A northern St. Johns County football rivalry has just been ratcheted up a notch.
This week, the FHSAA released its district assignments for the 2021 varsity football season, and Nease and Ponte Vedra high schools have both been moved into District 3 Class 7A.
Nease had been Class 8A before being moved down to 7A. Ponte Vedra had been Class 6A before it was moved up.
Panthers Coach Collin Drafts predicted the change would intensify the traditional rivalry.
“We’re going to be playing a district game now,” he said. “Out of tradition, we’re still going to keep that game the first game of the season.”
Normally, the district game would be played in a pre-determined week later in the season, but the local teams got approval to make it their opening game.
“We get to open up with a district game against our biggest rival,” said Drafts. “It’ll be a lot of fun … we’re looking forward to it.”
The new classifications come on the heels of another first for local teams. The 2020 season had a delayed start due to disruptions from COVID-19. But even then, the Nease-Ponte Vedra rivalry did not take the year off. The non-conference “Battle of the Bridge” game was played Sept. 11.
In addition to the 2021 classification changes, the Sharks will have a new coach, Steve Price. He could not be reached for comment for this article.
The new classifications are for one year only. But regardless of whether the local teams will remain in the same class beyond next season, the first game of 2021 should prove a major development in the rivalry.
“It’s already meaningful, but now it actually means something towards the playoffs, too,” said Drafts. “It’ll be a big game.”