JERSEY SHORE - When Jersey Shore hosted Mifflinburg in its Heartland-I football contest Friday night, it was a battle between two teams looking for their first win of the 2012 season.
When the issue was decided, Mifflinburg claimed its first win, 17-0, at Thompson Street Stadium.
Shore head coach Tom Gravish was left with a somewhat bitter taste because he felt going into the contest that his team matched up real well with the Wildcats.
"Unfortunately for us, they had a few stronger horses than we did when the going got tough down the stretch,"?said Gravish.
Although neither team scored in the first half, both teams had golden opportunities slip through their fingers.
On their third possession, the Bulldogs drove from their own 25 to the Mifflinburg 3 where a fourth down play came up inches short of the end zone.
"When we had our opportunities in the first half, we didn't cash in on them," said Gravish. "We had them penned up at the end of the half and we let them out of that situation. To beat a team like these guys (Wildcats) over here, you are going to have to make those plays. If you don't make them, you don't win the game."
Although they had good field position throughout much of the opening half, the Wildcats waited until the last minute to post their biggest threat on the final play of the half.
With the ball at midfield, the 'Cats opted for the halfback option pass from Dustin Mertz to Pat Crissman good for 41 yards to the Shore 9-yard line. However, with time running out, an attempt to spike the ball and kill the clock failed and the half ended scoreless.
Again the two teams took turns exchanging blows in the first nine minutes of the second half until Mifflinburg head coach Jason Dressler called on the right leg of Victor Suquet and the sidewinder delivered with a 37-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 3-0 lead heading home.
"We came out in the second half, knowing that we had to throw the ball," said Dressler. "They (Shore) were playing us tough with eight and nine guys in the box so we had to get the ball out on the perimeter a little bit. With that we were able to stretch them out somewhat and that opened up the running a little bit and allowed us to finish some drives."
Just as effective as Shore had been at times during the first half, it had more than its share of problems when it shot itself in the foot time after time down the stretch.
"We gave them some fits defensively in the second half," Dressler said. "Our guys were aggressive, they swarmed to the ball and started playing defense the way we want our kids to play defense."
One of the big reasons for Mifflinburg's success and the Shore problems in the second half was the play of two-way tackle Nazar Mironenko who took over control of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
"When we were able to get that field goal in the second half, it really got our emotions going," said Mironenko. "We definitely changed our attitude defensively in the second half and that made a big difference for us."
Leading 3-0, Mifflinburg increased its advantage to 10-0 on its first possession of the fourth quarter, a possession culminated by an 18-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kyle Failor to Oakley Whitesel.
"I thought our defense played pretty well for about the whole game," said Gravish. "They got to us in the fourth quarter and when they started moving the ball on us, we just couldn't turn the field position situation around."
Constantly harassing the Shore ball carriers, Mironenko made his final statement slightly more than four minutes into the final period when he all but sealed the deal by forcing and then recovering a Shore fumble to set up the 'Cats final score of the night.
"We feed off each other on offense and defense," said Mironenko. "It usually works the other way, but tonight it was the offense that fed off the defense, especially in the second half. When we were able to stop their offense by playing tough defense, things worked out really well for us."
Following the game, Gravish was quick to point out the effect Mironenko had on the outcome of the game.
"I would have to watch the film, but on just some of the basic plays that I saw him make, he was definitely the player of the game in this one," said Gravish. "After watching him on film and then seeing him tonight, he is the most impressive player I have seen all year."
As for many of the mistakes his team made in the loss, Gravish felt it was largely due to one thing.
"We didn't block," he said. "We have to block better than that and I am not used to my teams blocking like that. I can't wait to get to practice on Monday because we are going to work on blocking and we are going to find five guys who are going to block for us next Friday."