If you happened to stop by Cornerstone Park on the Saturday before Labor Day, you would have witnessed some hard-nosed football, ages of the players notwithstanding. The Ponte Vedra Sharks Junior Pee Wee squad squared off against an aggressive Callahan Warriors Gold team whose predilection was toward old-school, hard-nosed play on both sides of the ball. The Sharks were unintimidated by their opponents' game plan, and were able to come out on top, via their own mixture of power and finesse football.
The first half was in any event not a showcase for the Sharks (3-0) and head coach Scott Owen. The team was able to dominate the first two quarters in terms of time of possession, and mostly dictated the game's tempo, but struggled to execute consistently and missed out on a couple of scoring opportunities.
On their first offensive series, Ponte Vedra produced an impressive drive, behind a big run from running back Zach Martus, a nifty 35-yard scamper that was a desperation tackle away from being a long touchdown.
Moments later, quarterback/running back Corbyn Fordham punched it in from 7 yards out, and the score was 8-0 after the PAT from Jack Brady (Under Pop Warner rules, conversion kicks are worth 2 points, as opposed to 1 point for runs/passes).
On their next set of downs, the Sharks again methodically drove down the field, alternating tough running between the tackles with quicker plays to the outside. However, the team turned the ball over inside of Callahan's 10-yard line, and the drive stalled. After the possession change, Callahan was able to mount a sustained drive, running almost exclusively “up the gut.” They made it into the red zone where the Shark defense, which had bent but did not break, denied the Warriors a score and allowed PV to go into the half up 8-0.
In the final two quarters of play, the Sharks tightened up the offensive execution, while maintaining a strong defensive level of play. The team’s renewed focus allowed PV to add two more scores and build a somewhat comfortable lead, though this was by no means an easy task. The Callahan team never quit, from opening gun to closing whistle, and was noticeably hard-hitting (especially on defense) throughout the contest.
Ponte Vedra's second score was the product of another sustained, ground-based drive, featuring two crucial plays that kept the chains moving. The first was a 6-yard quarterback keeper by Ben Burk on a “do-or-die” fourth-and-5, from just inside Callahan territory. Burk took the snap, deftly avoided a couple of tacklers and picked his way past the first down marker.
The second key play, which energized the entire squad as well as the sideline, was an impressive 17-yard rush by Bennett Baumgartner. The run showcased both finesse and power, as he juked his way past a couple of defenders and ran over a third, en route to a huge first down inside the Callahan 10-yard line. Two plays later, Baumgartner went into the end zone standing up for a 2-yard TD, and the score became 16-0. At this point, the momentum had decidedly swung in the Sharks' favor.
Meanwhile, the Callahan team appeared to become winded as the second half went along. Its defensive line was unable to get penetration against the Shark offensive line, and its linebackers and secondary could not counter Ponte Vedra's slashing running style. This was readily apparent on the last score of the game, a fourth quarter 38-yard Burk touchdown run in which he displayed speed and athleticism in eluding several would-be tacklers on a dash to the pylon. Jack Brady's third PAT of the day made the score 24-0, which would be the final.
Of note, Brady and the extra-point team had worked intensively on technique and mechanics over the prior week’s practices, and the results were readily apparent when he went 3-for-3 on the day, with none of the kicks being in doubt.
Ben Burk finished as the Sharks' leading rusher, with seven carries for 89 yards and a touchdown. Co-defensive stat leaders were Martus and Fordham, both with five tackles a piece. The play of cornerback Joe Mahoney was also noteworthy. When the Warriors tried to mount a comeback, and thereby shifted to the aerial attack, he played solid in man-on-man coverage, notching three total passes defended and adding a tackle.
Junior Pee Wee Sharks return to action at Fleming Island
On Sept. 16, the Sharks returned to action at Fleming Island High School against the FIAA War Eagles. The balanced offensive attack Coach Owen was searching for did not materialize; his team attempted three passes the whole game, and all were incomplete. However, Ponte Vedra was still able to come out on top, in a back-and-forth contest of unadulterated “smash mouth” football. Both teams’ offensive and defensive lines slugged it out for the entire 40 minutes, with a level of intensity even greater than that of the Callahan game.
The Sharks’ lone score came on a 6-yard Ben Burk run, which capped off a sustained second quarter drive. Jack Brady and the point-after team again did their jobs, making the score 8-0. On this drive, and for the majority of the day, Ponte Vedra was able to move the ball effectively against the War Eagles, employing a methodical, ground-based attack which pounded the ball between the tackles and advanced 4 to 5 yards at a time. However, the Fleming Island defense was fundamentally sound and rolled with each blow the Sharks delivered. The War Eagles stiffened when it counted and would thereby give up only the one score on the day.
For its part, the Sharks defense rose to the challenge and one-upped their counterparts’ performance, pitching a shutout. The Ponte Vedra “D” showed little sign of fatigue, managing a sustained level of intensity deep into the final quarter, by gang tackling and swarming to the ball on every play. With less than five minutes remaining, a short PV punt gave Fleming Island a last, best chance to tie the score when the team got the ball with excellent field position, inside the 40-yard line. The Shark defenders, with an assist from an offensive penalty, emphatically denied this chance. The Ponte Vedra offense then took over on downs with three minutes left and produced a couple of crucial first downs, killing the clock and icing the game.
Ponte Vedra Junior Pee Wee returns to action Sept. 23 in an away contest versus Oakleaf Black.