Coming off last week’s 35-6 loss to Bay High School, a visit by the winless Pike Liberal Arts Patriots provided just the remedy Port St. Joe needed as the Tiger Sharks overwhelmed the visitors from Troy, Alabama, 45-0.
Playing without star running back DJ Oliver, it took the Sharks half of the first quarter to notch their first touchdown, which occurred when Devin Cuttino hit a wide open Jabara Pearson on a 67-yard scoring play with 5:35 in the initial frame.
Oliver suffered an medial collateral ligament injury while attempting to make a tackle during the
Bay game, and “we don’t really know what the time frame is on him,” said Shark head coach Tanner Jones.
“The swelling’s going down, and he’s free right now to ride a bike and run straight runs, so hopefully we get him back soon.”
While it is difficult to replace a back of Oliver’s caliber, LaJuan Zaccaro, Jr. stepped in and performed admirably, rushing six times for 80 yards and a touchdown. Playing only the first half, Zaccaro had runs of 24, 14, 19 and 15 yards along with his score from the four yard line.
Starting slowly, the Sharks turned the ball over on downs during their first possession, and promptly fumbled on the first play of their second possession.
But the St. Joe defense prevented the Patriots from capitalizing on these miscues, holding Pike to a mere -six total yards in the first half.
Saylor Tull, Tad Russell, Corbin Butts, Andrew Sheppard, Chance Gainer, and Chase Lanford frequently visited the Patriot backfield, sacking the quarterback seven times and holding the running backs to negative yardage.
Of Tull, Jones said “he had a good game. He’s physical, and he’s hard to block.” Offensively, Jones had moved Tull from center to right guard, and installed King Waters at center.
While Tull recorded seven tackles in his one half of play, Sheppard led the team with 10, followed by Russell’s nine and Asher Peacock’s eight. Butts contributed seven tackles, while Jacob Marshall had six, according to Shark coach Tracy Browning.
The Sharks unleashed the storm twice more in the first quarter. After Gainer returned a Patriot punt 22 yards to the Pike 36, Cuttino practiced his Harry Houdino act when he eluded a strong pass rush and burst through the middle for a 36-yard score. St. Joe led 13-0 with 4:04 remaining after Zachery Burkett’s extra point try.
Following another Patriot punt, the Sharks needed only five plays for Zaccaro to score from the four yard line, increasing the lead to 20-0.
Kicking off, Russell employed a squib kick that rolled to the five yard line, with a return of only four yards. Forced to kick from his own three-yard line, Corey Jones connected on a 55-yard punt. Jones’s punting was one of the few bright spots for the Patriots.
Taking nearly three minutes off the clock, the Sharks drove to the Pike 18, but turned the ball over on downs at that point.
Once again, the St. Joe defense forced a punting situation, but Jackson Booth tried to run for a first down on a fake punt only to be tackled by CJ “Bloodbath” Conway a yard shy of the marker.
Cuttino and company needed only two plays to score, both coming on bubble screens. After connecting with Gainer for nine yards, Cuttino hit Pearson, who avoided two would-be tacklers as he raced for the 17-yard score. The extra point failed, but St. Joe increased the lead to 26-0 with 5:44 before halftime.
After another Patriot punt, Port St. Joe once again needed only two plays for another touchdown.
Forced out of the pocket by the Patriot rush, Cuttino sprinted up the middle for a 54-yard score to give the Sharks a commanding 33-0 lead with 3:46 on the clock.
Forcing another Pike punt, St. Joe began its final drive of the half, but in spite of a 33-yard pass and run from Cuttino to Butts, Pike averted another Shark score by recovering a fumble at the St. Joe 11 yard line. The first half ended after three consecutive incomplete Patriot passes.
The Band of Gold entertained the home crowd with a selections from Earth, Wind, and Fire before the two teams took the field to start the third quarter. Kudos to band director Mitch Bouington for arranging the fine music.
On the first play from scrimmage after halftime, Gainer scooped up a Patriot fumble and scampered 30 yards for a St. Joe score. Although the kick failed, the Shark lead increased to 39-0, and a running clock ensued.
With such a lead, Coach Jones began inserting his 2’s and JV players for the rest of the game. With Cuttino’s night over, Darren Angelino took over quarterbacking duties.
In his half of play, Cuttino ran seven times for 100 yards and two touchdowns, and added 160 yards passing and two more scores on only seven attempts.
With the running clock, the second half went quickly, and on the final play of the game, Donnell Hill raced 32 yards for the last score of the game as the horn sounded to complete the 45-0 win and bring St. Joe’s record to 2-1.
Pike, who went 12-1 on their way to the AAAAISA championship last season, fell to 0-4 on the heels of two coaching changes since the spring, the most recent occurring during the week.
After the game ended, Jones said “I love our defense. (They) get after it, and it’s a big play defense. Either we’re going to make a big play, or they’re going to make a big play. And tonight we made more big plays.”
“Offensively, I thought Devin looked really, really good running the ball. We’ve still got to fix our
blocking assignments, especially our pass protection. With DJ in there, (the defense) stays back a little bit so he doesn’t break the long run, and that helps us out a lot,” said Jones.
“I thought LaJuan looked good tonight. This is his first time playing running back (he’s usually a wide receiver), but he hit the holes (and) hit them hard. He saw the lanes, and I was happy with him,” said Jones.
“It was a good game after Bay to give the guys some confidence.”
In addition to the offensive position changes for Waters and Tull, Jones moved Uwenses Benedict to left guard and put Daniel Alaniz at left tackle. Lanford remained at right tackle, and overall, Jones said that he thought they did well.
“Last week was a great week of practice,” said Jones, “and hopefully we can do it again” this week. Jones recently received some good news about speedy receiver and defensive back, Kellen Speights.
“He was granted another year of eligibility by FHSAA last week, so he will be back with us” next week against Rutherford, who will visit Shark Field on Friday, September 23.
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