Jordan Tawney sprinted a few yards upfield before two Montoursville defenders converged and hit him. Instead of going down, Tawney drove his legs, carried the tacklers and then dove forward, earning a first down.
It was a play that spoke volumes. Like so many Jersey Shore football players, Tawney is an underclassman. And like so many Jersey Shore players Tawney has no quit. The Bulldogs trailed 45-14 at the time, but the Bulldogs never let up Friday against Montoursville. They lost 51-22, but the Bulldogs outgained the District 4 Class AA title contender and showed the kind of determination that eventually will transform moral victories into real ones.
Jersey Shore has struggled for years, but this team could be a sleeping giant. Loaded with promising young players, the Bulldogs are building something good. They are 0-3 right now and may take more lumps this season, but good days are ahead.
Jersey Shore is 0-3 so far this season after a 51-22 loss at Montoursville.
"To me, we still have the 36 best guys in America and it's a pleasure to work with them every day," first-year coach Tom Gravish said. "We're going to be positive with them and they've been positive with us. We really like working with this group and we see positive things coming every day. One of these days we're going to put it all together. They just need a little confidence."
Gravish starts four freshmen and regularly plays seven freshmen on offense and defense. The seniors he uses are quality players and leaders but the core of this team is underclassmen. Players like running back Utoah Agae-Naipo, quarterback Logan English, running back/receiver Boone Costa and linemen Tim Wool and Ethan Kutza all have made big plays early this season and look like they could be outstanding players in years to come.
Agae-Naipo already is one of the area's premier running backs and the underclassmen all can play well. Jersey Shore has played defending District 4 Class AAA champion Shamokin and Class AA title contender Montoursville so the results might not be what it wants, but the talent and dedication are there. Those are two huge building blocks.
Now, the administration has to let this coaching staff mold this team. Last year's coach Tony Confer was let go after only two years so the current seniors are experiencing their third coaching staff, their third system, in four years. Gravish led Williamsport to back-to-back winning seasons in 2009 and 2010 after the Millionaires had endured six straight losing seasons. Top assistant Alex Jackson led Loyalsock to the 2009 District 4 Class AA championship so this is a strong staff. If given the time to work, this staff and this program could do some big things.
"They switch coaches every two years up there and the players can't get a feel for what's going on. They brought Tom and Alex in and they're good coaches but the administration up there has to stick with them for a couple years to give the players a chance to learn the system," said Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer, a Jersey Shore alum. "They have some good young players. Give these guys a few years to work with these young kids as they come up and they're going to be tough."
The HAC-I is as strong as ever this season and Jersey Shore has a tough non-conference game at Bloomsburg Friday. The record might not show it by season's end, but progress is being made. The Bulldogs move the ball well and feature an exciting, balanced offense. The defense made some strides against Montoursville so things are trending upward. Jersey Shore has turned the ball over 11 times and that has been its undoing, but those are correctable mistakes. Those are youthful mistakes.
The players have the right attitudes and keep working hard. Forget the record because these players are winners. And in coming years expect the record to reflect that.
"We like every one of those kids. We've been telling our kids when you have a new staff and a new group of kids and you're just learning it every week is really a week to have huge improvement and that's what we keep preaching," Gravish said. "We're playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores and the seniors are giving everything they have. The spirit is good and eventually we're going to hit our stride."
Just give it time.
ON THE WAY UP: North Penn was ravaged by graduation following last year's Class AA Eastern Conference title, but things are looking up for the young Panthers. North Penn thumped Canton, 39-14 Saturday and, if it can beat Towanda this week, could be set up to make a nice run down the stretch. The Panthers competed hard against solid Loyalsock and Athens teams the first two weeks and put it all together at Canton, scoring on three of their first four possessions, forcing four turnovers and returning two for touchdowns.
"I think the biggest thing they learned from Week 1 and Week 2 was they can start playing with some teams," North Penn coach Tom Dickinson said. "So we said this week has to become like a new season. Forget those first two games and start all over again and we did."
They did so in emphatic fashion, taking a 20-0 first-quarter lead against a team that has reached the postseason six straight years. Quarterback Taylor Hillson hurt opponents with his arm the first two weeks and did so with his legs Saturday, rushing for three touchdowns while Bryce Zaparzynski and Brandon Carlson sparked a hard-hitting defense that repeatedly made big plays at key times.
Many of the current starters were role players last year, but have started to gain confidence each week as they get more experience. Big strides were made from Week 1 to Week 2 and North Penn put everything together against Canton. The Panthers have reached the postseason two straight years while winning 16 games.
