Jersey Shore’s defense helps Bulldogs top Shikellamy

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore's Branden Wheary (17) stumbles for yards after being tripped up by Shikellamy's Nicholas Koontz in the second quarter.

JERSEY SHORE–Individually, Jersey Shore features some excellent defensive players. Collectively, those defenders form a stifling Orange and Black Curtain.

And that curtain draped itself over anyone and everyone wearing a white Shikellamy jersey Friday night at Thompson Street Stadium. Shikellamy may have discovered a cheat code for Jersey Shore’s video game-like offense, but it had no answers for a swarming defense that gobbled up ball-carriers like the Cookie Monster does Oreos.

Nobody has this season.

The Bulldogs allowed just 90 yards, recorded their second straight shutout and captured a third straight HAC-I championship, blanking Shikellamy, 16-0. Jersey Shore (5-0, 5-0) led just 7-0 early in the fourth quarter and was tested for the first time this season, but the defense never cracked and somehow made that 7-point lead feel untouchable.

“We all work together. We all pull one rope and every day we work hard at practice,” linebacker Gabe Packer said after making seven tackles and adding a sack. “We come to practice ready to roll and that’s what we expect to do in the games.”

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore's Owen Anderson (15) hauls in a pass over Shikellamy's John Peifer before running for a touchdown in the first quarter.

“Especially when we have struggles on one side of the ball like we did on offense tonight, the other side of the ball needs to show up and I think our defense usually does,” defensive linemen and constant run stuffer Lee Springman said. “Especially this game, we showed we were top notch and right there.”

That defense was everywhere against a vastly improved team which Jersey Shore routed 53-0, four weeks ago. The Bulldogs surrendered less than two yards per play and 30 of Shikellamy’s 90-yards came on a second-quarter Drew Balestrini run. Shikellamy did not reach positive yardage until that play, its 14th of the game.

Even with Shikellamy frequently stopping Jersey Shore scoring threats and being within one score most of the night, that 7-0 lead never seemed in danger. The Bulldogs never let Shikellamy move closer than the their 42-yard line and the Braves ran just eight of their 49 plays in Jersey Shore territory.

Each player had his moment, but this is a team that embraces the team concept like a newborn and they all shined because they all did their job. Linemen Springman, Dalton Dugan, Quincey Myers, Colin Samar and Ben Webb clogged running lanes, linebackers Gabe Packer and Hayden Packer swarmed to the ball and defensive backs Cayden Hess, Owen Anderson, Kooper Peacock and Cam Allison erased Shikellamy’s downfield threats. It was a defensive clinic and Jersey Shore held a fourth opponent to fewer than 100 yards.

“If one person doesn’t do their job that can be seven points. From every person one to another, we’re brothers and we rely on each other and that’s what we did,” Packer said. “We know this is a challenge, pretty much our first big challenge put in front of us and I think we responded pretty well.”

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Shikellamy quarterback Drew Balestrini (9) is sacked by Jersey Shore's Quincey Myers (25) in the first quarter.

“It’s nice because this year we haven’t really played into the fourth quarter in a tough game. Our coaches were saying it’s going to come to a point where you’re going to get tested and it’s always tough to beat a team twice,” Springman said. “We knew that Shikellamy was going to come hard. I think we still underestimated them a little bit but hopefully next week at Central Mountain we can improve.”

Anderson totaled 86 yards and caught Branden Wheary’s 37-yard first-quarter touchdown pass as Jersey Shore went up 7-0 less than eight minutes into the game. An offense averaging 45.5 points and 434 yards per game entering last night’s contest bogged down from there. It would be the special teams and defense which ultimately helped it get going again in the fourth quarter.

After consecutive drives stalled near midfield, Anderson perfectly placed punts at the 5 and 2-yard lines, respectively. The defense forced a three-and-out following the first punt and when the punt snap went high, punter John Peifer had nowhere to go and landed outside the end zone for a safety that made it 9-0. Shikellamy managed a first down after Anderson’s next punt but Myers forced an intentional grounding that had Peifer punting from the end zone again. That set up Jersey Shore at the Brave 27-yard line and Hayden Packer capped a short drive with a 1-yard touchdown which clinched the win and another championship.

“What was crucial in the game was when we flipped the field,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish. “Those were some big punts. Owen can do a lot of things for sure for us.”

Jersey Shore mercy-ruled Shikellamy by halftime in Week 2 and had many first-half opportunities to try and create a repeat performance. The Bulldogs often started well, but then broke down and produced that lone touchdown despite being inside the Shikellamy 35-yard line five times and the 25-yard line four times throughout the first half. That stretch included having a first-and-goal at the 7-yard line on its second possession.

The Bulldogs did produce a highlight when Wheary threw connected with Anderson down the left sideline on a wheel route for the 37-yard touchdown. Wheary put the ball right over the defender’s hands, Anderson caught it at its highest point and went the rest of the way untouched. But things grew more difficult from there despite Wheary throwing for 152 yards and Cam Allison running for 80.

An offense that produced points like it was playing basketball its first four games showed its human side last night. But the Bulldogs still won and the way that victory was produced could help quite a bit moving forward.

“It was a great learning experience,” Gravish said. “We told our guys at halftime every team goes through one of these things. We’ll see when you don’t have your best game going how you respond and, for the most part, our guys did.”

“Nothing is better than looking at film and seeing your mistakes and realizing what you have to fix to get better,” Springman said. “This was closer than we thought it would be and in playoffs we’re going to get tested and we need to show that we can push through it.”

Jersey Shore clinched the top seed for the District 4 Class AAAA playoffs with last night’s victory and the two-time defending champions will have homefield advantage again. Up next, though, is a rematch against rival Central Mountain, a team it beat 55-7 three weeks ago. What Jersey Shore learned last night, though, is that past results do not dictate future results.

“We’ll be challenged, but I think we can overcome every challenge that is put in front of us if we play as a team,” Gabe Packer said. “It’s a good thing that we play Central Mountain at their stadium. It’s different. It’s turf and we’ll probably have to play on turf in football. It’s going to be a good game.”


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