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Jersey Shore wins an overtime thriller at home against Montoursville

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Jersey Shore’s Kooper Peacock gains ground at against Montoursville.

The end zone lay 85 yards away and only 62 seconds remained. Jersey Shore had no timeouts and was facing a surging defense while trailing by seven points.

It was not a hopeless situation, but the odds of forcing overtime were long. But inside the Jersey Shore huddle, there was no doubt.

This is Jersey Shore football. The Bulldogs have made the highly improbable feel normal over the last nine seasons. That is a major reason Jersey Shore has captured five district championships during that time and reached last year’s Class AAAA state championship. The Bulldogs did it two years ago, rallying from 21 down and defeating Pottsville in triple overtime in the state quarterfinals. They did it last year, winning a last-minute state semifinal thriller at Lampeter-Strasburg.

And Jersey Shore did it again Friday in front of a raucous, packed crowd at Thompson Street Stadium. When the pressure was highest, these hard-nosed, resilient Bulldogs were nearly perfect. Again.

Jersey Shore moved 85 yards in just four plays and tied the game on a 2-yard Brady Jordan to Connor Griffin touchdown pass. Jordan then found Cayden Hess for a 13-yard touchdown in overtime before intercepting a pass in the end zone on the game’s final play as Jersey Shore edged Montoursville, 27-20 in a game which featured enough drama to make William Shakespeare smile.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montoursville’s Isaiah Fenner runs against Jersey Shore as the Bulldogs’ Karter Peacock (17) and Connor Griffin (13) try to make a stop.

“We trust our team. We’re not going to give up until that clock hits zeroes so we just have to give it our all,” Jordan said after throwing for 228 yards and three touchdowns, while intercepting two passes. “We never give up. We always can find a way to win.”

“We always believe that if we have time, then we have plays and we can win. We have tough kids and some of the younger tough kids are just learning to play with confidence,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “We have confidence in them whether it’s offense, defense or specialties and we’re just so proud of them. We always believe you’re going to play how you practice and we got better each day. The right frame of mind was there.”

Montoursville shared that determined mentality as it and Jersey Shore staged their latest classic in a series becoming defined by them. Both powers traded bigger haymakers than Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed delivered and neither flinched. Montoursville fought back from a 10-7 halftime deficit, went ahead for the first time on a 21-yard third-quarter Maddix Dalena to Marco Pulizzi touchdown and thought it might have landed the knockout blow when Rocco Pulizzi (157 yards, 2 touchdowns) ripped off a 76-yard touchdown with 4 minutes, 26 minutes remaining.

“The kids fought hard and that’s all you can ask,” Montoursville coach Mike Boughton said. “They knew they were going to be in a game and that’s a heck of a football team. We knew we were going to be in for a dogfight, a slobberknocker and that’s what it was.”

Matthew Conklin blew up Jersey Shore’s next possession and Montoursville took over at the Jersey Shore 47-yard line. The Bulldogs were down to one timeout, so one first down would seal a Montoursville victory. Like it did last week in a 9-7 victory against Selinsgrove, Jersey Shore’s defense held firm. Zach Rooney dropped Pulizzi for a 3-yard loss on first down and Haydn Packer collected a critical sack which forced a punt. Still, it appeared Montoursville was in good shape with Dalena’s punt pinning Jersey Shore at its own 15.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Jersey Shore’s Brady Jordan runs against Montoursville during Friday’s game at Thompson Street Stadium in Jersey Shore.

And then Jersey Shore ripped off yet another kind of clutch drive which has come to epitomize its program.

Hess ignited the drive, catching a short pass, faking the hook and ladder, cutting up field and gaining 21 yards. Jordan broke loose for a 17-yard run a play later before Jordan and his brother combined on the on the drive’s most critical play. Elijah slipped behind the secondary, Brady hit him in stride and the 45-yard connection gave Jersey Shore a 1st-and-goal at the 2-yard line. A play later, Jordan rolled right and hit Griffin with a 2-yard touchdown, Griffin making a tough catch just inside the right pylon. Breck Miller, who delivered big kicks all night, drilled the extra point and it was 20-20 with 25.4 seconds left.

“We trust our teammates to make big plays when we need them and we kept making them,” Elijah Jordan said after running for 102 yards after coming in during the third quarter. “It was awesome.”

