The homestanding Tiger Sharks were playing for No. 2 Friday night.
PORT ST. JOE _ The homestanding Tiger Sharks were playing for No. 2 Friday night.
With at least a mathematical chance at securing the second seed in Region 2-1A, and home field for next week’s opening of the playoffs, Port St. Joe (7-3) muscled past Class 2A North Florida Christian 14-7 at Shark Stadium.
An offensive showcase this was not, the teams barely eclipsing 300 total offensive yards, combined, and Port St. Joe going without a passing yard.
But the only thing that counted for the Tiger Sharks was snapping a two-game losing streak and regaining some equilibrium heading into the playoffs, with at least a chance late Friday night that the numbers would add up to home field next week.
And to accomplish that with Head Coach John Palmer, off the sidelines for medical reasons, in the press box.
“This week has been about encouraging each other and playing as a team and it has been that way starting Monday in practice,” said Josh Dailey, who stepped in as interim head coach this week.
“I think you could see that tonight.”
Blountstown is easily the points leader in the region and will host through region play.
The Tiger Sharks entered the week within a point of both Cottondale and Jefferson County, with Jefferson County facing a ranked Wakulla team while short-handed after a weekday incident at school resulted in the suspension of a number of players.
It appeared likely Port St. Joe will face Cottondale next week; Tuesday the release of the regular season point totals by the Florida High School Athletics Association will officially determine the host.
That the Tiger Sharks stayed in the hunt for home field was due to special teams, specifically punt returns.
Or lack thereof, since Port St. Joe blocked three consecutive punts during a span in the middle of the first half, setting up all the points the Tiger Sharks would need.
The first block came with 3:46 left in the opening period, the Eagles punting from their 15.
This after squandering field position near midfield on their opening drive by losing a fumble.
The punt deep in NFC’s end was partially blocked and picked up on a bounce near the 30 by Khayyon Zaccaro, who barreled his way over and through two Eagles to reach the 16.
Two plays later, Zaccaro put the finishing touches on the scoring effort, barging his way 16 yards over left tackle.
Yanni Pateritsas added the extra point and the Tiger Sharks led 7-0.
Port St. Joe blocked another punt on the ensuing series but made nothing of it.
However, after stopping NFC again, forcing a punt at the NFC 19, Kendre Gant broke in over the middle and blocked another punt, the Tiger Sharks taking over at the 4.
Jasmin Thomas pushed his way those four yards, Pateritsas added the extra point and it was 14-0, a score that held until the Eagles received the second-half punt.
“It was all about effort and execution this week and just getting back to winning football,” Dailey said. “The effort was there.”
In the first half, the teams combined for 136 offensive yards and five combined first downs.
The Eagles took the second half kickoff and, largely eschewing the pass, methodically marched from their 39, consuming five minutes while covering the 61 yards in 10 plays.
Macho Arza, who led NFC with 44 rushing yards and caught an 11-yard pass, tossed his only pass of the game on a second down at the Port St. Joe 16, finding Jalen Norwood on a seam route for the touchdown.
The extra point was good but the defenses kept the lid on the remainder of the game.
Later in the quarter, Port St. Joe did get a nifty 37-yard run by Josh Butts, the longest play of the game, that moved the Tiger Sharks into the red zone, but the drive ended with a 24-yard Pateritsas field goal attempt hooking just wide left.
“Give credit to North Florida Christian, they are a good team and a young team that is only going to get better,” Dailey said. “They got after us tonight.”