Sharks win, advance to state Final Four


Prior to the start of this season, Ponte Vedra Sharks Coach Matt Toblin cautiously suggested his team had a chance to be special. Twelve games and 12 wins later, Toblin is being proven right. The Sharks are two games from the district 5A state championship after bouncing the talent-laden Raiders of Rickards High in Tallahassee from the regional finals with a 30-21 victory at the Shark Tank last Friday night.

In most respects, the game played out the way most pundits predicted – a high-scoring game closely contested by two very talented teams. The visitors could boast a bevy of Division IA commits on their roster including quarterback DJ Phillips, WR Marcus Riley and defensive back Tavyn Jackson. The Sharks were not without a talented roster of their own, with the likes of Nick Tronti, Marshall Few, Hal Swan, JD Pirris, Jake Maguire and Andrew O’Dare.

The usual intangible questions were, “Which team would play up to its potential and/or which team would make the fewest mistakes?” The answers to these intangibles became crystal clear as the game progressed and the final score was posted. The Sharks proved to be at their best when facing adversity on either side of the ball – they made the big plays when it mattered. They stayed disciplined and never lost their cool. The same could not be said for the Raiders.

Rickards took the early lead on a 69-yard pass from Phillips to Riley. The Sharks answered with a Tronti keeper for 18 yards but their PAT was blocked. The Raiders scored again at the end of the first quarter – a 13-yard pass from Phillips to Riley.

The Sharks then drove 65 yards on their ensuing possession with the longest play of the drive a 22-yard completion from Tronti to Maguire. Howard’s point after was good and the Sharks trailed 14-13.

After Rickards was forced to punt, Tronti engineered an 80-yard scoring drive to put Ponte Vedra up 20-14. Key plays included a 20-yard run by Swan, a 25-yard completion to Maguire, a 15-yard completion to Few and a 15-yard strike to Pirris in the end zone.

With a first and goal from the Ponte Vedra eight-yard line, the Raiders threatened to take the lead, but a huge defensive play by the Sharks’ John Santillo ended that threat. Santillo made a jarring tackle that separated the Raider ball carrier from the football. The fumble rolled out of the end zone giving the Sharks the football on their own 20.

Rickards roared back with a minute left in the half to take a 21-20 lead. Again it was a Phillips to Riley pass, this one covering 35 yards.

As the first half wound down, the Raiders committed two critical defensive holding penalties on Shark receivers to give Ponte Vedra a first down in Rickard territory. Tronti found Maguire open for 30 yards but this time the Sharks were flagged for holding. With time running out in the half and the Sharks facing a fourth and 20 at mid-field, Tronti hit Few on an up and out pattern that was good for 32 yards and a first down at the visitors’ 18. From there, Howard booted a 35-yard field goal and Ponte Vedra went to the locker room up 23-21.

The second half was nothing like the first, with just a single touchdown and it belonged to Ponte Vedra. But despite the dearth of points, excitement reached a peak. Time and again, Ponte Vedra’s defense rose to the occasion. The Phillips to Riley connection – so devastating in the first 24 minutes – fizzled as a result of a tenacious defense and a breakdown in discipline on Rickards’ part.

The lone touchdown of the half came on the Sharks' first possession. After Tronti found his team with a third and 14 following a holding penalty, he hit Magure for 15 yards and a first down in Raider territory. Now it was time for the Raiders to loose their cool. Successive personal foul penalties moved the Sharks to the visitors five and Tronti ran untouched for the score and a 30-21 lead.

Ponte Vedra’s questionable on-sides kickoff wasn’t successful and Rickards took over at mid-field. Seven plays later, they faced a fourth and four at the Shark 10. A big hit by O’Dare ended the drive and gave the Sharks the ball at their own eight.

Here the Shark offense may have been at its best. Tronti handed the ball off to Swan five times and the diminutive running back picked up 68 yards. In the process, the Sharks burned more than five minutes off the clock.

Ponte Vedra wound up with a fourth and two at the Rickard 12. At this point, coach Toblin called for a fake field goal. Few, the holder, took the snap and tried to pass the ball to his kicker but Rickards’ pressure spoiled the play, leaving the Sharks with a 30-21 lead and seven minutes left in the game.

The Raiders moved quickly up field and appeared to have taken the lead but holding penalty nullified the touchdown. Still the visitors had a first down at the Shark 25. They moved to another first down at the Shark 10 but three plays failed to produce a touchdown. With a fourth down from the Shark six, Carson Richter buried the Raider ball carrier four yards short of the goal line. Ponte Vedra took over with three minutes left, needing a first down to ice the game.

After two plays gained five yards, the question was “would the Sharks go with a safe play and run the ball or risk putting it in the air.” Offensive coach Aaron Avery went for the pass and Tronti hit Maguire for seven yards and a first down. Ponte Vedra was able to run out the clock to preserve the victory. Said Avery about the call after the game: “It’s what we do!”

Coach Toblin echoed the comment when asked about the fake field goal and the on-sides kick. “It’s what we do!”

The Sharks travel over the river to face Clay in the state semi-final on Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m.