Hurricane Michael has provided a fuel, a theme, for the Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School boys’ soccer team.
The team has dedicated the season to working together toward the goal of “be stronger together” or #SharkStrongforPSJ, said first-year Coach Don Maples.
Maples had been teaching the 29 players new aspects of how the team wants to play individually and collectively.
“One thing we have established early is we make no excuses,” Maples said. “Not about the storm, time lost, who we have, don’t have, anything.
“We also established needing each other because one person can’t bring success to the team. It is everyone together, working not for individual agendas, rather what can be achieved collectively for team success.”
Maples pointed to strong leadership from captains Marlon Lopez, Ford Kuhnel and Sean Farnsley, adding the players are working hard and trying everything that is being thrown at them.
Port St. Joe 5, Franklin County 0
Hurricane Michael delayed training for two weeks and it showed when Port St. Joe opened play at home against the Seahawks.
Lopez scored three times in the opening half to stake the Tiger Sharks to the lead.
“We were still trying to find a rhythm and we possessed the ball but gave up opportunities with mis-timed passes and runs,” Maples said.
“The second half was better in terms of possession, but the opportunities created went missing.”
Elias Alexander made it 4-0 early in the second half off an assist by Lopez and Lopez followed with a “screamer” from 20 yards that sailed just under the crossbar for his fourth goal of the game.
Joel Bogeart earned the shutout in goal.
Port St. Joe 8, Franklin County 0
Following the Thanksgiving break, the Tiger Sharks were up against Franklin County again, this time in Eastpoint.
Lopez was again the fuel, scoring four goals in the first half as Port St. Joe came out “firing on all cylinders.”
Blake Gay made it 5-0 after Alexander took a through pass from Gerson Flores, cut it back and sent a crosser to Gay who put the ball in the back of the net.
Port St. Joe also had several shots clang off the crossbar or miss inches wide.
Larry Lance, a seventh-grader, scored off an assist by Lopez and Lopez followed with his fifth goal of night.
Lance finished the scoring in the final minutes off an assist from Kuhnel.
The 8-0 halftime score ended the game on the mercy rule.
Freshman goalkeeper Caleb Heiden earned the shutout win.
"As far as our first two games, a team is always glad to get wins when opening a season,” Maples said. “What changed from the first to second game was the information we were able to take from the first match, install a better understanding of our roles, reading cues which trigger movements to support, creating chances.
“The by-product of that is we played a full 80 minutes in the first game, and we play 40 minutes and score eight goals in the second.”
Wakulla Christian 5, Port St. Joe 0
The Saints got out of the gate early and often, scoring three goals in the first 12 minutes as Port St. Joe struggled to figure out the defensive organization. Wakulla struck twice more on long balls played over the top leading to one-on-ones with Heiden extending the lead to 5-0 after 20 minutes.
The Tiger Sharks settled down, started to find a rhythm and held the score to 5-0 entering intermission.
"Our talk at halftime centered around having an athletic character, being resilient, and choices" Maples said. "We simply panicked, reverted back to the ‘old’ style of soccer kicking it forward and hoping we could outrun the other team and get a goal.
“It was good for this to happen even though at the time the team didn't understand how. In these moments our team can grow or we can roll over, concede the game and go home early.”
Maples told the team that the hole dug was likely too deep, but “victory would be to fight, compete, make Wakulla earn everything while growing and learning under pressure."
During the second half, Port St. Joe controlled the tempo, had the majority of possessions, created opportunities and had near misses on shots.
Freshmen Ashton Burkett and Porter Hodges stepped up along with seventh-grader Lance.
Heiden came up big with timely saves in the second half and sophomore Luis Ponce, freshman Halston Fulk, Farnsley and Kuhnel kept things organized, leading from the back.
"You have to tip your hat to Wakulla Christian on devising a plan to mark Marlon Lopez,” Maples said. “They literally kept five players on him.
“Overall, I am extremely proud of these boys who may be growing into young men and athletes. They fought, didn't concede a goal, and played some real soccer at times in the second half.”