PORT ST. JOE -- Maybe it is a tired cliché, but focusing on a game at a time has been Port St. Joe’s mantra all fall.
The Tiger Sharks demonstrated that laser attention to the task at hand with a 35-0 whitewash of Bozeman Friday night at Shark Field.
Showing little residual effects from a physically-bruising shutout loss at home to Bay High last week, the Tiger Sharks (2-1) rushed for 300 yards and held the Bucks (0-3) to 140 total yards and nine first downs in a commanding performance.
Much of the DNA of Port St. Joe was on display.
Eight running backs touched the ball as Port St. Joe melted the clock and moved the chains. The Tiger Sharks sacked Bozeman quarterback Bubba Thompson five times and made life miserable in the pocket.
They also turned key defensive plays into points and thwarted the only Buck possessions that threatened their goal line.
To add icing, Port St. Joe had just two penalties and won special teams, with Drew Lacour hitting all five of his extra-point kicks and the Tiger Sharks twice converting returns into offensive points.
“We really didn’t know what to expect this week,” said Port St. Joe coach Chuck Gannon. “We thought we worked and played our butts off last week against Bay and didn’t win. We are young and you just don’t know how the kids will respond.
“I thought we showed a lot of character and a lot of heart the way we played tonight.”
The Tiger Sharks struck early courtesy of Dwayne Griggs, who left last week’s game in the third quarter after a horrific sideline collision.
Griggs, wearing a new number after his No. 1 jersey was shredded by medical personnel last week, stepped in front of Thompson’s first pass for an interception at midfield and sprinted through the Bozeman offense untouched for a touchdown.
The teams exchanged possessions, two turnovers and two punts helping, through the rest of the opening period before a short Bozeman punt put the Tiger Sharks in play at their 44.
Port St. Joe melted nearly 5:00 off the clock while punching seven plays to the end zone, Natrone Lee sweeping right and shedding four tacklers on his way to a touchdown and it was 14-0.
Bozeman marched right back to the Port St. Joe 35, but could get no closer after a third-down snap went over Thompson’s head for a 16-yard loss.
“We didn’t do a very good job of executing the game plan, offensively and defensively,” said Bozeman coach Loren Tillman. “We had a good game plan and just didn’t execute.
“It’s back to the drawing board; with district starting next week our preseason is over.”
After a punt, the Tiger Sharks took over at their 37.
A first-down reverse ended up in the hands of Griggs (6 carries, his 91 rushing yards tied for team-high with Cole Cryderman).
Griggs dashed down the left sideline and cut back to the middle, outrunning everybody.
Port St. Joe was in control at intermission 21-0. The Tiger Sharks enjoyed a 147-51 advantage in total yards.
“I thought Griggs really stepped up tonight,” Gannon said. “We have good backs but it all starts up front. The line works hard every day and they gave us the creases tonight.”
Aaron Paul, also praised by Gannon, spearheaded the Tiger Sharks assuming complete control as the third quarter opened.
Paul picked up a rolling second-half kickoff and returned it 20 yards to the Bozeman 44, then danced 19 yards around left end, changing directions twice, to complete a seven-play scoring drive that took more than 4:00 off the clock.
Bozeman, behind the rushing of Justin Parson, who entered the game in the third quarter and rushed for a team-high 50 yards, marched to the Tiger Shark 9 in the final minutes of the third quarter. Thompson, however, was again sacked, twice, and the Bucks turned the ball over on downs.
John Simpson, who added 28 yards rushing on the final drive, scored from the 6 to provide Port St. Joe its final touchdown.
“We’ve had tough opening games and it doesn’t get any easier with Jefferson County and Chipley coming up” on the road, Gannon said. “We have said from the beginning that we have to take one game at a time, we have to stay healthy and get to the district games.”