AAAA: Athens at Jersey Shore football preview

Athens facts: The Wildcats are in the district semifinals for a second straight year after beating Danville in last year’s AA quarterfinals. Athens has won four straight and six of its last seven. It blanked Class A top seed 28-0 last week and the starters have not allowed a point in two straight games. Kalen Keathley is one of District 4’s most dangerous players and Athens struggled when he was injured in Week 2 against North Penn-Mansfield and missed the rest of that game and the following game against Wellsboro. Despite missing 1 1/2 games, Keathley is having another explosive season and is second among District 4 receivers with 843 yards and 10 touchdowns. Expect Athens to try and get Keathley the ball early and often, especially with Jersey Shore allowing 151 passing yards per game. Quarterback Justin Reagan has come on strong in his first year starting, throwing for 1,318 yards. Athens features a balanced offense and running back Zack Jayne has surged in the second half of the year, finishing the regular season with 1,281 yards and 13 touchdowns. Jayne ran for 193 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries against a Sayre defense that was second in District 4 in yards allowed and that had won seven straight. Athens features an opportunistic defense that has forced 24 turnovers.

Athens player to watch–Kalen Rude: The sophomore cornerback and has been key to the defense shutting down opponents the past four weeks. Rude has three interceptions and also has returned a fumble for a touchdown.

Jersey Shore facts: The Bulldogs also have won four straight games and are seeking a fourth straight district final appearance. Jersey Shore lost many of last year’s starters, but has steadily improved throughout the season and rallied from the playoff bubble to earn the top seed for a second time in three years. The Bulldogs are solid on both sides of the ball and also are a resilient team that has won five of their seven games after trailing in the second half, including in last week’s 14-10 victory at Central Mountain. The defense has allowed just four touchdowns during the winning streak and had six sacks against Central Mountain. Defensive lineman Mason Seacrist has a team-high 14 tackles for loss and six sacks. Harlan Baier had five sacks in a season-opening win at Bellefonte and linebackers Hunter O’Connor and Dominic Williams are having breakout seasons. O’Connor is the team’s leading tackler and has 21 tackles the last two weeks. Williams has 10 tackles for loss, has intercepted four passes and added three sacks. Williams returned an interception for a game-winning touchdown in a dramatic 19-13 win at Shikellamy that turned Jersey Shore’s season around and sparked the four-game winning streak. Quarterback Elijah Shemory has broken single-season records for yards (2,067) and touchdowns (25) in his first year starting. Hunter Frantz, Kevin Titus and Austin Breon all stepped up after District 4 leading receiver Todd Sanford tore his ACL. Sophomore running back Kyle Tomb has been a workhorse in first two varsity starts, topping 100 yards in consecutive games and running for 299 yards and a touchdown.

Jersey Shore player to watch–Jacob Jones: The two-way starting lineman has been one of Jersey Shore’s most valuable players and is a key again tonight. Jones has a team-high eight sacks and also has 10 tackles for loss.

Winner plays: No. 3 Shikellamy or No. 2 Selinsgrove

Outlook: This entire field is about as balanced as they come and this is an intriguing matchup. Both teams are surging at the right time and are well-coached. This should be an exciting game. Then again, nearly every Jersey Shore game has been exciting this season.