ZEPHYRHILLS — The host Bulldogs came within six minutes of being shut out for the first time since a 45-0 loss to arch-rival Pasco in 2011. Trailing by a large margin and playing with a running clock, Zephyrhills finally scored late in a 40-7 loss to Ponte Vedra.
The 33-point loss was the largest margin since Zephyrhills lost 43-8 to Wiregrass Ranch in the 2016 season opener. The last time the Bulldogs lost their first two games of the season came in 2012 when they won the third game and finished 6-4.
“We can’t go 0-3 or 0-4,” said outside linebacker Demetris Wright. “We’ve got to hunker down.”
After Ponte Vedra closed out the third quarter on Rj Glod’s third touchdown pass to Michael Olkiewicz, an 89-yard rollout and hookup down the left sideline for a 40-0 lead, Zephyrhills marched 67 yards downfield on eight plays.
The Bulldogs capped that drive with a score after two-way lineman Dajuan McCullough lined up in the backfield and bulled into the end zone from 2 yards out. Jaxson Rivera followed with the point-after kick to account for the final margin.
Backup running backs Jaylin Thomas and Zion Williams alternated carries for most of that drive, spelling starter Zyre Roundtree and giving scrambling quarterback T.J. Jackson a break.
“They both run the ball hard,” Zephyrhills coach Nick Carroll said of the backups.
Costly mistakes, including blown assignments in pass coverage, and shoddy tackling proved to be too much for the Bulldogs to overcome.
Glod completed 11-of-16 passes for 332 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. Olkiewicz was his favorite target and finished with seven catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns. Tommy Zitiello had the other scoring catch, a 50-yard play.
The Sharks also got a 3-yard scoring run from Collin Magill, Davis Ashcroft 12-yard field goal and a safety when Jackson was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
Zephyrhills fumbled twice in a game initially delayed by lightning. Thomas lost one fumble but later atoned for that miscue with an interception.