PORT ST. JOE -- The St. Joe Sharks won the battle of the turnovers to post a 45-21 victory over the South Walton Seahawks in the Class 1A Football Regional Semifinals Friday night.
The Sharks intercepted three Jonathon Ortner passes and capitalized on all three occasions for scores, while the Seahawks recovered two Shark fumbles, only one that later turned into a touchdown.
"Turnovers and athletes," was the difference in the game, said South Walton Coach Phil Tisa as he walked off the field Friday night. "They've got some very athletic kids and we didn't protect the football."
Nevertheless, Tisa was proud of his team.
"At the beginning of the year we weren't even supposed to be here," he said of his team that finished up 1-9 last season.
However, Friday night the Sharks stood tall and strong and tallied up more than 300 yards on the ground with senior Dewayne Griggs leading the way with 233 yards and four touchdowns - 82 yards, 5, 35 and 49 yards. Senior Jarkice Davis rushed for 91 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Drew Lacour connected with Aaron Paul for a 14-yard strike.
South Walton's Ortner, who has passed for 300 yards on several occasions this season, completed 22 of 41 pass attempts for 194 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
As for the interceptions, Tisa said, "It's hard when they've got the athletes that can match up with us."
And the match was on from the beginning.
South Walton scored first after stopping the Sharks deep in their own territory. South Walton's Zach Reese returned a punt about 20 yards giving the Seahawks the ball at the 21-yard line. Three plays later, Ortner connected with Sage Roberts in the end zone for a 14-yard score. Austin Garofalo kicked in the point after.
The Seahawks stopped the Sharks again, with Vinnie Ciurleo coming up with a fumble recovery. Starting from Sharks 37-yard line, South Walton took it all the way down to within inches of the goal line but couldn't punch it in on fourth down.
At the start of the second quarter, the Sharks evened the score with Griggs breaking away for a 82-yard run down the left side for the TD. Lacour kicked in the point after for a tie game.
On the Seahawks next possession, Ortner was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage by St. Joe's Jak Riley. Twelve plays later the Sharks were in the end zone on a 1-yard run up the middle by Davis.
South Walton failed to make a first and turned it over on downs. The Sharks answered with another score, a 5-yard run by Griggs.
With less than a minute to go in the half, Ortner was picked off again, this time by Aaron Paul. On the very next play, the Sharks scored on a 14-yard pass play with Paul making the catch. St. Joe led 28-7 at the half.
Late in the third quarter, the Seahawks scored on a 21-yard strike from Ortner to Alex Smith for a 28-14 game.
The Sharks muffed the ensuing kickoff and Seahawk Chandler Parrett made the recovery. The Seahawks took the ball down the field and scored in 11 plays. Ortner hit Smith as he slid into the end zone for a 5-yard score and 28-21 game.
In the last five minutes, the Sharks' Lacour kicked a 23-yard field goal, and Griggs scored two more running touchdowns, 35 yards and 49 yards for a 45-21 finish.
Despite the loss, Coach Tisa has enjoyed the ride this season.
"I can't be more proud of our guys; nobody thought we'd be here right now … I just love them."
While the Seahawks finish at 7-4, the Sharks, 8-3 advance to the Regional Finals next Friday night.