Playing on the road without starting quarterback Jack Murrah, the Ponte Vedra Sharks used a stout defense to defeat the Palatka Panthers 10-7 Friday, Sept. 1 in a turnover-plagued game.
A pair of underclassmen, sophomore RJ Glod and freshman Jacobi Myers, replaced Murrah, who is expected to miss several games due to a knee injury.
The two replacements spent the better part of the evening handing the ball off to running backs Zack King, Mark Calvin and Collin Magill. While the Sharks rushed 33 times compared to just 11 passes, they scored their only touchdown of the evening on Glod’s 19-yard strike to a leaping Jarrett Stepp in the end zone with three minutes to play in the first quarter.
The Panthers wasted little time tying the score. Two minutes into the second quarter, Palatka’s speedster Markell Rasher reversed field on a sweep, slipped several tackles and raced 69 yards for the tying touchdown. From that point on, neither team could mount or sustain a drive.
The Sharks earned a first down on a Glod pass to Kyle Barker and another on a Glod to Rani Toma throw to put the ball at midfield, but Ponte Vedra was forced to punt three plays later.
The hosts couldn’t do any better and punted the ball back to the Sharks. Stepp’s long punt return was nullified by a block in the back penalty, and Ponte Vedra’s next drive started on their own 23-yard line.
Glod threw to Barker for 7 yards, and Calvin’s run gave the Sharks a first down at their own 37-yard line. Reese Russi made a nifty catch at the sideline. Then Glod went deep to Stepp, drawing a pass interference penalty good for a Ponte Vedra first down on Palatka’s side of midfield. Three plays later though, the Sharks were forced to punt.
Again, the Panthers went three-and-out against the resilient Shark defense led by Duncan Van Kouteren, Peter Merlini, Tommy Zitiello, Cole McCormick, CD James, Gibson Pardue, Stepp, Daniel Lichlyter, Sam Barnhard and Carson Shoals. The half ended with the score tied at 7-7.
Palatka continued to struggle offensively despite abundant substitutions by Shark coach Matt Toblin. Twenty different players on the swarming Ponte Vedra defense produced 103 total tackles/assists in the game. In addition, the Shark D recovered three fumbles and intercepted three passes.
As the game progressed, turnovers became a critical factor for both teams. A third quarter Ponte Vedra drive saw the Sharks move from their own 19-yard line into the Panthers’ red zone before an interception changed possession. On the next play, however, Zitiello returned the favor by picking off a Panther pass. When Ponte Vedra could not move following the Zitiello pick, Riley Robbins’ precision punt pinned Palatka inside its own 10-yard line.
The interception bug was unrelenting as CD James intercepted for Ponte Vedra on the third play of the final quarter. Then moments later, Palatka picked off another Shark pass.
The teams exchanged punts, eating up more than five minutes of the final quarter. Still the turnovers persisted; first Palatka intercepted a Shark pass, then Zach Summers recovered a Panther fumble. With the ball on the host’s 35-yard line and a chance for the Sharks to move into scoring position, the Panthers came up with their fourth interception of the game.
However, this change of possession did them more harm than good because they immediately fumbled the ball away for the third time—this time at their own 9-yard line and with only 55 seconds left in the game. McCormick recovered the football for the Sharks.
Three rushes by King moved the ball to the Palatka 1-foot line and on fourth down with three seconds on the clock, Robbins booted the ball cleanly between the uprights to give Ponte Vedra the win. It was Robbins’ second last-second, game winning field goal of the season.