The beginning of the end came quickly for Ponte Vedra High’s football team in the first round of the Florida High School Athletic Association’s Class 6A playoffs.
For Nease, the ending came a day before the Class 8A playoffs started.
Ponte Vedra lost 14-0 at Lake City Columbia after the Tigers ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Nease was forced to forfeit its game at Oakleaf after county officials decided to shut the program down to follow contact tracing guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The season started under a cloud of doubt, confusion and frustration. It closed in the same manner.
“It was brutal,” said Panthers coach Collin Drafts after Nease finished at 1-8. “It was already a tough year because we’re young and rebuilding. But this was really tough. The hardest thing I ever had to do as a coach was telling them we weren’t going to play. To have your playoff game taken away the day before [kickoff] was brutal.
“We came away with battle scars in many different ways this year.”
Nease also had a game with Mandarin canceled out of concern for COVID-19.
Ponte Vedra started with four consecutive victories. Head coach Jeff DiSandro resigned unexpectedly and star quarterback Jacobi Myers’ season ended with a leg injury.
“We used eight different quarterbacks this year,” Kessel said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Kessel said the Sharks also were required to put as many as 45 players in quarantine after they may have been in contact with a classmate who may have been infected with the coronavirus.
“We didn’t have anyone test positive,” Kessel said. “But the rules are if you come into contact with anyone who may be positive, you have to self-isolate for two weeks.”
COVID-19 protocols and injuries sent the Sharks spiraling. Ponte Vedra finished by losing five of its last six games.
“At the end, we were still highly-competitive,” Kessel said. “We fought to the bitter end. This was the strangest season because of all the different stuff that happened.
“But at Ponte Vedra, we don’t make excuses. We had our chances.
At Nease, as many as 30 players also were required to quarantine during the season.
“I can honestly stand here and say at least we had a chance to play nine games,” Drafts said. “In the summer, we weren’t even sure we’d get that in. Some schools had to shut down their programs. At least we had a chance to get out there for nine games.
“It’s a hard way for the season to end. But in the grand scheme of things, at least we played some football. I feel bad for the seniors. It’s not the way anyone wanted it to end.”
Even before it started.