Port St. Joe senior Devin Cuttino (#7) uses a cutback to weave through Blountstown defenders in the Region 2 championship Friday. [ James Jackson | The Star ]
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Blountstown edges Tiger Sharks in championship thriller

Focused on replicating the offensive explosiveness of their regional semifinal victory over Aucilla Christian in the state playoffs, the second-seed Port St. Joe Tiger Sharks took to the road for a championship showdown against the top-seeded Blountstown Tigers to claim the mantle of region’s best.

With the gridiron lights illuminating Ted Cooper Stadium at Bowles Field on Black Friday, the Tigers (8-3) survived a nailbiter against the Tiger Sharks (7-5) in a game that witnessed penalties and turnovers heavily influence the Region 2 championship game’s 14-10 final score.

Surviving a 7-6 barnburner over Sneads at home the week earlier in its regional semifinal, Blountstown had a different beast on its hands entering the evening in the form of a Port St. Joe squad that exploded for 49 total points the previous week, 28 in the first quarter alone.

Carrying a 4-2 road record into the contest, along with a 156-point edge in total points and 12.4-points per game advantage over the Tigers, Port St. Joe looked to enact a measure of postseason revenge after Blountstown ended the Tiger Sharks’ season last year in a 14-13 playoff war decided by a missed extra-point attempt at Shark Field.

Electing to kick off to start the Region 2 contest, Blountstown put Port St. Joe in position to put the first points of the night on the board.

Pulling in the opening reception of the night was Tiger Sharks junior wide receiver Chance Gainer, continuing his scorching first-quarter tendencies from the week prior. But the Port St. Joe drive would eventually stall, leading to the first scoring opportunity of the night for the Tigers.

Wasting no time, a 48-yard quarterback keeper by Blountstown senior Jordan Pride put them just outside the red zone on their first drive.

Keeping the ball on the ground, the Tigers persisted in utilizing a smash-mouth run approach, but the stout Tiger Sharks front four shut down any rushing gains before tight secondary coverage forced Blountstown into a kicking situation.

The Port St. Joe defense put together a number of key stops against a formidable Blountstown offense despite falling short 14-10 in the regional championship. [ James Jackson | The Star ]

Poised to strike first blood, a missed 30-yard field goal by the Tigers kept the game scoreless with 5:39 remaining in the first quarter and returned possession to Port St. Joe.

Both teams’ defenses were air tight throughout the opening 12 minutes, a theme that held true throughout the contest and put points at a premium. But a muffed punt return by senior Devin Cuttino as time expired in the first quarter put Blountstown in prime territory to harvest points to begin the second quarter.

The Tiger Sharks defense once again held strong, pushing the Blountstown offense away from the red zone on a clutch third-down stop to thwart the scoring threat.

Finally breaking the scoring drought with less than a minute remaining until the half, two catches by Blountstown’s Pride set the stage for a 2-yard rushing touchdown by senior Amarion Hover to put the Tigers up 7-0 with 30.2 seconds on the clock.

Making the most of every second remaining and one timeout, a combination of Tiger Shark sideline passes and Blountstown penalties put senior Estevan Angel in range to connect on a 27-yard field goal to send the teams to their locker rooms with the score 7-3 in favor of the Tigers.

Following Blountstown’s fruitless opening drive to start the final 24 minutes of play that led to a punt, the Tiger Sharks special teams unit made their presence felt.

For the second straight week, Gainer found paydirt on a nearly 70-yard return to put Port St. Joe ahead 10-7 for their first lead of the game at the 10-minute mark.

Tiger Sharks postseason standout junior Chance Gainer (#2) heads to the end zone for his second punt return touchdown of the Region 2 playoffs. [ James Jackson | The Star ]

Bringing the Tiger Sharks fandom to life, Port St. Joe’s growing defensive momentum, coupled with mounting penalties for Blountstown, set the stage for a blockbuster final act.

Despite shifting the pendulum to their advantage, a Tiger Sharks fumble at their own 28-yard line with 8:22 on the clock gave Blountstown the chance to turn the tide back in their favor after a 5-yard rushing score by Hover pushed the Tigers ahead 14-10 with five minutes left in regulation.

After punching back with two consecutive wide receiver screens to Gainer to push the ball to the Blountstown 10-yard line, a fumble by Cuttino on a quarterback keeper nixed a golden opportunity for Port St. Joe with the final whistle approaching.

Keeping hopes alive with a crucial defensive stand, Port St. Joe’s game-deciding roughing the kicker penalty on the Tigers’ 5-yard line handed Blountstown a first down with less two minutes remaining in the game.

Out of timeouts and unable to stop the clock, the resilient Tiger Sharks saw their season come to an end as Blountstown survived the gridiron battle 14-10 to secure the Region 2 crown.

The Port St. Joe Tiger Sharks finish the 2023 schedule with an overall record of 7-5 after a season that saw them earn a bye in the first round of the postseason and come within striking distance of a regional championship and trip to the state tournament.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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