Watch Jersey Shore practices the last few weeks and it is easy to discover why the defense has been so effective.
The secret lies in who the defense has been playing in those practices more than in how it has practiced. Senior wide receiver Troy Rowan has been wearing the defense out. Rowan has been going full-blast while making catch after catch. By the time Jersey Shore has taken the field for the games, the defense has felt comfortable knowing it has gone against one of the best receivers it will see.
It seemed fitting then that Rowan caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Jersey Shore's 20-16 District 4 Class AAA championship win Friday at Selinsgrove. He plays like a super star in practice and Rowan's performance is carrying over to his team's most crucial games.
"Another senior who is busting his butt is Troy Rowan. Every time at practice he goes above and beyond what we ask," Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. "The last four weeks he looks like he's an all-state receiver going against our defense."
And Jersey Shore has won all four of those games. The Bulldogs (6-6) play Clearfield in Friday's state tournament opening round at DuBois. They have risen from the ashes, going from 0-10 last year to district champions.
Rowan is a huge part of the renaissance. The senior's statistics do not blow anyone away but they tell only part of the story. The leadership he has displayed, the effort he has given has been contagious. Jersey Shore has rallied to win three of its last four games in the fourth quarter. This team feeds off its leaders and Rowan is there at the forefront.
"We just kept telling everyone to keep their heads up. No matter the situation, you still go 100 percent every time you're on the field," Rowan said. "There's a lot of motivation on the sideline and everyone is sticking together through thick and thin. We have had the motivation and the energy to go out and win every game the last four weeks."
Rowan's breakout game helped ignite the program-changing winning streak. He caught three passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in a late-minute 42-39 comeback win at Milton in Week 9. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak and convinced the Bulldogs anything was possible.
Rowan scored on a 60-yard touchdown in that game, displaying his speed and his power by shedding tacklers and breaking away. It was the latest clutch play by the senior leader who also came up big with some excellent catches in a 21-14 Week 4 overtime win over Bloomsburg.
Still, Rowan's signature moment came Friday at Selinsgrove. Jersey Shore trailed 16-14 with four minutes remaining and faced a 3rd-and-goal from the 13-yard line. Rowan was going against man-to-man coverage and had to make an excellent play when Logan English sent the ball his way. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder caught the ball with the defender near him and then rolled into the end zone, scoring a touchdown that he, his teammates and the community will never forget.
When Jersey Shore's team bus traveled up Allegheny Street toward Thompson Street Stadium late Friday night, residents constantly took pictures and some broke out their camcorders. That was how much it meant.
And wherever he goes, whatever he does, Rowan will know he was a big reason it happened.
"It's amazing. The fans have been so awesome," Rowan said. "I just love high school football."
Jersey Shore loves the way Rowan plays football. The next play, whether at practice or in a game, is the most important of his life. The results have helped make history. Score one for hard workers everywhere.
"He just goes so hard and that's what it takes," Gravish said. "Troy and all the seniors are men of great character."