Who: Trenton vs. Port St. Joe
What: FHSAA Class 1A state football championship game
Where: Citrus Bowl (Orlando)
When: Friday, December 4, at 7:07 p.m.
Radio: 93.3 FM (Chiefland), 940 AM (Chiefland) and 1240 AM (Cross City)
Audio online: Click here for the link to listen
Last two state champions vie for 1A title
By Marty Pallman
The Citrus Bowl is once again the home of the FHSAA State Football Championships starting in Orlando this weekend. It seats nearly 65,000 people, much larger than any high school football stadium, and It can be a humbling, even overwhelming place for high school players to play if they haven’t played there before.
Just don’t expect Trenton and Port St. Joe to be star-struck when they take the Citrus Bowl field Friday night for the 1A state championship game.
These are the last two Class 1A state champions, with Trenton shutting out Blountstown 14-0 to win the state title in 2013 and Port St. Joe blanking Hamilton County 16-0 to take home the state championship a year ago.
This is Trenton’s third trip to Orlando in four years, as the Tigers lost the 1A state championship game to Northview (Bratt) in 2012. Trenton (13-0) has been ranked #1 in 1A most of the season, and has been the dominant team in the class, outscoring it’s opponents 630-122, including 120-44 in three regional playoff wins.
The Tigers had a running clock in all but one game, last week’s 27-18 state semifinal win at Madison County. Included in those wins was a 48-13 win over Port St. Joe in week two. Despite the blowouts, Trenton coach Andrew Thomas isn’t concerned about his team playing in a tight game.
“Even thought we haven’t had any competitive games, our kids have been in those types of games,” Thomas said. “Having to gut it out last week at Madison County was definitely helpful.”
Trenton is led on offense and defense by their do-everything senior Hamp Cheevers.
Cheevers fills up the stat sheet, rushing for 868 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 10 and a half yards a carry, has 10 receptions for 173 yards and 4 TD’s receiving offensively, while on the defensive side he has 5 interceptions nad has also returned 8 kickoffs for 242 yards with a long of 75 yards.
Thomas says Cheevers was ready to go in 2015 after a so-so performance in the postseason a year ago.
“Last year he didn’t score in the playoffs, and he has been playing with a chip on his shoulder,” Thomas said. “He just makes plays. He’s an athlete and a pretty special kid.”
Trenton is a mostly run-first team, led by Cheevers and junior Montrez Jackson, who has rushed for 837 yards and 14 TD’s on the ground for the Tigers. Junior quarterback Michael Smith has only completed 26 passes for 536 yards but has thrown for 10 touchdowns to only 1 interception.
While Cheevers leads the Trenton defense in interceptions, senior linebacker Kade Rogers leads the Tigers with 41 tackles, including 9 sacks. Thomas has plenty of superlatives for Rogers.
“He is the overall leader on our football team,” Thomas said. “He’s the best kid I’ve ever coaches as an overall football player. He’s explosive.
As Trenton is making it’s third state championship game appearance in four years and looking for it’s second title, the Trenton community is once again excited about going to Orlando.
“It’s definitely electrified the community,” Thomas said. “I think we had more fans last week than Madison.”
Port St. Joe survived a slow start, with a bout with viral meningitis and the loss to Trenton in the first two weeks of the 2015 season. But the Sharks (11-1) haven’t lost since and won at Baker 42-13 last week in the state semifinals to advance back to Orlando.
Port St. Joe coach John Palmer is in his second tour of duty as head coach of the Sharks. He won a state title with Port St. Joe in 2005 before winning state again last year in his first season back. Palmer is happy the team has made it back to defend it’s title, but knows an extremely tough opponent awaits.
“Trenton is a very good football team and really handed it to us down there,” Palmer said. “We had a player out and other illnesses, and also turned the ball over.”
Port St. Joe went through the meningitis scare after the kickoff classic game vs. Florida High. All in all 21 players missed a day of more of school, and three were hospitalized. The opening game vs. Wewahitchka was canceled. Palmer says it was a scary time.
“It was different than anything else I had gone through as a coach,” Palmer said. “We had most of our players back for the Trenton game, but I really felt like we were back to normal finally in week 5,” a 35-12 win over Taylor County.
Port St. Joe has a balanced offensive attack led by junior quarterback Ethan Sanders, who has thrown for 981 yards and 17 touchdowns with only 1 interception.
Freshman running back Trey Sanders went over a 1,000 yards rushing a week ago and leads the Sharks with 12 touchdowns while averaging 11 and a half yards a carry. Junior Aaron Paul adds to the two headed rushing attatck with 848 yards on the ground and 8 scores. Senior Troy Williams leads Port St. Joe in receiving with 387 yards and 8 TD’s and also leads the Sharks with 6 interceptions while totaling 13 touchdowns. Williams also returns punts and kicks.
Linebacker Marcell Johnson leads the Port St. Joe defense with 127 total tackles , with defensive tackle Alvin Dempsey adding 108 stops. Senior defensive end Umstead Sanders is the Sharks leader in sacks with 10.
Port St. Joe won it’s fourth state title a year ago behind a dominant defense that pitched a shutout against Hamilton County in the championship game. That defense will need to step up against a very good Trenton team at the Citrus Bowl.
The irony is Port St. Joe gets a chance to avenge their one and only loss this season as well as repeat as state champs. Palmer knows Trenton is going to be a tough test again.
“We’ve been stressing there’s not many chances to get back to the state championship,”Palmer said. “Our kids know we are playing a great football team.
Our radio pregame coverage of the 1A title game on Friday begins at 6:45 p.m., followed by the kick off at 7:07 p.m. Join Marty Pallman for all the exciting play-by-play action