PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – If Collin Drafts had to do it again, the Nease coach still would go for the fake extra-point attempt his team tried Friday night. But maybe, in hindsight, he would try it a little earlier and on a field goal instead.
It was a daring call, one visiting rival Ponte Vedra was not expecting after the Panthers scored to open overtime in the News4JAX Game of the Week. However, Ryker Kemp was in the right place for the Sharks and tipped the ball, as it fell to the ground harmlessly.
That opened the way for Ponte Vedra’s Brian Case to bulldoze into the end zone on the Sharks’ overtime possession. His second touchdown of the game knotted the contest, and Mark Romano’s point-after attempt was true, delivering a thrilling 35-34 victory in front of a packed house in the Battle of the Bridge rivalry, leading to several Ponte Vedra students storming the field in celebration after the game.
The play of Kemp, Case and quarterback Ben Burk guaranteed the Sharks (5-4, 1-1) second place in District 4-4S and helped keep Ponte Vedra’s playoff hopes intact. While the playoffs are the goal, Burk seemed more elated to avenge last season’s 14-7 defeat to the Panthers (1-8, 0-2).
“This means everything,” said Burk, who rushed for 108 yards and a score and had two passing touchdowns. “I was super nervous last year, and we took a loss. Nothing’s sweeter than this revenge. We knew we were going to win the whole time.”
Maybe, but Nease made it interesting. The Panthers battled back from deficits of 14-0 and 21-13 to force overtime on a Sam Milton touchdown run with little more than five minutes remaining.
Nease had a 42-yard field-goal attempt to break a 28-all tie with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in regulation. But Sharks edge rushers had been close to blocking previous attempts. This time, Joe Mahoney came off the right edge and delivered, spiking the ball to the ground.
It was Ponte Vedra’s turn. The Sharks drove down the field and set up Romano for a 37-yard attempt on the final play of regulation, but his kick was off target. So, it was on to overtime.
The Panthers lost the toss and had first possession, with each team starting its drive 10 yards from the end zone. On 4th down, the fifth of sixth fourth-down attempts Nease converted during the game, quarterback Marcus Stokes snuck in from a yard out. The senior, who had three rushing touchdowns and one passing on Senior Night, took a bow afterward.
That set up the crucial call as the Panthers came out in extra point formation.
“I really thought they would come out and line up and go for 2,” Ponte Vedra coach Steve Price said. “I thought it was a real good call by (Drafts).”
Holder Maddox Spencer rolled right and, with some defenders closing in, fired into the end zone. But Kemp deflected the pass.
“We did not expect them to go for 2,” Kemp said. “All I thought after I tipped it was, ‘I hope it doesn’t go into a Nease Panthers’ hands.’”
His wish was granted. The ball hit the ground and gave Nease no extra points.
No regrets from Drafts, though, except perhaps he should have done it earlier when Mahoney blocked the field-goal attempt.
“When I really think about it, I’m not going to second-guess it,” Drafts said after wincing when thinking about the play. “I told myself I should have faked the first one. I didn’t like how we protected it. They were going all out. I foresaw something bad happening, and it did. We score a touchdown there, and we probably win the game.
“You hate to lose the toss there (to start overtime). If we won, and we went second, we would have gone for 2 and ended the game anyway. Roll the dice. You live by it, you die by it. But it didn’t work out in our favor.”
It took two Case running plays to hit the end zone, 10 of 95 yards on the ground for the running back. Romano drilled the kick. Game over.
“Crazy way to end a football game,” Price said. “It was a great game from two great football teams. Nease is a lot better than 1-7. I watched all the film. They are a great team.”
It was another frustrating loss for the Panthers, who have two four-game losing streaks sandwiched around a victory against Orange Park.
If there are regrets, it came on empty possessions for Nease. A missed 38-yard field goal on the opening drive was one. An epic 15-play, 7-plus-minute drive to start the second half was another, with the Panthers coming away with no points after a fourth-and-2 from the Sharks 4 ended with an incompletion from Stokes under heavy pressure.
At the same time, Ponte Vedra started the game strong with two scoring drives and added a touchdown right before halftime to stretch its lead to 21-14. But two empty second-half trips, one a three-and-out, the other a four-play-and-punt possession, allowed Nease to get back into the contest.
There were great individual showings on both sides. Stokes threw for 225 yards and rushed for 70 yards. Milton tacked on 118 rushing yards, and Spencer easily was Stokes’ favorite target, hauling in seven passes for 137 yards and a score.
“Marcus Stokes is a great player,” Price said. “I’m glad to see him graduate.”
Price has outstanding players of his own. There was the great game from Case, and Burk missed on only one of his 10 passes, that one a drop, while passing for 166 yards. Wyatt Rogers also stood out, hauling in passes of 37 and 38 yards, the latter going for a touchdown, on a fourth-quarter drive that broke a 21-all tie.
They might be able to play beyond next week’s home game against Creekside. The Sharks entered the evening ninth in Region 1-4S, trailing Gulf Breeze (5-4) — which lost to Navarre (8-1) on Friday — by 0.49 in the FHSAA power rankings. Four district winners per region make the playoffs, while the next four highest teams in the power rankings qualify with at-large bids.
Ponte Vedra 35, Nease 34, OT
Ponte Vedra, 14, 7, 0, 7, 7 — 35
Nease, 0, 13, 8, 7, 6 — 34
PV – Ben Burk 42 run (Mark Romano kick)
PV – Brian Case 1 run (Romano kick)
N – Marcus Stokes 7 run (kick failed)
N – Stokes 26 run (Daniel Jones kick)
PV – Landon Okla 22 pass from Burk (Romano kick)
N – Maddox Spencer 24 pass from Stokes (Gavin Gmeiner pass from Stokes)
PV – Wyatt Rogers 38 pass from Burk (Romano kick)
N – Sam Milton 10 run (Jones kick)
N – Stokes 1 run (pass failed)
PV – Case 5 run (Romano kick)
Category: PV N
First downs: 17 — 21
Rushes-yards: 43-333 — 42-193
Passing: 166 — 225
Comp-Att-Int: 9-10-0 — 17-27-0
Fumbles-lost: 1-0 — 0-0
Penalties-Yards: 5-50 — 2-10
RUSHING — PV: Burk 13-108, Case 19-95, Griffin Owen 7-26, Nathan Bunkowski 3-7, Team 1-(-3). N: Milton 23-118, Stokes 17-70, Da’Von Patterson 2-5.
PASSING — PV: Burk 9-10-0-166. N: Stokes 16-26-0-225, Zach Buttacavoli 1-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — PV: Rogers 3-79, Okla 2-47, Bunkowski 2-16, Cole Madison 1-15, Owen 1-9. N: Spencer 7-137, Milton 4-45, Gmeiner 1-17, Landon Patterson 2-16, D. Patterson 3-10.