JERSEY SHORE - Although the temperatures were getting down into the frigid range Friday night, the Shikellamy Braves warmed things up in a hurry at Thompson Street Stadium in their HAC-I football matchup with Jersey Shore.
Scoring on their very first offensive play of the game, the Braves ran off 35 straight points in the first half before holding off a second-half surge by Shore for a 35-21 win.
"I love the way our team is progressing," said Shikellamy head coach Todd Tilford. "Offensively we came out and got things going right from the start. Shikellamy has had some trouble playing here in the past so I am real pleased with the way we got started and kept things going tonight."
Obviously disappointed with the loss, Shore head coach Tom Gravish felt the quick start by the Braves was too much for his young Bulldogs.
"I am not sure how many plays it took them to score those first three touchdowns, but I don't think it was too many," said Gravish. "They jumped out of the gate quickly on us and that has been a problem of ours all year. We like to think that we had good practices, but I don't think our confidence is good coming into a game. Once we get smacked in the nose and fall behind by a touchdown or two, our confidence gets shaken a little bit."
After stopping a Shore drive to open the game, the Braves scored on their first play of the night when Ernie Tyler and Garrett Kemberling teamed up on a 60-yard catch-and-run for the game's first touchdown. Seth Burk's first of five successful PATs made it 7-0 Braves.
Following a pair of Shore punts sandwiched around the first of five Shore turnovers, Dwayne Pepper took over the Shik offensive attack as he scored three times on runs of 45, 33 and 22 yards. For the game, Pepper finished with 127 yards and the three scores on just seven touches.
"I think you saw the type of runner Dwayne is tonight," said Tilford. "The way he ran tonight shows that he is someone who has to be reckoned with."
When a back has a night such as the one turned in by Pepper, that usually means one thing. The offensive line is doing some good things up front.
"I think in the beginning of the season, we were getting some good initial contact," said Tilford about the blocking of the offensive line. "But for the past couple of weeks, the guys have been doing a real good job of staying on blocks and I think that is a result of them understanding the offense a little better."
Trailing 35-0 and with the Mercy Rule in effect, the Bulldogs put together some good things on both sides of the line of scrimmage with an offensive touchdown and two more scores by the defensive unit.
"We challenged them at halftime and told them, 'Hey, we expect better than this," said Gravish. "We told them that not only do we (coaches) expect better things from them, but they also have better expectations of themselves. It was nice to see them come out and play hard in the second half. The Shik guys were younger than their starters out there, but our guys are that young when we start the games."
Shore's first score came from Levi Lorson as the freshman running back got his chance when Utoah Agae-Naipo was knocked out of the game early in the second half. Lorson finished with 49 yards and a touchdown on seven touches.
"He (Agae-Naipo) got bruised there and right now we aren't sure what the extent of his injury is," said Gravish. "I wouldn't have ruled out that he could have played because he is such a competitive warrior out there, but at that point of the game we thought we would go with Levi and he did a heckuva job by coming up with some nice runs."
Still trailing 35-7, the Bulldogs closed out their scoring with a pair of defensive touchdowns when Stephan Bair returned an interception 42 yards for a score before Jordan Tawney completed the second-half Bulldog surge by returning a Brave fumble to the house from 12 yards out.
After a rough 1-3 start, the Braves have climbed the mountain to get over the .500 mark with their third win in a row.
"We have had some good weeks of practice and I think the kids are getting excited now," Tilford said. "To get over .500 on the road and be able to go back home against a good Danville team is going to be a good test for us. I think our kids are ready for a challenge like that."
Still looking for that elusive first win of the season, the Bulldogs hit the roadways next Friday when they travel to Selinsgrove to battle the Seals before returning to Thompson Street Stadium the following week for the home finale when they host the Milton Black Panthers.