Bulldog rally falls short in PIAA playoffs

Jersey Shore’s Hunter Frantz breaks up touchdown to Johnstown’s Theo Tinsley Saturday at Williamsport High School in the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs.

As the weather conditions turned nasty, Jersey Shore started playing its best football. A team that has overcome so many obstacles this season, nearly did so again Saturday at Williamsport, thundering back against long odds.

Jersey Shore overcame five second-half deficits and captured the District 4 Class AAAA championship during the first 12 weeks, but could not come all the way back from a 22-point halftime deficit Saturday as Johnstown held on for a thrilling 42-32 PIAA first-round tournament win. What a ride it was, though, for a team that lost most its starters from last year, but that laughed at the thought of rebuilding. Instead, it won six straight games to seize a second district title in four years and lay the foundation for more future success.

This was Jersey Shore football in 2016. An opponent might beat Jersey Shore, but the Bulldogs sure made it earn everything. And this team earned a whole lot, a fact driven home by the large group of Jersey Shore fans still cheering loud in the rain 20 minutes after the game ended.

“Even though we were down by 22 at the half, to make this comeback through the wind speed and game stoppages and their tremendous athletes says a lot,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “We’re so proud of our players. They never quit believing in each other. They battled all the way to the end.”

Johnstown (12-1) won its first state tournament game and broke the program record for wins. Quar­terback Aus­tin Barber threw for 272 yards and three touchdowns and Bryce Gibson ran for 120 yards and two scores while also returning the opening kickoff 72 yards for a score. The Trojans next play Bethlehem Cath­olic in next weekend’s quarterfinals.

“We have a veteran group of kids and I was really happy with the way they competed today,” Johnstown coach Tony Penna Jr. said. “They’ve done it all year long. There’s some seniors that have a knack for making big plays and our quarterback is a junior and he keeps his head and stays calm and we made plays when we needed them.”

Johnstown made a lot of those plays in the first half, but needed them all in the second half as Jersey Shore rallied and scored 25 points. Elijah Shemory threw for 238 of his 327 yards and four touchdowns in the second half. He found Kevin Titus (7 catches for 134 yards) three times for touchdowns and also hit Austin Breon (3 catches, 135 yards) for a 92-yard touchdown that Titus opened up with a terrific block.

Breon’s touchdown and Titus’s three-yard touchdown catch pulled Jersey Shore within 36-26 with 3 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Johnstown answered with a long 13-play scoring drive but Shore again immediately responded as Shemory threw a 52-yard rocket into a gusty wind, hitting Titus in stride for a touchdown that made it 42-32 with 8:44 remaining.

“We just felt like we ran out of time,” Gravish said. “They didn’t put their heads down at halftime when they could have, especially with how the conditions switched. It didn’t effect our guys. It seems like we played better when the conditions got worse.”

Jersey Shore had only one timeout remaining following Titus’s third touchdown, but Hunter Frantz gave it another chance when he intercepted his second pass, leaping high and preventing a game-clinching completion to West Virginia-bound Exree Loe (8 catches, 155 yards). Jersey Shore moved from its 14 to the Johnstown 35-yard line but Ru’Shaud Jordan-Maines ended the comeback hopes, intercepting a slant pass with 2:33 remaining.

“We let them back in the game but we stuck through it,” Gibson, who will play at Youngstown State next fall, said. “We played through the adversity.”

Gibson immediately had Jersey Shore playing catch-up, returning the opening kickoff for a score. Gibson fielded the one-hopper at the 28-yard line, hesitated for a second, freezing the defense before exploding through the wedge and going untouched the score. That set an explosive early tone as Johnstown quickly scored again on its first offensive series with Barber finding Jordan-Maines for a 33-yard touchdown.

“We practiced the wedge all week,” Gibson said. “Coach P put that in for the first time this week and the first time we used it, it worked.”

