Get out the calculators. District 4-5A is going to the scorecards.
Ponte Vedra needed an upset win over state-ranked Bolles on Friday night to send the area’s most prominent district into chaos and delivered just that. The Sharks knocked off the host Bulldogs 33-23 — on Bolles’ homecoming no less — in the first regular-season meeting between the programs, sending 4-5A into chaos.
With the new playoff system in 2017, gone are the old multiple-team district shootouts of the past that would have pitted Bolles, Ponte Vedra and Trinity Christian, all of whom are 4-1 in district play, in a three-team tiebreaker next week to determine the champ and runner-up.
Now, the district champ will be decided by who earned the most points — via victories and strength of schedule — and will be unveiled in the statewide selection show on Nov. 5.
Ponte Vedra built a 23-0 halftime lead and then hung on for dear life in the second half as Bolles trimmed that deficit to 26-23 in the fourth quarter. But the Sharks stuck in the dagger after that.
Quarterback Jack Murrah hit Rafe Stenwall on a 70-yard pass two plays after Bolles’ score to set up a Zack King 2-yard scoring run with 6 minutes, 32 seconds left.
That 10-point cushion stood until the finish, setting up the dominoes to fall any number of ways down the stretch.
There remains quite a bit of intrigue on how that will play out.
For Ponte Vedra, it felt like a playoff game and the Sharks played that way, delivering turnover-free football and forcing four Bolles turnovers in arguably its most thorough performance of the season.
“The thing about it, after that Trinity [Christian] loss last week, I had someone say, ‘How are you going to get [the team] focused?’” said Sharks coach Matt Toblin. “Pretty easy, it’s Bolles week. It’s Bolles week. Unbelievable. Just a great game.”
On playoff points averages alone, Trinity should have the edge over both Bolles and Ponte Vedra come selection time.
It beat the Bulldogs earlier this season, but later had to forfeit that game for using an ineligible player. The Conquerors have a second appeal coming up on that.
Bolles, which still has Columbia left in Week 11, went from a guaranteed district title to now being clustered in a points pack, with a relatively leaner body of work from which to pull from.
Ponte Vedra (6-3) is right back in the mix, and even a 6-3 Bishop Kenny team could squeeze into the final picture.
The Bulldogs (7-2), who in the past dueled with Raines in late October with a district title on the line, had no answer for Ponte Vedra, a team that got starched in a running clock game against St. Augustine last month, and one that could barely scratch out yardage against Trinity Christian a week earlier.
“Coach Conroy and the offensive staff did a great job designing plans for this game,” Toblin said. “Hats off to Bolles for coming back.”
The Bulldogs, down 23-0 at halftime, surged back in a hurry. Quarterback Josiah Johnson threw touchdowns to Chris Sanders and Kel McCloud just 8 seconds apart in the third quarter, and McCloud barreled in from the 1 with 8:03 left to cut Ponte Vedra’s lead to 26-23.
But Murrah (14 of 24, 250 yards passing, three touchdowns, eight carries, 90 rushing yards) came right back, hitting Stenwall in stride two plays later for a gain of 70. King’s 2-yard plunge put the capper in a game that the Sharks dominated.
“We knew that this game had everything on the line,” said Stepp, who had 90 yards on four catches and a touchdown, as well as an interception and a pass breakup on defense. “We wanted to come out and punch our playoff ticket.”
Bolles watched Murrah march Ponte Vedra down the field on the opening drive of the game and cap it with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Stepp to trigger a 23-point blitz right out of the gate and set the tone for a dominant night. The clinic ensued from there.
“We dug ourselves in too big of a hole to begin with,” Johnson said. “Obviously a high-stakes game and we didn’t perform like we needed to.”
Bolles watched a kickoff bounce in front of the return man and the Sharks recovered it, which led to a Riley Robbins field goal. A Stepp interception with Bolles driving killed another Bulldogs possession.
“Not at all [surprised],” Murrah said of the first-half barrage. “We actually said we wanted 28-0 at the half. We had a lot of matchups that we liked in this game.”