Facing off against each other for the third time in seven weeks, the Blountstown Tigers brought the Port St. Joe 2022 football season to an abrupt end with a 14-13 win in a FHSAA 1R region semi-final, spoiling Senior Night for the Tiger Sharks.
Prior to the game, Port St. Joe honored 32 seniors who had participated in band, cheerleading, cross country, football, ROTC, volleyball. Sixteen of them were football players.
The Tigers prevailed despite the Sharks dominating in number of plays (59-36), first downs (19-8), and time of possession (28:28-19:32).
Blountstown gambled at the start with an onside kick, but senior lineman Saylor Tull smothered the ball at the St. Joe 46, and the Sharks went to work with senior DJ Oliver methodically running the ball to the Tiger 30 from his wildcat position before disaster struck for the Sharks.
On just the fourth play from scrimmage, senior PJ Jones lost control of the ball, and Blountstown lineman Artavius Jones scooped it up and rambled untouched for a 72-yard touchdown.
After the extra point, the Tigers held a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the contest.
Taking possession on their own 36, St. Joe put together a 16-play, 64-yard drive that culminated with a Jones dive into the end zone from the 1-yard line. Zachery Burkett’s extra point try tied the game at 7-7 with only 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Blountstown responded with a 10-play, 60-yard drive of their own, scoring on a five yard pass with 6:54 before the half to take a 14-7 lead.
Following a St. Joe punt, Blountstown began another drive, but senior Kellen Speights intercepted a Tiger pass in the end zone to thwart the scoring threat and give the Sharks another chance with 1:55 remaining before halftime.
Runs by junior quarterback Devin Cuttino and senior receiver/running back LaJuan Zaccaro, Jr., gave St. Joe three quick first downs and moved the ball into Tiger territory, but Cuttino’s pass to Oliver in the end zone was just out of his reach, and the half ended with Blountstown holding the 14-7 lead.
On the second play of the third quarter, junior defensive back TJ Jenkins ripped the ball away from a Tiger receiver to return possession to St. Joe at their own 18 yard line, and the Sharks would not disappoint.
Overcoming two penalties, St. Joe matriculated down the field on a 10-play, 82-yard drive, aided by a late hit penalty against Blountstown before Oliver hit Zaccaro on a 12 yard touchdown pass at the 4:36 mark in the third quarter.
However, to the disappointment of everyone on the Port St. Joe side, the extra point try sailed to the right to keep the Tigers ahead by a slim 14-13 lead.
Forcing a Blountstown punt, the Sharks began another drive at their own 29 as the third quarter yielded to the final frame.
After picking up three first downs, St. Joe appeared to have momentum on their side, but Currino made an ill-advised pitch attempt at the Blountstown 39, and the Tigers recovered.
Forcing a three-and-out, the Sharks took over at their own 18 with 8:34 left in the game, but after three first downs, senior Jabara Pearson’s punt was blocked, giving the ball to the Tigers at midfield.
Four plays later, Tull recovered a Blountstown fumble, but an unsportsmanlike penalty against St. Joe set the ball back at the 14 yard line.
Facing a fourth and 10 situation as the clock wound down, the Sharks appeared to have the first down after a pass interference call against the Tigers, but another official flagged St. Joe on a questionable illegal man downfield penalty to force a replay of fourth down.
Coach Tanner Jones vehemently disagreed with the call, which was the second such flag of the drive, discussing the matter with both the line judge and the head referee.
“With today’s technology, we can see clearly on the field that (LaJuan) was not on the line of scrimmage, and was not covered up,” Jones explained. “It should never have been a penalty.”
Jones also questioned an earlier holding penalty call in the second quarter that nullified a 14-yard Oliver run, saying “he threw (the flag) late, and we thought that was a bad call.”
“Calls like that take momentum away, and football is a momentum game,” said Jones. This time, there would be no pass interference, and the Tigers took possession and ran out the clock.
In a sign of sportsmanship, Blountstown coach Greg Jordan called time out with 1:26 and the ball perched at the 1-yard line. When play resumed, the Tiger quarterback merely took a knee as the seconds ticked away until the final horn sounded and the Blountstown celebration began in earnest.
“I am very proud of all of our kids, what they’ve accomplished, and the work they’ve put in,” said Jones after the game. “We just never made the big one tonight.”
Although Oliver did gain 90 yards rushing, his longest run of the night was for 13 yards, primarily because Blountstown regularly stacked up to nine players in the box when Oliver was at the wildcat position to prevent “the big one.”
“We knew they would, and we said we’ll take the game to them,” said Jones. “Our thought was that we would be as physical as we could be.”
“The senior class is a great class, with some really hard competitors,” added Jones. Of the 16 seniors, “nine have been the core of the program since we got here three years ago.”
In addition to Oliver and Tull’s heroics during what turned out to be their final high school football game, another senior who left it all on the field was Zaccaro, who ran seven times for 56 tough yards and caught five passes for 51 yards and a score.
Port St. Joe ended its season with an 8-3 record, while Blountstown (8-4) will play at Sneads next Friday, November 25, for the region title. The Pirates are undefeated at 11-0.
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