Shemory started heating up late in the first quarter as Jersey Shore moved 40 yards and cut the deficit in half when Kyle Tomb ran for a 1-yard touchdown. Johnstown, however, opened things up late in the second quarter, scoring on consecutive drives as Barber again found Jordan-Maines for a touchdown before Gibson ran in from 13 yards out.

Jersey Shore moved the ball well throughout the first half, but the big difference was Johnstown finished its drives and the Bulldogs did not. Barber also repeatedly made big plays, especially on third-and-long situations. Couple that with Johnstown using its speed to turn potential losses into significant gains and Jersey Shore appeared in big trouble, down 22 at halftime.

Instead, the Bulldogs fought off the ropes and had Johnstown scrambling after Frantz forced a Loe fumble that Hunter O’Con­nor returned to the 3-yard line, setting up a Titus touchdown that made it a 10-point game.

“We just said we didn’t think we were playing Jersey Shore football the way we like to play it, our style, our brand,” Gravish said. “We weren’t finishing plays offensively and defensively, so we challenged and them and said wipe the score clean and just play. It’s a new half, but there’s no plays that can score three touchdowns. We have to get a first down first and then another first down and piggy back good plays after good plays and for the most part, we did that, but they had a couple of good answers to those drives.”

Mason Seachrist was outstanding up front for Jersey Shore, recording a sack and three tackles for losses. Jacob Jones, Tyler Smith and David Tomb also had sacks while Dominic Williams led the team in tackles. All those players, along with most starters on both sides of the ball, return next year.

While yesterday looked like an ending, it might have just been a start.

Johnstown    14 15 7 6–42

Jersey Shore    7 0 19 6–32

First Quarter

Jo–Bryce Gibson 72-yard kickoff return (Mike Marino kick), 11:49

Jo–Ru’Shaud Jordan-Maines 33 pass from Austin Barber (Marino kick), 8:02

JS–Kyle Tomb 1 run (Cameron Griffin kick), 2:15

Second Quarter

Jo–Jordan Maines 20 pass from Barber (Marino kick), 5:23

Jo–Gibson 13 run (Barber pass to Elijah Brehm), 1:40

Third Quarter

JS–Kevin Titus 12 pass from Elijah Shemory (Griffin kick), 10:10

Jo–Exree Loe 64 pass from Barber (Marino kick), 8:48

JS–Austin Breon 92 pass from Shemory (pass failed), 4:39

JS–Titus 3 pass from Shemory (pass failed), 3:10

Fourth Quarter

Jo–Gibson 2 run (pass failed), 9:29

JS–Titus 52 pass from Shemory (pass failed), 8:44

TEAM STATISTICS      Jo          JS

First Downs                   21          16

Rushes-yards            45-162      28-5

Passing yards              272         325

Total Yards                  434         330

Comp-Att-Int         15-24-2      13-31-1

Fumbles-lost                1-1         0-0

Penalties-yards          10-85       5-17


RUSHING: Johnstown, Bryce Gibson  27-120, 2 TDs; Austin Barber 15-42; Exree Loe 1-1; Tavis Price 2-(-1). Jersey Shore, Jarrett Guthrie 11-15; Kyle Tomb 4-9, TD; Christian Tawney 4-7; Elijah Shemory 9-(-26).

PASSING: Johnstown, Barber 15-24-2, 272 yards, 3 TDs. Jersey Shore, Shemory 13-30-1, 325 yards, 4 TDs; Tawney 0-1-0.

RECEIVING: Johnstown, Loe 8-155, TD; Ru’Shaud Jordan-Maines 4-80, 2 TDs; Price 2-26; Elijah Brehm 1-11. Jersey Shore, Kevin Titus 7-134, 3 TDs; Austin Breon 3-135, TD; Hunter Frantz 2-42; Tawney 1-14.

INTERCEPTIONS: Johnstown, Jordan-Maines. Jersey Shore, Frantz (2).

Records: Johnstown 12-1. Jersey Shore 9-4.