Madison County dashes Sharks' title hopes

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Five-time state champion Madison County brought the Port St. Joe football season to an abrupt ending Friday night at Shark Field, with the Cowboys riding out of town after a convincing 45-6 win.

Now 9-3, Madison County faces the 9-1 Blountstown Tigers in Blountstown Friday, Nov. 26, with the winner advancing to the Class 1A semifinals against either Baker or Chipley the following Friday. Blountstown advanced with a 42-0 thrashing of their next-door neighbor, Liberty County.

After an initial exchange of punts, Port St. Joe appeared poised to score from their own 12-yard line when senior Colin Amison threw a beautiful spiral to a wide-open Nick Jefferson, but the ball fell harmlessly to the turf when the senior split end could not secure it, forcing the second Shark punt of the evening.

Unfortunately for St. Joe, this kick traveled out of bounds after a distance of just nine yards, giving Madison County ideal field position at the Shark 21-yard line.

On the first play, Cowboy running back Tommie House appeared to take it all the way to the house, but his score was nullified by a holding penalty.

During the ensuing drive, both teams would commit the first of 12 personal foul penalties for the game, three of which were offsetting. Emotions ran high the entire contest, which saw 29 yellow flags thrown for the game.

The Cowboys managed to work the ball down to the 5-yard line, but another holding penalty followed by a delay of game forced a field goal try by Keoni Nelson, whose 37-yard boot sailed through the uprights and gave Madison County a 3-0 lead with 2:19 remaining in the first quarter.

They would not relinquish the lead in spite of the Tiger Sharks efforts.

Forcing another St. Joe punt, Madison County began its next drive at the Shark 49, and seven plays later faced a fourth-and-eight at the 33-yard line.

Quarterback Jamie Hampton lofted a pass that a well-covered Jonathan Akins caught in the end zone for the first Cowboy touchdown. Nelson’s extra point increased the Madison County lead to 10-0 at the 10:06 mark of the second quarter.

Disaster struck for Port St. Joe a mere four plays into the next Shark possession when Keshaun Mitchell juggled and then intercepted Amison’s pass and sped untouched for a 62-yard touchdown. Nelson again booted the extra point, and suddenly the Sharks were on the opposite end of a 17-0 score with 8:49 left before halftime.

The Shark offense began to click on this drive, highlighted by junior D.J. Oliver’s 20-yard burst to mid-field. Two plays later, Amison found Jefferson in an uncovered Cowboy defensive seam, and the speedy receiver raced to the end zone for what would be the lone Shark score of the game.

Although the extra point failed, the Sharks had cut the deficit to 17-6, and the home crowd’s level of optimism grew when St. Joe took over on downs after denying the Cowboys on fourth down of their next possession.

Two false starts, however, prevented a St. Joe advance, and senior Justice Peacock came on to punt. The Sharks would get one more chance before halftime, but the half ended on a fourth-down incomplete pass.

After the Band of Gold put on its final, and stellar, halftime show, Port St. Joe kicked off to Madison County to start the second half.

Another personal foul pushed the ball back to the Cowboy 25-yard line, but Hampton thrust a dagger into Port St. Joe’s hopes of a comeback when, on the first play of the second half, he followed blockers around the right side and would not be touched on his way to a 75-yard touchdown sprint.

Hampton, who rushed for only five yards in the first half, would go on to frustrate St. Joe with his legs in the second half, gaining another 118 yards on the ground.

Now down 24-6, and the Cowboy defense focusing on Oliver, St. Joe resorted to its passing game. During the next drive there would be more personal fouls, and another punt to return the ball to Madison at mid-field.

Behind the legs of Hampton and House, the Cowboys consumed more than five minutes on a 12-play, 55-yard drive that culminated with Hampton scoring from the 1-yard line. After Nelson’s kick, the score grew to 31-6.

With the Cowboy defense continuing to stifle the St. Joe offense, Peacock came on to punt once more to return the ball to Madison with less than two minutes in the third quarter.

On the second play of this possession, Hampton appeared to take it the distance from the Madison 38-yard line, but another holding penalty negated his run.

The Cowboys still had the ball as the final frame began, and four plays into it they expanded their lead when House scored from 10 yards out. Nelson’s kick gave the visitors a 38-6 lead with 10 minutes still to be played.

Port St. Joe, who found little success on the ground against the stout Cowboy defense, had no choice but to fill the air with passes during their final three possessions.

The final Cowboy score came after a Shark loss of downs at their own 8-yard, and a quick, and meaningless, score and extra point occurred.

Going for it on fourth down deep in their own territory at that point was never a question for Tiger Shark coach Tanner Jones, because “at the end, I’d rather be swallowed by Jaws than nibbled by minnows.”

The other two possessions ended when passes found their way into the hands of Madison’s Orient Livingston, whose second pick resulted in three different personal foul penalties, and with a now-running clock, essentially ended the game.

Madison County, which won state championships in 2001 and 2007 in Class 2A, and from 2017-19 as a 1A school, “was a powerhouse before they got in 1A,” said Jones.

“They’ve played for state championships in the past,” he said, noting the Cowboys also were state runners-up five times - 1998 in 4A, 2003 and 2004 in 2A, and 2011 and 2012 in 3A.

“At the end of the day,” said Jones, “there’s a great coaching staff over there, they have great athletes that work (hard), and you can’t take anything from them.

“But (the loss) stings a little bit, knowing that we had a team that worked their tails off all off-season,” he said. “I’m very proud of our guys, (proud of) the season they’ve had, the things they’ve done, how much they’ve grown, how much they’ve accomplished.”

Jones spoke highly of seniors Aiden Gainer, Justice Peacock, and Kobe Flowers, who “rolls his ankle early in the game, (got taped) and he keeps on playing.”

Also, Jones said “Nick (Jefferson) did drop one, but he came back and redeemed himself, and he played great on defense. Colin (Amison) has a torn ACL (and) he’s been playing on it for nine ball games. Dakota (Quinn) goes out in the second series of the first game (Marianna),” missing the entire season.

“The last two years,” he said, “we’ve built our offense and our culture on these seniors, and they stepped up and exceeded our expectations.

“I’m even more excited about the future,” Jones said. “I know we’re graduating (some) great young men, but what we’re bringing back, it’s going to be special.”

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