Focused on ending the regular season with a wave of momentum, Port St. Joe looked to take a bite out of Bay in a bit of homecoming havoc under the Friday night lights Nov. 3.
Nabbing their second home win this season in front of an energized crowd, the Port St. Joe Tiger Sharks (6-4) rode a hard-nosed rushing attack and stellar defensive efforts to a regular season finale victory over Bay (4-6) to thwart the Tornadoes’ quest to reach .500 on the year.
Outscoring Bay by 68 points on the season and allowing 61 fewer points in the same time frame, Port St. Joe’s statistical advantage on both sides of the football seemed to tip the scales in the Tiger Sharks’ odds for victory prior to the opening whistle.
Yet, with Port St. Joe sporting only a one-touchdown edge on the year, with a team scoring average at 29.2 compared to the Tornadoes’ 21.7, the door was open for anything to happen in the Tiger Sharks’ regular season finale.
After a rousing rendition of the national anthem by Dennis Thorne, of St. Joe Beach, the opening quarter witnessed an interception by Bay senior cornerback Trevor Bowman that stopped a slow but steady Port St. Joe drive six minutes into play to keep the game knotted at 0-0.
Harnessing their defensive momentum, a 23-yard Tornadoes’ receiving touchdown by 6-foot 7-inch sophomore Javar Bowden with 2:16 remaining in the first quarter opened up the scoring and gave Bay a 7-0 lead on the road.
Battling back just 12 seconds into the second quarter, Tiger Sharks senior quarterback Devin Cuttino converted a vital third-down conversion into a 46-yard rushing touchdown via a QB keeper to tie the ballgame at 7-7.
Sticking with the theme of QB keepers for touchdowns, Port St. Joe sophomore Jacob Hensley pushed his team ahead 14-7 with a 13-yard rushing score of his own with 2:41 remaining on the clock before an errant snap by Bay once again put the Tiger Sharks in prime field position.
Making the most of limited time, a Tim Tebow-like jump pass from Port St. Joe junior Chance Gainer to junior tight end Colton Johnson on a 3-yard slant route with 19.2 seconds left in the second quarter tacked on another touchdown to the Tiger Shark lead to stretch their advantage to 21-7 before the teams headed into their locker rooms at the half.
Following the coronation of Chelsea Bishop and Fisher Vandertulip as Homecoming King and Queen, Bay took the field for the final 24 minutes of action with their eyes set on orchestrating a comeback.
Chipping away at the Port St. Joe lead, a 2-yard rushing TD at the 6:15 mark by freshman Jonathan Devos positioned Bay within one touchdown of the Tiger Sharks, with the score 21-14.
Despite angling for some points of their own to round out the third quarter, a failed Port St. Joe pass attempt near the red zone on third-and-9 would end with a field-goal attempt sailing wide left to keep the game tight.
However, despite the missed scoring opportunity, a stout four-down defensive stand by the Port St. Joe defense forced a turnover on downs and once again placed the Tiger Sharks on Bay’s side of the field and within striking distance of the end zone in the closing moments of the third quarter.
Yet, a defensive showcase of their own by the Tornadoes forced Port St. Joe into a fourth-and-24 predicament to begin a game-deciding fourth quarter of action.
Opting to punt the football, a muffed catch in the red zone by the Tornadoes resulted in what had the feel of a game-deciding special teams’ fumble recovery by the Tiger Sharks and a chance to put even more pressure on a reeling Bay squad.
Eventually capitalizing on their prime field position, a 2-yard rushing TD by Port St. Joe sophomore running back Corban Butts on 3rd-and-goal stretched the Tiger Sharks lead to 28-14 with 9:29 left in the fourth quarter.
Just getting started making big plays, an interception by Butts at the 49-yard line just three plays after his rushing touchdown culminated in a 49-yard rushing TD for Cuttino to swell the Tiger Sharks lead to three possessions with time dwindling.
Continuing to match the efficiency of their offensive output, the gritty Port St. Joe defense nullified any chances remaining for a Bay resurgence.
A fumble recovery by senior defensive end Landrick Moore, in addition to hard-hitting efforts by both their front four and ball-hawking secondary in the waning minutes of action, ultimately cemented a 35-14 regular season-finale win and homecoming victory for the Tiger Sharks.
The Bay High School Tornadoes were not among the 13 local teams headed to the FHSAA playoffs.
Both top-seeded Blountstown (6-3) and second-seeded Port St. Joe drew byes in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Tiger Sharks on Nov. 17 will face the winner of the Nov. 10 regional quarterfinal match-up in which sixth-seeded Wewahitchka travels to third-seed Aucilla Christian.
The Tigers square off on Nov. 17 against the winner of the Nov. 10 quarterfinal in which fifth-seeded Cottondale travels to fourth-seed Sneads.