Many Jersey Shore fans, as well as this reporter, did not understand why the Bulldogs were playing Allentown Central Catholic on the Vikings home field last Friday. It was a similar story throughout the state with many teams on the upper side of the state tournament bracket hosting games, but that did not make it any less logical.
While Central Catholic enjoyed its normal game day routine, Jersey Shore boarded a bus and drove 2 1/2 hours, playing at legendary J. Birney Crum Stadium. The only people who never worried about it were the Bulldogs.
They simply relished the opportunity, playing at a stadium which seats 15,000 people and whose field is named after Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Reed. Then Jersey Shore owned the opportunity Friday night.
The Bulldogs again were road warriors, rallying from a four-point halftime deficit and defeating Central Catholic, 20-7 in their state tournament opener. Jersey Shore (13-0) won at Crestwood and Lampeter-Strasburg on its way to the state final a year ago and again turned a road trip into a business trip. And after taking care of business, Jersey Shore enjoyed quite a fun ride back home.
“I went to a meeting this week and as soon as I go in this meeting everyone is asking me ‘Why do we have to go down there?’ I said, ‘We’re going down to play on a historic field at J. Birney Crum Stadium and if you can’t get pumped up to play at Andre Reed Field something is wrong,’”Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said after his Bulldogs secured their fifth state tournament win in three years. “I said we were meant to come here to play in a stadium with all this history and all this tradition. There’s been so many college football players who have played in this stadium and a lot of NFL players, too. We just embraced it.”
Jersey Shore will try doing it again, since the PIAA again showed little logic or consistency and sent it packing for its quarterfinal against Meadville Saturday at Clarion University. Meadville has an hour less drive despite Jersey Shore being on the upper side of the bracket which over the past two decades has guaranteed those teams games in their respective districts. And nevermind that several state tournament teams are hosting playoff games as the PIAA seemingly continues making things up as they go along.
But the bottom line is Jersey Shore does not care where it goes. Put the game on Mars and the Bulldogs will eagerly pursue the opportunity.
Jersey Shore has built its tradition upon toughness and taking on every challenge thrown its way. So, the Bulldogs never blinked after hitting the road again against Central Catholic. That remained the case after Vikings took a 7-3 halftime lead. Jersey Shore just kept hammering away and dominated the second half, scoring 17 straight points while earning a quarterfinal showdown against District 10 champion Meadville.
“Our coaches were saying all week, ‘They want us to bring it to them,’” defensive end Tate Sechrist said. “That’s what we tried to do and ended up doing it.”
“It’s extra motivation at that point,” linebacker Karter Peacock said after playing a tremendous game and making 15 tackles. “We want to beat them at their house.”
Jersey Shore has won at three teams’ houses the past two years, overcoming deficits each time. Jersey Shore has rallied for four comeback wins in those five state tournament victories the past two seasons. The Bulldogs started breaking Central Catholic down on both sides of the ball throughout the second half as the lines took control. Haydn Packer ran for 130 yards and two touchdowns, Brady Jordan totaled 100 yards and Cayden Hess made four crucial catches which helped spark scoring drives.
Once again everything came together far from Thompson Street Stadium. Once again, enemy territory sure felt like Thompson Street Stadium. Even in a cavernous stadium which seats 15,000, the loyal Bulldog fans made the presence felt and the post game basically become a community celebration on that hallowed turf in Allentown.
Clarion again is a long trip but so what? It’s another great facility and, more important, another monster opportunity. Jersey Shore doesn’t really care where it plays. They just want to embrace the moment and last Friday they sure did.
“We said it’s just like last year when we had to go to Lampeter-Strasburg and went almost three hours,” Gravish said. “We embraced that. That just made that celebration that much better on the way home.”
Sechrist watched from the sidelines a year ago when Jersey Shore made its state final run. The junior, like many of the current starters, was good but was stuck behind older players who also had shined. He had to wait for his time and Sechrist kept working. All that hard work has paid off with a breakout season and Sechrist picked the perfect time to play maybe his best game yet.
Sechrist collected two big fourth-quarter sacks against Central Catholic. The junior was a consistent disruptor all night, applying eight quarterback hurries as Jersey Shore slowed the passing game. He also was a big part of a stingy run defense and made six tackles, including three for loss.
“It was amazing. It was my first time, so it was amazing to soak it all in and play at this amazing stadium,” Sechrist said. “It was just great to soak it all in.”
Sechrist kept soaking into the backfield and both his sacks were timely ones which produced 18 yards in losses. He also broke up a screen pass on Central Catholic’s penultimate series which helped Jersey Shore force a turnover on downs and run the clock inside two minutes. Combining with fellow linemen Connor Davis, Luke Springman, Dierk Stetts, Zach Rooney and Jared Palski, Sechrist is part of a new-look but strong line which has helped Jersey Shore surrender just one touchdown since Week 8. He has a team-high seven sacks as well as 16 tackles for loss.
