Port St. Joe traveled to cross-county rival Wewahitchka Friday night and defeated the Gators 34-0, the third consecutive shutout for the Tiger Sharks, who kept their undefeated season intact at 3-0.
The Gators, who had previously endured heartbreaking one-point losses in their first two games, suffered an even bigger blow on Port St. Joe's first play from scrimmage when star quarterback and safety Alex Williams was injured and had to be carted off the field to an awaiting ambulance.
After kicking off to St. Joe, Wewa committed an offside penalty to place the ball at the Tiger Shark 41-yard line. Senior quarterback Colin Amison then hit split end Nick Jefferson with a 20-yard pass that the speedy receiver turned into a 59-yard touchdown after eluding Gator defenders and breaking two tackles.
However, the play would be negated by a double foul on Port St. Joe: - an illegal block and taunting committed upon Williams, who lay motionless on the turf for several agonizing minutes before medical personnel stabilized him and placed him on a stretcher.
Following enforcement of the penalties, St. Joe had the ball on the Wewa 44-yard line.
On the next play, fullback D.J. Oliver rambled for a Tiger Shark score. Christian Peacock’s kick made the score 7-0 after just 30 seconds of game time.
Although Port St. Joe recovered an onside kick, they were forced to punt without making a first down.
With Williams out of the game, Gator signal-calling duties fell to Zay McDaniel, who tried to work his magic in spite of poor field position. After controlling the ball for nearly five minutes, Wewa was forced to punt the ball back to Port St. Joe.
On the first play of the second quarter, Oliver struck again, this time running for 45 yards and a touchdown. The Tiger Sharks lead increased to 13-0 after the extra point failed.
Having already lost arguably their best player to injury, Wewa suffered the unthinkable when McDaniel was shaken up and had to leave the game at the end of a run of 13 yards. He would not return.
Ordinarily, senior running back Landon Hysmith would shift over to the quarterback position, but he was unavailable after sustaining a concussion during the Rutherford game.
That forced coach Bobby Johns to put freshman Tyrann Williams in to receive snaps for the rest of the contest. He also took over punting duties.
Port St. Joe appeared to increase its lead at the 9:23 mark of the second quarter when Amison gave Jefferson a shovel pass on a jet sweep at the Gator 47. Good blocking and nifty running allowed the speedy senior to glide into the end zone for a 53-yard score... except an illegal formation penalty disallowed the effort.
Not only would this be the second touchdown negated for Jefferson, but offsetting penalties had earlier erased a long punt return for the talented split end.
But there would soon be redemption for Jefferson, who “is electrifying,” according to head coach Tanner Jones. On the first play following a Gator punt, he took the ball on a sweep left and reversed to the right, breaking two tackles on the way to race up the middle to complete an 80-yard jaunt.
Port St. Joe increased its lead to 19-0 after the try for two points failed with 6:18 remaining in the first half.
A few seconds later, Chance Gainer scooped up a Gator fumble and rambled 25 yards for another Tiger Shark score. After Oliver’s successful try for two, Port St. Joe led 27-0.
After another Gator punt, Aiden Gainer went to work for St. Joe, reeling off runs of 33 and 13 yards. Chance Gainer, the younger of the two, dashed the final 11 yards for the last touchdown of the evening. Peacock’s extra point kick was good, making the score 34-0 in favor of the visitors as the first half ended.
By agreement, the clock ran for the second half, stopping only for time-out calls. Port St. Joe threatened to score once in the third quarter after a 24-yard pass from Lake Lomauro to Aydan Davis put the ball inside the 5-yard line, but a holding penalty and subsequent fumble ended the drive.
With the running clock, the third and fourth quarters went by quickly with no scoring by either team.
After the final horn, Jones praised his assistant head coach Toney Powell for the “great job (calling plays) and a great job of planning all week” for the contest.
“(Wewa) did do some things up front that we were concerned with," Jones said. "Our concerns were our running backs (making) the plays. We felt like we can get you to one, you’ve got to... make the next guy miss. D.J. does that very well, Aiden (Gainer) did it.”
Gainer, said Jones, “does a heck of a job blocking (for Oliver). He’s a selfless player, and I don’t think we’re as successful without (him) on both sides of the ball.” Gainer also plays linebacker on defense.
Jones said he hoped Alex Williams, “one of the best players around, gets back and is OK. Same thing for Zay (McDaniel), who’s another great player.”
Johns said Sunday that Williams "is at home recovering, waiting on a follow-up with a specialist (and that) he is expected to have a chance to play again this season.” All of Wewahitchka certainly hope that it will be sooner than later.
Johns said McDaniel and Hysmith were both going to be available for action when Wewa visits Bozeman this Friday, Sept. 24.
Port St. Joe will celebrate Homecoming while hosting the Rutherford Rams that same night.