Ponte Vedra, Nease get rare chance to reset

Sharks play at Columbia; Panthers go to Oakleaf for rematch in football playoffs

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First there was COVID-19, along with the delays and uncertainty that followed.

Then came the injuries and the unexpected resignation of Ponte Vedra High head coach Jeff DiSandro.

What followed was even more bewildering – even more injuries, a regular-season-ending three-game losing streak and a tropical system called ETA.

“I’ve been doing this since 1995, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said PVHS interim coach Brad Kessel.

Like every other program in Northeast Florida, local teams also have been forced to adjust to the threat of contact tracing — and the mandatory quarantines that come with it — for the coronavirus.

Despite all the turmoil, the Sharks will wipe the slate clean when they play at Lake City Columbia at 7:30 p.m. Friday night in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.

Nease will get the same reset. The Panthers play at Oakleaf Friday in the Class 8A playoffs.

Nease (1-7) lost at Oakleaf two weeks ago, but the Panthers were without several key starters, including quarterback Will Cain and running back Taliek Golphin.

While Oakleaf was 6-3 in the regular season and coming off a stunning upset of unbeaten Clay High, 41-14, a week after it beat the Panthers 35-14.

But like Ponte Vedra, the Sharks and Oakleaf are starting over again in the postseason.

After winning five of its first six games, the Sharks lost their last three. A big part of that was the loss of quarterback Jacobi Myers, who suffered a lower leg injury in the fifth game.

He hasn’t played since.

“COVID has been its own little challenge,” Kessel said. “We’re glad to be back to even again. We have a chance to be young again and have fun.”

Injuries have been especially tough. Not only was Myers benched by his injury, so were senior wide receiver Alex Madson, tight end Jacob Greer, senior lineman John Louis Mazzella and defensive back Mason Romero. Kessel said of the group, Ramero may be able to play Friday.

“We haven’t started the same 22 kids since Game 1,” Kessel said. “There are so many injuries, it’s hard to remember all of them.”

At the same time, Kessel said the Sharks have remained resilient.

“There are no excuses,” he said. “We’ll go out and do our best. For us, that means we have to get back to having fun.”

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