PANAMA CITY BEACH — Just a week ago, Bay High came into Gavlak Stadium and left with a dominating 56-0 win over county rival rival Rutherford. On Thursday night, the Tornadoes’ return to Gavlak wasn’t nearly as memorable, with Port St. Joe coming in and dealing them a 35-20 defeat.
With the loss, Bay drops to 1-2 on the season and will be back at Gavlak next week against Arnold in the District 1-5A opener for both teams. The Tiger Sharks improved to 3-0 going into their bye week. Port St. Joe returns to action Sept. 22 at home against Rutherford.
The Tiger Sharks jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead Thursday night and fended off a rally by the Tornadoes, who got as close as four points at 21-17 early in the third quarter.
“We just got outplayed,” Bay coach Mike Watkins said. “They’re a better team than us. We didn’t play well. I’m not saying if we played them 10 times we wouldn’t get some (wins) in there, but tonight they were the better team.”
The Tornadoes were outgained by the Tiger Sharks 377-202, with junior quarterback Josh Butts putting together a huge night for Port St. Joe with 330 yards of offense and four total touchdowns. Butts completed 7 of 9 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns and added 90 yards and another score on 12 rushes.
His counterpart Blayne Watkins completed just 10 of 34 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown with an interception that was returned for a touchdown, but the sophomore signal-caller was also victimized by a handful of drops by his receivers. The bigger issue for the Tornadoes may have been the lack of success in the running game, as they combined for just 66 yards on the ground on 23 attempts.
“We got whooped up front,” Mike Watkins said. “Their defensive line was better than our offensive line. (The Tiger Sharks) had some 50-50 balls that went for long plays where their athlete goes up and our athlete goes up and their athlete comes down with it. We didn’t make the plays we needed to make and they did.”
The big plays came early and often for Port St. Joe in the early going, with Kendre Gant jumping in front of a short pass in the flat by Watkins on Bay’s second series and taking it back 30 yards for a touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Cameron Harmon took a short pass from Butts and raced past the Tornadoes’ defense for a 74-yard touchdown, with the extra point blocked to leave Bay up 13-0 with 3:28 on the clock.
A 41-yard run by Butts on Port St. Joe’s next series set up a 25-yard touchdown pass to Gant, who made a spectacular one-handed catch with his defender close by to give the Tiger Sharks a 21-0 lead in the final minute of the first quarter.
Bay finally got on the board with 2:20 left in the first half, but the score came via the Tornadoes’ special teams, as Dalton Retherford blocked a punt and Quinmero Ford scooped it up and brought it back 40 yards for a touchdown.
A fumble by Port St. Joe gave the ball back to Bay with 1:02 left in the first half and the Tornadoes capitalized when David Chapman made a great diving catch in the end zone on a 20-yard pass from Watkins to make it 21-14 at halftime.
After Bay opened the scoring in the third quarter with a 40-yard field goal by Tanner Reese, Port St. Joe answered with another big play by Harmon, who caught another short pass that he turned into a 59-yard touchdown to make it 28-17.
Another field goal by Reese, this one from 28 yards out, made it 28-20 with 3:47 left in the third. The Tiger Sharks answered two drives later with a nine-play, 83-yard scoring drive to make it a two-possession game. A 30-yard run by Butts moved Port St. Joe into Bay territory, and Butts later hooked up on a 33-yard completion to Gant, who made a fantastic leaping grab in traffic to give his team a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line.
Two plays later, Butts sneaked it across the goal line from the 1-yard line, with the extra point by Yanni Pateritsas making it 35-20 with 5:32remaining. Gant finished with four catches for 85 yards and a touchdown, while Harmon had two grabs for 133 yards and two scores. Jasmin Thomas rushed 14 times for 40 yards.
Marques Moulds led the Bay rushing attack with 41 yards on eight carries. Chapman had four receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown.
It was an impressive offensive performance for a Port St. Joe team that had to go to overtime against Marianna last week before getting on the scoreboard.
“It’s a huge win,” Tiger Sharks coach John Palmer said. “I’m really proud of the effort of our kids to battle back and I’m proud of Bay High for the way they fought. We held on to the ball much better and were able to keep everybody moving.”
The Tornadoes will play their most significant game of the season next week against Arnold and Mike Watkins said he is eager to see how his players respond to the loss.
“How we react to this will say a lot about my guys and my team because the way we reacted during the game spoke very poorly on some of us,” he said. “I hope they react the right way. If they don’t, in the future they won’t be with us.”