Reaching the postseason seemed like a long shot during the preseason but this team never believed that. Anything seems possible now and a team that won its last four games a year ago while capturing the first postseason championship in program history is eager to build on its tradition no matter what the odds look like.
"We definitely have to go on a run if we're going to make playoffs this year," Hillson said. "We definitely want to prove that we came to play this year."
BOUNCING BACK: Bucktail dropped its season opener in heart-breaking fashion, losing with 12 seconds remaining to East Juniata, 27-22. The Bucks had two weeks to think about the game and instead of moping about it, took their frustration out on Wyalusing. Using an impressive all-around display Bucktail pounded Wyalusing, 36-0, building a 28-point first-quarter lead.
Bucktail scored touchdowns in all three phases with Chuck Probst returning a punt 69 yards for a touchdown and Trent Risley returning a fumble 96 yards for another score. The Bucks forced four turnovers and first-time starting quarterback Ryan Bratton threw his fourth touchdown pass, this one to Matt Horton as the Bucks showed why they might be ready to build off last year's terrific 8-2 campaign.
Dr. Masse's Top Five
1. Montoursville (2-1): Lost in Montoursville's defensive show Friday when it returned three interceptions for touchdowns was Curtis Miller's special teams performance. The speedy, shifty sophomore averaged 46 yards on two kickoff returns and also returned a punt 28 yards. All those returns set up short fields and touchdowns. Montoursville features outstanding players on both sides of the ball who receive the bulk of the publicity, but keep an eye on Miller. He provides a weapon in the return game and, considering the strength of Montoursville's schedule, he could become quite a factor as the season progresses.
2. Lewisburg (2-1): Quarterback Nick Castigliola shined in only his third varsity start last Friday, throwing for 193 yards and four touchdowns while leading Lewisburg to a 35-0 win over Hughesville. The defense was equally impressive, allowing only 85 yards. Ben Frankel could be a player to watch after intercepting two passes and catching a touchdown. Lewisburg is fairly young and has a first-year coach in Jeremy Winn but is making strides. The schedule is tough the next few weeks, but if the Green Dragons endure that they could be a tough out come playoff time.
3. South Williamsport (3-0): Following Friday's 55-0 demolition of CMVT, South Williamsport is 3-0 for the first time since 1999 and also perched atop the District 4 Class A point standings. Quarterback Tyler House threw a career-high four touchdowns against CMVT and Riley Hengler caught two of those. Hengler has big-time athletic ability and has the potential to be a big playmaker as this season progresses. South has a chance to make a major statement Friday when it hosts undefeated Southern Columbia. The Mounties must cut down on the four turnovers they had against CMVT but have been building toward a game like Friday's. A game like this-and the ones already won over Bloomsburg and Canton-are the ones South worked so hard to compete in during the offseason.
4. Muncy (3-0): It is tough to defend the run much better than Muncy is right now. The Indians have allowed just 67 yards in three games and the starting defense has surrendered only 14 points. The offensive line is jelling as well and Muncy is running the ball as well as its stuffs it. Troy Hembury recorded his third straight 100-yard game in Friday's 48-8 Old Shoe win over Montgomery and leads the area with 393 yards and six touchdowns. Muncy is 3-0 for the first time since 2002 and will try to exact a measure of revenge this Friday against Warrior Run after losing, 14-6 to it last year.
5. Milton (2-1): The Black Panthers are gathering momentum despite losing the majority of their starters from last year's District 4 Class AAA finalist. The offensive line was outstanding, three running backs ran well and Milton thumped Mifflinburg, 26-10. The Panthers defeated Mifflinburg for the first time in nine years and moved the ball as well as any team has the past two seasons against Mifflinburg's defense. Jayson English ran for 145 yards and a touchdown while Jared Fogelman overcame an ankle injury to run for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Josh Brown added a touchdown and caught three passes. The Panthers have outscored their last two opponents, 68-24 and Friday's game against undefeated Central Columbia could be a dandy.
Player of the Week
Taylor Hillson, North Penn: The senior quarterback was dazzling against Canton, running for 187 yards and three touchdowns while throwing for his fifth touchdown in three games. Hillson also was a defensive factor, making five tackles and recovering a fumble that ended Canton's comeback hopes.
Game of the Week
Lewisburg at Shikellamy: The Green Dragons head to Sunbury and compete against their former coach, Todd Tilford Friday. Tilford took a program that had won 10 games in seven years to the 2010 state semifinals and led it to no worse than the district semifinals from 2008-2011. The players always competed hard for Tilford and expect them to go even harder against him in what should be a great game.