The Ponte Vedra Sharks spotted the Nease Panthers two touchdowns, then rallied for 27 unanswered points to win the annual Battle of the Bridge 27-13 Aug. 26 at Nease.
The Sharks’ offense appeared ready to strike first, taking the opening kickoff and marching from their own 15 to a first down at the Panther 12-yard line. In the drive, Hal Swan picked up 24 yards on three carries and Tronti connected with JD Pirris for 20 yards. In addition, the Sharks were aided by a Panther pass interference penalty.
But it all went for naught for Ponte Vedra when an errand pitch-out gave Nease the ball inside their 10-yard line. Leighton Alley, Panther quarterback, took advantage of the turnover, driving his team 90 yards before handing off to Jareem Westcott for the 2-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Jarrett Stepp’s 35-yard kickoff return put the Sharks in good position to answer the Nease touchdown but Ponte Vedra wasn’t able to convert a first down. Instead, Tronti used his right foot to bury the Panthers inside their own five-yard line.
However, Nease wasn’t adversely impacted by the poor field position. Alley quickly moved his forces to a pair of first downs, then found Jayson Sowden for a score covering 59 yards. The Panther point-after was no good still Nease celebrated their 13-point advantage as the first quarter ended.
Ponte Vedra continued to struggle offensively when the Panther’s Kenny Whitehead picked off a second-quarter Tronti pass. Some solid defense by the Sharks’ Zach Summers and Duncan Van Kueteren changed matters quickly though. Successive pressure from Summers and the rest of the Shark defense forced Nease to punt and Van Keuteren blocked the kick. Ponte Vedra recovered the ball at the Panther 10-yard line and after Swan picked up five, Tronti’s keeper put the Sharks on the scoreboard.
The teams traded possessions for most of the second quarter until the Sharks put together a sustained drive for the go-ahead touchdown. The drive started on the PV 37. Tronti hit Marshall Few for 15 yards. He then found Pirris on the sideline good for seven yards then rolled out on his own for five more and a first down at the Nease 28. Swan then caught a swing pass good for 24 yards and a first down at the Panther four.
With 38 seconds left in the half, Tronti went to Pirris yet again finding him at the front right corner of the end zone for six yards and the touchdown. Chris Howard’s PAT put the Sharks in front for the first time 14-13.
Alley, who had put the Panthers on the scoreboard twice in the first half, passing for 206 yards and a touchdown, would complete 6 of 12 throws but for just 26 yards in the final 24 minutes. In addition, he threw a pair of second half interceptions.
The Sharks’ Cade Macri stepped in front of Alley’s first pass of the second half to set up Swan’s 9-yard touchdown upping the visitors’ lead to 21-13 then Noah Solaun picked off Alley’s final pass of the game to seal the win for the Sharks.
Swan rushed for 121 yards on 18 carries while Tronti completed 12 of 21 attempts for 156 yards.
Ponte Vedra will host Palatka this Friday at 7 p.m.