Before the regular season started, the Patriots played an exhibition match against Booker T. Washington and, to put it nicely, got clobbered 27-7. Countless penalties and a stagnant offense contributed to the loss. But, after working for the entire season, the Patriots rectified that loss and won the Class 5A state championship.
The Patriots (14-0) completed their undefeated season with a 35-33 win that went down to the wire against the Ponte Vedra Sharks (13-1) at Camping World Stadium.
Many high school sports analysts likened the matchup between the Patriots and the Sharks to David and Goliath, but the game was more evenly matched than one would expect.
The Sharks scored a 77-yard touchdown on the second play of the game courtesy of a pass from quarterback Nick Tronti to wide receiver Marshall Few. The Patriots blocked the extra point – unusual for the Patriots, but it would later decide the game – to be down 6-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Sharks successfully attempted an onside kick. Tronti threw a second touchdown to running back Hal Swan for the 13-0 lead.
The Sharks attempted another onside kick, but linebacker Joseph Ruma recovered for the Patriots. Quarterback Jason Brown drove down the field and ran the ball into the end zone to bring the score to 13-7.
After a long punt return from cornerback Pat Surtain Jr., running back Miles Jones scored a rushing touchdown and gave the Patriots a 14-13 lead. The first quarter ended with a one-point lead for the Patriots.
Brown found wide receiver Dontavius Butler in the end zone to increase the lead to eight points after running back Jordan Johnson broke loose for a gain of 54 yards. The score sat at 21-13.
Late in the second quarter, Tronti and Few connected again for the pair’s second touchdown. At halftime, the Patriots led 21-20.
The third quarter produced no points, but Brown scored his third touchdown of the night five seconds into the fourth quarter with a five-yard rushing touchdown to bring the lead to 28-20.
Tronti scored on the ensuing drive for the Sharks, but the two-point conversion failed. The Patriots still led 28-26 and converted their next drive into a touchdown with Brown’s fourth of the game.
As the clock wound down, the Sharks scored again. The scoreboard showed 35-33 in favor of the Patriots, and Butler displayed his hands yet again when he recovered an onside kick. After burning the rest of the time, kicker and punter Zack Thomson punted the ball deep into Ponte Vedra territory, and the remaining time expired.
The Patriots showed their ability to fight and come back from a deficit, a feat they had not yet had to accomplish this season. Though the defense was not spectacular, it still made great stops and forced multiple three-and-outs.
This state championship marks the third ring for the team in the last four years. For the seniors, it’s a great end to their high school football careers. As for the underclassmen, they are just getting started.