Last Friday night, the Port St. Joe Tiger Sharks celebrated Homecoming with a 34-2 thrashing of the Rutherford Rams behind D.J. Oliver’s three touchdowns and a swarming, tenacious defensive effort.
Oliver gained 213 yards rushing on 16 attempts on a night that saw quarterback Colin Amison leave the game with more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter when his knee buckled on a second down play.
“It’s a bad knee,” said coach Tanner Jones. "Every now and then it gives out. Luckily we’ve got an off week coming up” with a scheduled bye.
“So, we’ve got two weeks to get him healthy, get everybody else ready to go, because after that there’s no break,” said Jones.
Playing before a huge home crowd which included a large contingent of the Class of ‘91, the Tiger Sharks got off to a slow start before Oliver broke two tackles on his way to a 25-yard score. Christian Peacock’s kick made the score 7-0 with 1:31 left in the first quarter.
Jones attributed the initial doldrums to Homecoming. "It's a week of festivities and everything that goes with it, (causing) a lack of focus. But we came back," he said.
Despite being down by only one touchdown, there was little the Rams could do as the inspired St. Joe defense was unrelenting, allowing only 68 yards rushing and 24 yards passing for the game.
Assistant Coach Tracy Browning gave a special shout out to Aiden Gainer, who wears number 10 on the field.
“He is the quarterback of our defense,” said Browning. "He is a very unselfish player who (we) asked to move from middle linebacker this week to defensive end. He makes all of our calls on the field” when on defense.
Gainer was in on seven tackles for the game, including one for a loss, and he had plenty of help against the Rams, including Asher Peacock with 11 tackles and Oliver with 8.
LaJuan Zaccaro had a monster game with four tackles including one sack, two hurries, and one interception on defense. Offensively, he snagged five passes for a total of 83 yards.
St. Joe made four interceptions during the game, including two by Chance Gainer who returned his first for a 65-yard pick-6 at the 8:51 mark of the second quarter. The extra point was no good, but the Tiger Shark lead increased to 13-0. He later grabbed his second pick at the St. Joe four-yard line to thwart a Ram drive with 7:28 remaining in the game.
Nick Jefferson not only ended a Rutherford drive before halftime, but his 42-yard interception return helped set up the third Tiger Shark score.
He would do the honors himself on a sweep that started out to the right, but after breaking a tackle he reversed to the left, picked up a vital block and dashed 20 yards to increase the Shark lead to 19-0 after the 2-point try failed.
After halftime, in which senior Shadavia Hudgins received the Homecoming Queen crown, St. Joe kicked off to the Rams and the defense continued to stifle any Rutherford comeback hopes.
It was on their initial drive of the third quarter that Amison went down and had to leave the game. At first, Oliver took direct snaps, but on the subsequent possessions, Lake Lomauro took over quarterbacking duties.
Regardless of who took snaps from center, handing the ball to Oliver on this night worked well for the home team.
With less than a minute left in the third quarter, the multi-talented back followed left tackle Justice Peacock and fullback Aiden Gainer to the second level before leaving a handful of would-be tacklers wondering what hit them as he streaked down the sideline on a 57-yard scoring jaunt. Jefferson swept in for the two-point conversion and the Shark lead increased to 27-0.
Oliver, said Jones, “is a very good player, a hard worker, humble, somebody you (can) be proud of.”
During the final frame, Rutherford got on the scoreboard, but it would be with the Port St. Joe offense on the field when this happened.
Following an Antonio Morgan punt that rolled to the Shark 10-yard line, a low snap skipped to the right of Lomauro and scurried into the end zone. Lomauro chased it down and tried to pass the ball out of harm’s way but too many Rams swarmed him, resulting in a safety.
Port St. Joe’s lead was still safe at 27-2 with 10:23 left before the final horn.
The final Shark visit to the end zone happened on their next possession, which occurred as a result of Chance Gainer’s second interception, giving the Sharks the ball at the Ram 35-yard line.
This Shark drive would begin badly, with a delay penalty followed by a false start. Lomauro, however, teamed up with Zaccaro, who thrilled the home crowd with a leaping grab over two defenders to give Port St. Joe a first down with the 24-yard gain.
After a Ram interception was nullified by a pass interference call, two plays later Oliver swept around left end for 13 yards, his third and final score of the night. This time, Weston Bockelman kicked the extra point to take the final score to 34-2 with only 5:05 on the clock.
Bockelman’s number 7 was called quite a few times on the night on both sides of the ball, making five tackles along with several key blocks on offense.
“He’s one of those kids who’s learning what we’re doing on offense, and on defense. You just see him getting better and better,” said Jones. “I love watching him play.”
There would be no more scoring, and after the final Ram punt, Port St. Joe retained possession until the game ended and the celebration began in earnest.
The previous night, the Tiger Shark JV defeated Franklin County’s JV 36-0.
In that contest, Corbin Butts gained 90 yards and one touchdown on only two touches, while teammate Elijah Beard rushed for 45 yards and a score.
On defense, Butts added a 40-yard pick-6, and Beard intercepted two errant Seahawk passes, returning one for a 60-yard touchdown.
Zay Jenkins ran for 44 yards and a touchdown, and Jayden Reese contributed an interception.