“We noticed they had been gashing people with the counters and Tate Sechrist played outstanding,” Gravish said. “He was cutting down some counters back the other way.”
NTL LOVE: Canton made history twice Saturday when it dethroned defending state champion Steelton-Highspire and won a riveting 32-27 Class A state tournament contest. The Warriors (12-0) not only won the first state tournament game in program history, but also tied the Northern Tier League record for wins by a team in a single season. They also earned a spot against District 2 champion Old Forge in next weekend’s quarterfinals as the top two-ranked teams in the state collide.
Canton played its second straight playoff game in its home away from home at Towanda’s Endless Mountains Complex. Warrior fans made their presence felt but so did football fans across the Northern Tier League. They are rivals during the season but they all Warriors right now as Canton continues building on one of the best seasons in its program’s history.
“It felt pretty great,” linebacker Michael Davis said after breaking up the game’s final pass and dropping two punts inside the seven-yard line which helped set up eventual Canton touchdowns. “We had everyone from the Northern Tier here for us. It was pretty crazy.”
Dr. Masse’s Final Top Five
1. Jersey Shore (13-0): Offensive linemen Luke Springman, Dierk Stetts, Zach Rooney, Donald Steinbacher and Jared Palski changed the game’s complexion in the second half at Central Catholic. The line surged and started imposing its will while Haydn Packer started piling up the yards. Brady Jordan scored on a go-ahead 3-yard third-quarter touchdown before Jersey Shore put together a 68-yard scoring drive and went up 20-7 on Packer’s 1-yard fourth-quarter score.
“Offensively, the line did a phenomenal job in the second half. They did a great job in the first half, too, but in the second half they just turned it up,” Packer said. “Holes were opening up and everything was just kind of going our way.”
2. Canton (12-0): When Steel-High scored in the first-half’s final 30 seconds, Canton found itself trailing for the first time all season. That says a lot about how good the Warriors have been this year. Canton was not flustered either. The Warriors recovered two third-quarter fumbles, quickly scored after each one and built an 11-point lead they never relinquished. Steel-High features some tremendous athletes, including 3,000-yard quarterback Andrew Erby and 1,300-yard receiver Tyrone Moore. Still, Canton neutralized an explosive offense and held the Rollers 20 points below the average of 47 points per game. Austin Allen and Bailey Ferguson covered well and safety Weston Bellows intercepted two passes.
“I thought we did an extremely good job of not letting them get over the top much,” two-way lineman Mason Shultz, who recovered one of those third-quarter fumbles, said. “And our corners did a great job keeping them contained for the most part.”
3. Montoursville (7-6): The Warriors produced a valiant effort at Danville, losing a 35-28 District 4 Class AAA championship heartbreaker. Danville repeated as champions, but Montoursville did everything possible to win the game and different players battled through injuries to nearly pull the upset against a team which had defeated it by 21 in Week 7. Montoursville twice led by seven in the first half and twice pulled within seven after Danville had gone up 14 in the second half. Montoursville’s seniors graduate having helped the program reach four consecutive district finals while capturing two district crowns and three league championships. Maddix Dalena threw for 218 yards and two touchdowns in his final game, throwing a touchdown pass in an eighth straight contest. Brayden Brown capped a super postseason by scoring three touchdowns, Marco Pulizzi caught four passes for 120 yards and Rocco Pulizzi closed a brilliant scholastic career second on the program’s all-time rushing list and as its top touchdown producer. Linebacker Kayden Frame excelled offensively when called upon late this season and ran for 76 yards against Danville.
4. Williamsport (6-6): Chuck Crews and his staff resigned last week following a successful seven-year run. Crews and his staff turned around what had a been a dormant program, leading it to 18 wins their first two seasons after Williamsport had combined for five the previous two seasons. The 2016 season included the program’s first district title since 1995, a Wyoming Valley Conference championship, the first state tournament win in program history, 12 wins and six all-state selections. The Millionaires reached a second straight district final this past season and return a quality nucleus next season, so the incoming staff will have something strong with which to work.
5. Muncy (10-2): Although its three-year district championship reign ended, Muncy still won a title for a sixth straight season, capturing the NTL-II crown. The Indians also won 10 games for the first time in the 2000s, winning 10 straight at one point. The seniors graduate with three district championships, four district final appearances, the first state tournament win in program history and 35 victories.
Players of the Week
Haydn Packer, Jersey Shore and Riley Parker, Canton: What propelled Jersey Shore and Canton most was their complete team performances, but Packer and Parker found a way to stand out. Packer ran for 130 yards and a touchdown while going over 1,000 this season. The all-state linebacker also was a defensive force, making a game-high 16 tackles and adding a sack. Parker ran for 138 yards and four touchdowns, becoming just the second Warrior in the 2000s to eclipse 20 touchdowns in a season. He was just as tough defensively, making three tackles for loss.
–Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse
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