The Ponte Vedra Sharks Junior Pee Wee Team concluded its successful 2017 campaign on Nov. 4 with a loss in the first round of the Pop Warner Southeast Regional Playoffs. The loss was the team’s first of the season, snapping a nine-game winning streak.
The Sharks (9-1) entered the First Coast Conference playoffs Oct. 21 as the No. 1 seed and faced No. 4 Orange Park. Having easily defeated the Raiders 18-0 in the season finale a week before, Ponte Vedra approached this contest with a high level of confidence. The team’s confidence and a strong week of preparation delivered a comfortable victory by a nearly identical score (19-0).
Orange Park, having experienced the up-the-middle strength of the Shark defense on Oct. 14, attempted to exploit the wide sides of the field in the rematch. Utilizing large line splits and a spread formation, the Raider offense produced a handful of big gains, yet suffered a disproportionate number of tackles for loss. The aggressive, swarming PV defense was frequently in the backfield and controlled the game from start to finish.
The Shark offense, sluggish by contrast, initially struggled to reach the end zone via its methodical, “5 yards at a time” rushing attack. However, big plays eventually provided offensive fire power, in the form of two long jet sweep TDs from WR Jack Brady (75 and 30 yards, respectively). Adding in a short TD run by Bennett Baumgartner, the final was 19-0.
The next week, Ponte Vedra faced Jax Beach in the Conference Championship. The Jaguars had already lost to PV 12-0 during the regular season in a hard-fought contest. They were looking to avenge that loss and establish their allegedly superior physicality, but the Sharks would have none of it. Ponte Vedra turned in its finest game of the season, emphatically capturing the conference championship via shutout.
Jax Beach again challenged the Sharks at the line of scrimmage, but decisively lost the battle in the trenches. Ponte Vedra advanced up and down the field, to the tune of 238 yards rushing. Baumgartner was the offensive workhorse, carrying 19 times for 108 of those yards, including a 5-yard score. The other Shark touchdowns came from quarterback Ben Burk (3-yard run), and wide receiver Griffin Owen (25-yard reception from Burk). Brady converted all three PAT kicks to make the final tally 24-0. The Shark defense played flawlessly on the perimeter and in the middle of the field, exemplified by the play of outside linebacker Maddox Bostic, who had three tackles for loss and a sack.
As First Coast Conference champions, PV advanced to the SE Regional Playoffs, where they faced the Creeks Outlaws, the Greater Jacksonville Conference Champions, on Nov. 4. The Creeks team, also undefeated, was the only squad the Sharks faced the entire year who was physically bigger and had a similar “ground and pound” game plan.
Having never been behind in a game the entire season, PV was visibly disconcerted to find itself down 12-0 in the first quarter after an Outlaw fumble recovery for a touchdown. Despite this, the squad pressed on, “fighting and clawing for every first down,” in the words of head coach Scott Owen. Faced with a bigger, and at times faster, version of themselves, the Sharks ultimately had no answer. Creeks was able to rip off long touchdown runs at regular intervals, into the teeth of PV’s defense. The Outlaws would throw only one pass on the day, winning 35-0 behind their powerful ground game.
Despite the sting of this loss, Coach Owen was upbeat.
“It was a fantastic season—one to be proud of,” he commented. “Many of our players and coaches achieved a level of success they hadn’t before in tackle football.”