Sharks extend streak, head to state championships


After a thrilling 52-42 road win over Clay High School Dec. 2, the Ponte Vedra Sharks football team can justifiably be classified as an offensive juggernaut. With a record of 13 wins and no losses, the Sharks boast a 41 points per game scoring average. By virtue of their victory over Clay, they will play for the state championship against American Heritage on Friday in Orlando. It will be the Sharks’ first time ever in the title game.

A most compelling aspect of the Sharks’ potent offense is that it puts enormous pressure on opponents to match Ponte Vedra, score for score, to avoid falling too far behind. Adding to this pressure is the presence of a reliable field goal kicker, Chris Howard, who is capable of converting good field position into potential game winning points – a powerful weapon in close games.

Those aspects were each evident last Friday. The Sharks took the opening kickoff and needed just eight plays to score the big play, a 33-yard run to the end zone by Hal Swan. The Blue Devils answered with a 13-play drive of their own, tying matters.

The Sharks then moved in front 14-7 on a Nick Tronti five-yard keeper and this time Clay wasn’t able to answer as the Shark defense stopped them on a fourth and four play from inside the PV eight-yard line.

Ponte Vedra then drove 95 yards for its third touchdown and a 21-7 lead. Swan’s 29-yard run, a pass for 20 to Jake McGuire and Tronti’s dash for 20 more set the stage for a 12-yard scoring pass to McGuire.

The hosts climbed back with a quick strike to pull within 21-14, then survived a rare field goal miss by the Sharks to go to the locker room behind by just seven.

Following the Sharks’ second-half kickoff, Clay drove to the PV 16 but turned the ball over on downs again when the Shark defense stiffened. Passes to Jarrett Stepp, Marshall Few and McGuire put Ponte Vedra in field goal range and Howard converted the 37-yard attempt for a 24-14 Shark lead.

Clay used 10 plays to pull within 24-21 with two minutes left in the third quarter. From here on both teams would combine for 49 more points in the final 14 minutes. Tronti connected with Stepp for a 50-yard score that the Devils quickly matched.

Clay’s attempt at another on-sides kick-off failed, giving the Sharks a short field. A 10-yard completion to Kyle Barker followed by a 25-yard burst by Swan put PV up 38-28. At this point, touchdowns would come quickly. Clay scored at the five-minute mark on a 75-yard pass play, then seconds later, Tronti raced 73 yards to answer.

After Clay made it 45-42, another on-side kickoff failed. Stepp recovered for the Sharks and Tronti raced 25 yards for the deciding touchdown and a 52-42 advantage. The Blue Devils threatened in the final minutes but Andrew O’Dare’s interception sealed the win and a trip to Orlando for a spot in the state championship game against the American Heritage Patriots.

As was evident in the Clay game, Ponte Vedra indeed has all the weapons associated with an offensive juggernaut. In Tronti, they have a quarterback who is capable of dominating a game with his arm or with his feet – as he did Friday night – and the judgment to make good, instant decisions about what to do with the football in any situation. Against Clay, he completed 28 of 39 passes to seven different receivers and rushed for 244 yards on 18 carries. His 3,063 yards passing for the year is a school record that will probably stand for a long time.

In Swan, they have a dominant running back with incredible vision who is strong enough to pick up the tough yards in short yardage situations, and has the speed and ability to break tackles, make would-be tacklers miss and outrace defenders. Swan gained 112 yards on 13 carries and also caught four passes.

In Few, JD Pirris, McGuire and Stepp, they have four quality receivers with remarkable hands and great speed, each capable of running precise routes and picking up additional yards after the catch. The four caught 19 passes for 242 yards against Clay.

In Taylor Montroy, Rob Wortelboer, Zach Lowery, Korey Johnson, Parker Shannon and Kit Connelly, they have a solid and cohesive offensive line capable of opening holes for the elusive Swan or providing critical protection for quarterback Tronti. At center, Montroy’s reliable shotgun snaps are an essential element of the Shark shotgun offense. Connelly provides the same reliability as the long snapper for Ponte Vedra’s kickers while Few’s good hands as the holder on field goals and PATs mitigate potential dangers.

American Heritage represents a significant challenge for the Sharks, with the Patriots ranking 25th in the nation. But challenges are something on which the Sharks seem to thrive. No matter the opponent, it is difficult to count out a team with such a potent offense.