With their playoff hopes on the line, the Ponte Vedra Sharks put together perhaps their finest game of the season on Friday evening at The Bolles School field, defeating the Bulldogs 33-23. The win put the Sharks in a three-way tie for the District 4-5A lead with the Bulldogs and the Conquerors of Trinity Christian, each with 4-1 records.
In rebounding from last week’s 21-3 loss to TC, the Sharks were bolstered by the return to full time action of several key players, most notably linebacker Duncan Van Kouteren, wide receiver Kyle Barker and running back/linebacker Zack King.
The Sharks wasted no time demonstrating they were up for the test against Bolles. They took the opening kickoff and drove 85 yards for a touchdown. The big play was a 42-yard run up the middle by quarterback Jack Murrah that gave the Sharks a first down inside the Bolles red zone. From there, Murrah connected with Rafe Stenwall for 10 yards, handed off to King for five and capped the drive off with a toss to tight end Kit Connelly for the score.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ponte Vedra’s Cole McCormick pounced on a loose football to give the Sharks another shot. They settled for Riley Robbins' 24-yard field goal and a 9-0 lead.
It didn’t take long for the Sharks to get the ball back. Jarrett Stepp’s interception and 40-yard return gave the Sharks a first down at the Bolles 35-yard line. Murrah then went to Reese Russi for another first down before finding Stepp for the touchdown. The game was barely twelve minutes in, and the Sharks led 16-0.
Ponte Vedra’s defense kept the pressure on the Bulldogs. The unit forced a second turnover—this one recovered by Daniel Lichlyter at the Shark 25-yard line. Despite another strong run by Murrah for 25 yards, Ponte Vedra had to punt the ball away.
The Dogs weren’t able to capitalize on a pass interference penalty when Stepp—playing on both sides of the ball—broke up a third down pass.
Murrah had one more possession before the half ended, and he made the most of it. The senior QB ran for 10 yards, found Barker for 10 more and then threw deep to Stepp for 36 yards. With the ball at the Bolles 21-yard line and with four seconds on the clock, Murrah dropped back to pass. He avoided a sack and rolled to his left before finding Barker open in the left corner of the end zone. The touchdown put the Sharks in front 23-0 at the break.
Ponte Vedra’s defense stopped the Bulldogs on their first possession of the second half. First, Christian Herring made a remarkable play coming out of no where to break up a potential touchdown pass. Then, Van Kouteren’s interception ended the threat.
When Ponte Vedra had to punt, the Bulldogs put up their first points of the game on a long pass play. To no one’s surprise, the Bulldogs then attempted an onside kick, recovering the ball despite what appeared to be an illegal block. The highly disputed play was the first of three controversial calls that the Sharks would overcome on the night. Bolles would score eight seconds later to close the gap to 23-13 after the Bulldogs missed the two-point conversion. The two teams each connected on field goals as the third quarter ended with Ponte Vedra on top 26-16.
Bolles was able to capitalize on an unsuccessful fake punt by the Sharks, moving to a first down at the Ponte Vedra 4-yard line. On third-and-inches, the Bulldogs fumbled the ball, and Ponte Vedra recovered; however, the play was ruled dead with Bolles retaining possession—the second disputed call of the evening. Given one more chance the Dogs scored to make the score 26-23.
Ponte Vedra still had a few offensive cards to play. With possession at midfield, Murrah teamed up with Stenwall again on a pass covering 70 yards. King finished the drive on a 3-yard plunge to put Ponte Vedra ahead 33-23.
All that remained was the third and final disputed call of the game. It came on a Bolles possession near midfield. Facing a third-and-15, a group of Shark defenders led by King and Kyle Brady converged on the Bulldog quarterback looking for a receiver. On the sack, the defenders caused a fumble that Gibson Pardue recovered. However, the ruling on the field was intentional grounding by the quarterback, not a fumble recovered by Ponte Vedra. It turned out to be of little consequence because Bolles was forced to punt, and the Sharks’ offense ate up the remaining four minutes.
Van Kouteren led the inspired Shark defense with five tackles, eight assists and one interception. Offensively, Murrah rushed for 87 yards while completing 15 of 25 pass attempts for 258 yards.
The Sharks finish the regular season with a 7 p.m. game at Creekside Nov. 3.
The playoff schedule remains uncertain due to the three-way tie for the top spot in the conference.