blountstown.
“X-rays came back negative,” said Jones, “maybe bruising, but we still have the MRI scheduled. But that’s a week or two away, so we’re monitoring.
He looks a lot better, (and) we’re hoping it’s just a bad bruise.” “We ended up getting Camden Focht, a 10th grader, to play in (Benedict’s) left guard position,” he added.
“We’re hoping that we can get Camden as many reps as possible in the next two weeks.”
Looking ahead, Jones said that after the next two weeks, away games at Bozeman and South Walton, “we’ll probably have Blountstown here again in week 10,” although the Tigers lost 49-0 to Northview on Friday.
A Blountstown loss “should bump Sneads up to that second spot, and then we would be hosting Sneads,” he said. That would be on October 28.