One year ago this month, the Ponte Vedra Sharks football team was hoping to compete for the state football championship – until they met the Trojans from Ribault in the first round of the playoffs. Those hopes were dashed when quarterback Nick Tronti suffered a broken collarbone and Ponte Vedra went on to lose the opening round playoff game to the Trojans.
Fast forward to last Friday night at the Shark Tank. Ribault was again the foe and the Sharks were looking for revenge. This time the outcome was indeed quite different. Ponte Vedra extracted a large measure of revenge by eliminating the Trojans from the playoffs with a convincing 35-32 win – a game that was not really as close as the final score might suggest.
For the better part of the game, the Sharks were in complete charge. The Trojans found themselves trailing 28-6 late in the third quarter; then 35-18 with just two minutes left to play.
Absent a miracle, the Sharks were on their way to the regional finals against Rickards High School of Tallahassee. The Trojans, however, did everything they could to pull off that miracle – but the hole they had dug for themselves proved to be too deep and the time remaining too short.
With a minute left to play, the visitors had narrowed the gap to 35-24, but still needed two more scores to avoid defeat. A successful on-sides kickoff was quickly converted to a touchdown, to keep any miracle hopes alive. Now trailing 35-32 – in order to pull off the shocker – Ribault would need to execute yet another successful on-sides kickoff and score again, all with just 16 ticks left on the game clock. Not a realistic scenario. When the Sharks recovered the final on-sides kick, Tronti’s kneel-down on the next play preserved Ponte Vedra’s victory.
As has been their habit this season, the Sharks scored first. Tronti engineered a 55-yard drive culminating in Hal Swan’s 8-yard plunge. Earlier the Sharks had what appeared to be a 31-yard field goal, but officials ruled the ball had hooked around the right upright.
The Trojans’ ensuing possession was short lived as Andrew O’Dare intercepted a pass to give the ball back to Tronti at the Ribault 43-yard line. Moments later, however, the Trojans returned the favor, intercepting a Sharks’ pass at their own 14 as the first quarter ended.
After the teams exchanged punts, the Trojans were the beneficiaries of a roughing the punter penalty. With a first down at their own 37, they still failed to move the ball and lined up to punt again. This time they benefited from a bad snap that was turned into a first down in Ponte Vedra territory. A fine diving catch earned them a first and goal at the Shark 5-yard line. A touchdown resulted but the PAT hit the upright and fell short leaving Ponte Vedra in front 7-6. In hindsight, this missed PAT along with two others later in the game would prove very costly for Ribault.
The Sharks wasted little time answering the Trojan score. Jake Maguire pulled in a Tronti pass for 18 yards, then Swan gained 11 more on a screen pass. JD Pirris and Marshall Few then made key receptions on the drive catching passes for 32 and 20 yards to give the Sharks a first and goal at the Ribault five. Tronti called his own number to finish the drive and PV led 14-6 at half time.
Ponte Vedra’s defense took over following the second half kickoff when JB Shepherd picked off a Trojan pass to give the Sharks the ball at their own 20. They moved to their third touchdown, when Swan broke free on runs of 28 and 22-yards and Pirris gained 12 on a completion. Tronti again sneaked for the score and the Sharks led 21-6.
Ribault could not convert on their next possession and were again forced to punt. Another bad snap allowed Ponte Vedra’s Duncan Van Kouteren to tackle the kicker for a big loss. With a first down at the visitors’ 31, Hal Swan took matters into his hands (feet), with consecutive runs of 3, 4 and 35 yards. The Sharks now held a 28-6 lead with two and a half minutes left in the third quarter.
Ribault closed the gap to 28-12 but again failed on their two-point PAT. Peter Merlini and Jacob Reeves made the defensive play on the conversion attempt.
The Sharks played conservatively on the next series and chose to punt on a fourth and four inside Ribault territory. The Trojans were penalized for clipping on the punt return and wound up with the ball on their own two and a half yard line. Ponte Vedra’s Cole McCormick intercepted a desperation third-down pass by Ribault and returned it for a Shark touchdown and a 35-12 advantage.
Ribault would answer with a touchdown at the nine-minute mark but again failed on their two-point conversion.
From here on the Sharks played a prevent defense and McCormick came up with another interception, his third in two games. A couple of Shark first downs ran time off the clock and when Ribault got the ball back with less than three minutes they trailed 35-18. They would score again but again miss the 2-point conversion attempt. The three missed PATs turned out to be the difference in the ball game.
After the game, Tronti admitted his team was looking for revenge.
“Last year’s loss was a bitter disappointment and it drove us to work harder, to get better,” said the senior quarterback.
Tronti has passed for 2,548 yards with 161 completions in 248 attempts. Hal Swan, who is also having a brilliant season, finished the game with 198 yards on 34 carries and has 1017 rushing yards to his credit for the year.
Ponte Vedra will host Rickards on Friday, Nov. 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the District 5A regional final. The Raiders are 8-1 and have scored 417 points while allowing 210. The Sharks stand at 11-0, having scored 457 points and allowing 221.