WEWAHITCHKA — In a matchup billed as size versus speed, speed emphatically won.
Port St. Joe racked up more than 420 yards of total offense, 360 rushing, and countered Gulf County rival Wewahitchka’s distinct size advantage en route to 45-20 victory Friday in the regular-season opener for both teams.
The Tiger Sharks were led by Natrone Lee who carried 12 times for 175 yards, shedding two or three tacklers with nearly every run.
Lee had plenty of support. Dwayne Griggs added 61 yards and a touchdown rushing and a 51-yard touchdown reception.
Cole Cryderman rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown and Carter Thacker had 46 on just four carries, including a 44-yard touchdown run.
Port St. Joe also was stout on defense, corralling the dual backfield threat of quarterback Rashard Ranie and fullback Javar Hill for most of the night.
Hill had 96 rushing yards and a touchdown, but was inconsistent throughout. Ranie never had room to operate, finishing with 47 rushing yards after running for more than 200 in last week’s kickoff classic. Ranie was 4 of 13 for 80 yards passing.
The Gators did themselves no favors by turning the ball over on fumbles five times.
“I thought we played real hard,” Port St. Joe coach Chuck Gannon said. “I thought they would try to hammer us with Ranie and Hill, but I thought we did a real good job of swarming to the ball.
“We knew we were going to be tested. We had a bit of gut-check this afternoon. But I thought that was more the team we thought we had. This was 360 degrees from last week in the kickoff classic.”
The game got away from the Gators in the second quarter as Port St. Joe demonstrated its quick-strike capabilities.
The teams traded touchdowns early, Drew Lacour scoring for Port St. Joe on a quarterback sneak and the Gators answering when Ranie found Tad Gaskin behind the defense on a 39-yard crossing route.
Three plays later, Thacker went untouched on a trap play for a 44-yard touchdown.
The Tiger Sharks held Wewahitchka to three-and-out and on the first play of the ensuing series Griggs lined up wide left and caught a perfect strike from Ethan Sander in stride, deked two defenders and completed a 54-yard scoring play.
The Gators were forced to punt again, but the snap was bobbled and Reggie Smith recovered for Port St. Joe at the Gator 19.
Lee swept left and four tacklers were grasping air as he darted through the tackle hole to score and the Tiger Sharks were up 29-6.
“We got off to a bad start and that killed us, but they are just a better team,” Wewahitchka coach Dennis Kizziah said. “We are just not a good team.”
Issac Madrid breathed some life into Wewahitchka when he scooped up a Griggs’ fumble and rambled 71 yards for the touchdown.
Four plays later, though, Cryderman scored from the 9 and Port St. Joe went into the locker room at intermission up 35-14.
After a 30-minute weather delay after halftime, Port St. Joe came out controlling the ball and melting the clock.
Lacour added a 27-yard field goal and Griggs a rushing touchdown for Port St. Joe before Hill scored from 14 late for the Gators.