• Palatka’s Ke’Shawn Russell finds company in Calvant Canty on a kickoff return in Friday’s season-opening win over Yulee. (CHRIS DeVITTO / Palatka Daily News)

Little Room For Error

Sharks circling, ready to pounce on mistakes Panthers survived last week

For the Palatka Panthers to have a chance at their first 2-0 start in 10 years, they can’t give Ponte Vedra a chance Friday night.

The Sharks will take everything they’re given, evidenced by their 35-14 win before a standing-room-only crowd at rival Nease last week. Down 14-13 at halftime, they deftly mixed the run with the pass in an offense that kept the Panthers guessing.

PHS coach Willie Fells hopes his Panthers don’t have the same trouble.

“They want to run the ball first from a one-back set. As soon as they sucker you in, they throw it over the top,” he said Wednesday. “They’ve got a two-quarterback system. Both those guys are very talented. It makes you prepare for two different offenses – one running and one throwing.”

Campbell Parker and Mark Calvin combined to rush for 229 yards and three touchdowns against Nease. Jack Murrah as the more effective Ponte Vedra passer, throwing for 123 yards and one TD.

Thus the Sharks present a challenge that leaves Palatka little room for error on the heels of a spirited, but decidedly flawed effort in a season-opening, 27-21 victory over Yulee last Friday.

Typical of the night was the first play of the game, a long kickoff return for a touchdown, only to be erased by a penalty well away from the ball. The Panthers went on to score on their first series and came back from deficits of 14-7 and 21-19 in a game with four lead changes, but committed nine penalties and two turnovers along the way.

“That’s one of the elements you have to deal with on a young football team,” Fells said. “We definitely can’t go into Ponte Vedra and make as many penalties as we did last week. We had five personal fouls. I can live with playing aggressive, but we have to eliminate personal fouls. If we focus on ourselves and eliminate penalties, anything’s possible.”

Quarterback Mitchell McKinnon ran 10 times for 78 yards and one touchdown and was 6 of 18 passing for 128 yards in his first varsity start against Yulee. Wideout Treyvon Williams caught four balls for 112 yards and ran 20 yards for the winning touchdown wit 5:26 left in the game. Jaylyn Session ran 14 times for 91 yards and two scores.

Ponte Vedra will counter with a 4-3 defense aimed at stopping Williams and the Panthers’ other deep threats.

“They play a cover-3 deep on the passing side. They don’t give you an opportunity to get behind them,” Fells said.

Where Ponte Vedra was able to pull away from Nease last Friday, Fells admired the way his own players responded to a 14-7 halftime deficit against the Hornets.

“The two things that stood out to me were that we appeared to be in better shape – we didn’t have guys cramping up – and we kept fighting,” he said. “Between penalties and turnovers, we gave them a chance to win the game, but we kept fighting.”

In addition to Williams’ dazzling runs, Fells was impressed with Ke’Shawn Russell’s play on special teams, Camden Sweat’s leadership on the defensive front, David Williams’ two sacks and the six pancake blocks delivered by Clay Sipprell in his first start on the offensive line.

“That’s the kind of thing that helped us establish the run in the third quarter,” Fells said. “Yulee was a talented team. Their quarterback was giving us fits. But our offensive line gave us a push and our defensive line kept them from getting a push.

Though a nondistrict game, Friday is big for both teams’ playoff hopes in the FHSAA point system. Palatka and Ponte Vedra play in two of the toughest districts in class 5A – the Panthers with Baker County and Clay in 5-5A, the Sharks with Bolles and Trinity Christian in 4-5A.

“That’s why we play these teams. When I was in high school, we wanted to play a competitive schedule,” Fells said. “It’s going to be an awesome game.”

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