PORT ST. JOE – Port St. Joe stumbled to begin each half Friday night but the Tiger Sharks found their stride each time and ran through South Walton into the Region 2-1A title game.
Dewayne Griggs rushed for 241 yards and Port St. Joe made momentum-shifting defensive plays for a 45-21 victory over South Walton.
The Tiger Sharks (8-3) renew a familiar rivalry next Friday when they travel to Blountstown to take on the top-ranked Tigers for the region title.
The Seahawks bow out of the playoffs at 7-4.
A search for a turning point would focus on the final minutes of the opening period.
Leading 7-0 the Seahawks received a short field and drove to a first-and-goal at the Port St. Joe 8.
But on four plays, the final two inside the 1, South Walton could not punch it in and the Tiger Sharks took over.
“That was a real momentum swing,” said Port St. Joe coach Chuck Gannon.
The Tiger Sharks took that mojo and dominated the rest of the half, scoring 28-straight points, including two touchdowns in the final 41 seconds.
After the teams traded punts, the Tiger Sharks losing field position, Griggs (who averaged a tick less than 11 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns) turned the game on its head.
Breaking through a hole over left tackle, Griggs sprinted down the left sideline slipping one last tackler inside the Seahawk 10 en route to an electrifying 82-yard touchdown.
Drew Lacour added the extra point to tie the game, the home crowd on its feet for the first time.
On the next play from scrimmage Jak Riley picked off a deep sideline pass by South Walton’s Johnathan Ortner (21 of 39 for 187 yards with three touchdown and three interceptions) and Port St. Joe took over at its 26.
The Tiger Sharks marched 74 yards in 12 plays, all but two carries by Griggs or Jarkeice Davis (83 rushing yards and two touchdowns), melting more than six minutes off the clock.
Davis punched it in from the 1 and Lacour added the extra point.
The following Seahawk drive stalled at their 44 and a fake punt was smelled out by the Port St. Joe defense and Port St. Joe took over at the South Walton 34.
Five plays later Davis scored from the 4 and Lacour made it 21-7 with 40 seconds left in the half.
Ortner went deep down the right sideline again on the next play from scrimmage and was again intercepted, this time by Aaron Paul at the 50.
Paul returned the pick to the Seahawk 14 and the next play Lacour hit Paul wide open in the left seam for a touchdown.
Lacour made sure the teams went into intermission with the score 28-7.
“Not getting in with fourth-and-inches, that was tough,” said South Walton coach Phil Tisa. “It really came down to athletes. Their defense played well and they just did a good job of matching up with our athletes.
“At the beginning of the season not a lot of people would have given us much of a chance to be here. I am proud of our team. Port St. Joe just matched up better against us.”
The teams traded punts early in the third quarter, the Tiger Sharks again in reverse to start the second half and losing field position.
That field position gave South Walton the ball at the Port St. Joe 34 after the Tiger Sharks were forced to punt from their end zone.
Five plays later Ortner hit Alex Smith (a team-high seven catches for 63 yards and two touchdowns) on 21-yard pass down the right seam and Austn Garofalo nailed the extra point and it was 28-14.
The Seahawks followed with a perfectly executed onside kick they recovered at the Port St. Joe 40.
With Ortner (a team-high 42 rushing yards) alternating between passing and scrambling up the middle South Walton marched to Tiger Shark 11.
An interception was negated by a pass interference penalty on Port St. Joe and on the following play from the 5 Ortner found Smith at the right pylon for a score and Garofalo brought South Walton to 28-21.
Port St. Joe responded with a drive to set up a 24-yard field goal by Lacour and two plays later Ortner was picked off at the Port St. Joe 45 by Griggs who returned the ball to the South Walton 31.
“We picked off a couple and that was big because they throw the ball well,” Gannon said. “Our front seven really went after their quarterback and didn’t give him much time. Our defense deserves a lot of credit.”
Three plays later Griggs busted through right tackle from the Seahawk 34 to score; Lacour’s made it 38-21.
Griggs sealed it minutes later when he weaved 48 yards through much of the Seahawk defense for a 48-yard touchdown and Lacour put the final points on the board.
“This is the playoffs,” Griggs said. “You have to take advantage of it. We had each other’s backs and stuck by each other all year. We have been coached and coached well to stick together.”