SELINSGROVE It's becoming the Jersey Shore way.
The Bulldogs have been battling from behind all season after starting the year 1-4, so when they stared down a second-half deficit in the District 4 Class AAA championship game on Friday night at Selinsgrove, these Bulldogs weren't fazed.
They patiently waited for their turn to make a play and when the opportunity presented itself, the Bulldogs struck and they came away with a 20-16 victory over the Seals for their first District 4 football championship since 1997.
Billy Boone Costa (33) closes in a Selinsgrove’s Mason Pope fumble Friday night at Selinsgrove.
"Nothing scares us," said Jersey Shore defensive end Zachary Miller, who returned an interception for a touchdown in the first half. "We're brave and we just never get down on ourselves."
"We have heart and we fight from the beginning to the end," said Jersey Shore quarterback Logan English, who threw the game-winning touchdown pass with four minutes left.
The Bulldogs (6-6) will travel West next week to play Clearfield, a 21-6 winner over Somerset on Friday night. The site and time of the game will be announced.
It's an unlikely destination for a Jersey Shore team that was 0-10 last year and 2-6 through eight games this year before running off four consecutive victories, including back-to-back road wins over Shikellamy and Selinsgrove to win its first District 4 Class AAA championship in 16 years.
The road to the PIAA playoffs appeared it was going to be a smooth one for the Bulldogs as they took a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. A turnover, however, gave the defending champion Seals life and they turned the Shore miscue into an Isaiah Rapp 8-yard touchdown pass to Mason Pope on a second-and-goal.
The Seals' offense carried the momentum into the second half and although the didn't score on the initial possession, Selinsgrove flipped field position with a 11-play drive that finished with a punt that left the Bulldogs at their own 7-yard line. Three plays later, the Bulldogs were forced to punt from their end zone and the Seals took the ball from the Bulldogs 40.
Another Rapp completion - this one a 21-yarder to Ethan Trautman set the Seals up at the Jersey Shore 14. Four plays later, Angelo Martin worked himself into the end zone from 4 yards out to give Selinsgrove its first lead, 16-14, with 2:42 remaining in the third quarter.
Selinsgrove (6-6) never saw Jersey Shore territory again and its final four drives began at its own 8, 19, 9 and 27.
"We got the lead, but then we got in the situation where we didn't get field position," Selinsgrove coach Dave Hess said. "It is one of those situations where your offense has to get first downs and has to be able to move the sticks at that point. That's what beat us."
Two of those Selinsgrove drives ended with punts, one with a Billy Boone Costa interception the third of the game for the Shore defense - and the final one on downs. The Bulldogs' defense allowed only one first down on those four drives and did their job until the offense finally took advantage of the field position.
An Utoa Agae-Naipo 38-yard run, after the second of two Selinsgrove fourth-quarter punts, put the Bulldogs at the Selinsgrove 6 with under 5 minutes remaining. Disaster nearly struck, however, as Agae-Naipo was dropped for a 2-yard loss on his first carry from the 6 and then a fumbled pitch led to a loss of 5 more yards. Facing a third-and-goal from the 13, English dropped back to pass and floated a ball to Troy Rowan who won his one-on-one matchup and rolled into the end zone for a 20-16 lead with four minutes remaining.
"We tried about everything else," Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. "Troy practiced hard all week during special teams and he stood out like an all-stater. I said Troy Rowan is going to have a big play in this game to win the game and sure enough he won the game with that kind of catch."
The English completion was the first for positive yards for the Bulldogs, who attempted just four passes, including one that lost 2 yards to Boone Costa.
"It's not about the completions," English said. "It's about making plays when you need to make them and that is what we did. It was a clutch moment."
The Bulldogs offense managed just 153 yards of total offense, but their output was defined by three plays a 64-yard Jordan Tawney touchdown run in the first quarter out of the Wildcat, Agae-Naipo's 38-yard rush on the game-winning drive and the deciding 13-yard pass from English.
Agae-Naipo finished with 77 rushing yards on 19 carries and Tawney had 76 on 10.
Miller, who gave Shore a 14-3 lead with his interception return, also came up with a couple of big sacks, including one that pushed the Seals back on their final desperation drive. Bryce Charles, Ethan Kutza and Agae-Naipo also helped limit the Seals to 15 first-half rushing yards and 81 total on 45 carries.
The win was for Jersey Shore's first District 4 title since beating Danville in 1997.