Nick Reeder had Montoursville fans erupting seconds later when he returned the kickoff 35 yards to the Jersey Shore 45-yard line, nearly going all the way. Dierk Stetts, however, dropped the hammer with Jersey Shore’s fifth sack and forced overtime. Jersey Shore received possession first and wasted little time going ahead.

Kayden Frame, part of a linebacking unit which shined all night, dropped Elijah Jordan for a 3-yard loss on the first play. Unfazed, Brady Jordan and Hess combined on a highlight reel connection a play later and Jersey Shore’s fans literally jumped for joy as the Bulldogs went ahead 27-20.

Hess, a two-time all-state receiver, has excelled in big games throughout his scholastic career, and produced again when his team needed him most. Marco Pulizzi, who played a spectacular defensive game, perfectly defended Hess. But there was no defense for Jordan’s perfect throw on the jump ball in left corner. Jordan put the ball in just the right spot and Hess was able to make the difficult catch despite Pulizzi being draped on him.

“We kind of challenged our older guys and our veterans and were saying, ‘great players make those big plays in big games so we’re going to need a couple of them,'” Gravish said. “Those kind of guys did make those plays and so did all our guys out there.”

Now it was the defense’s turn to make those plays and a unit which contained a high-powered offense all night delivered one last time. Conner Davis tipped a first-down pass and it fell incomplete. Following another incompletion, Karter Peacock (7 tackles, 2 for loss) stopped Rocco Pulizzi for no gain, bringing up fourth down. The shotgun snap bounced in the dirt, but Dalena calmly scooped it and, for a split second, looked like he might throw a touchdown pass. Instead, Brady closed quick and made a leaping interception in the back of the end zone.

Jordan (4 for 4 on Jersey Shore’s final two drives for 81 yards) ran into the night and toward his jubilant teammates along the sideline. It was a moment he and they likely will never forget.

“I saw my guy go behind me and I saw the ball coming, so I jumped up and made a play. We were screaming and celebrating. It was amazing,” Jordan said. “This is definitely one of the more exciting games I’ve ever played in. I’m so proud of my teammates. We all came together and played as one. Coach stressed that before the game, playing as one, and we all did it.”

So did Montoursville.

The Warriors produced a spirited performance against the defending Eastern Region champions and were a play from winning their 11th straight regular season game. Frame (2 sacks), Conklin (4 tackles for loss) and Brayden Brown (sack, 9 tackles) were part of a physical defense which contained Jersey Shore until the end. Rocco Pulizzi kept grinding against Jersey Shore’s swarming defense, beating contain to the outside and making a super cut to go 76 yards for the late touchdown and Dalena hung in against a fearsome rush to make some big throws.

Jersey Shore started quick and Brady Jordan found Griffin (4 catches, 106 yards) for a 76-yard touchdown three plays into the game. Montoursville evened it 7-7 on Pulizzi’s 5-yard touchdown run after recovering a muffed punt. Miller’s 35-yard field goal gave Jersey Shore a 10-7 halftime lead before Dalena rolled right on 4th-and-12 and found a streaking Marco Pulizzi for a go-ahead 21-yard touchdown.

The defense stiffened inside the 10-yard line and Breck Miller’s 25-yard field goal had Montoursville clinging to a 14-13 after three quarters. The Warriors kept making big stops from there and they nearly became the first team since 2019 to beat Jersey Shore in the regular season.

“It’s new kids being in those positions. They have to grow into it and this is is a heck of a game to grow into it,” Boughton said. “They definitely got a little battle tested tonight. It was hard fought and we have to continue to grow from this.”

Marco Pulizzi continued making rapid growth and played his best scholastic game. The junior cornerback had to defend Hess, the area’s all-time leading receiver, one-on-one most of the night and limited him to three catches for 18 yards going into the final minute. He also made a touchdown-saving tackle which forced a punt, broke up three passes, intercepted another and made seven tackles.

“He stepped up,” Boughton said. “Marco impressed us a lot and we asked a lot of him this week with covering Hess and he’s a great athlete. Marco stepped up to the challenge and did all he could do.”

Jersey Shore’s defense also had standouts throughout its lineup and repeatedly made big stands. The biggest came early in the third quarter when Isaiah Fenner’s 46-yard catch and run set Montoursville up with a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. Trailing 10-7, Montoursville went for the touchdown on 4th-and-goal at the 1 and Davis stopped Pulizzi cold for no gain. The Bulldogs also held Montoursville without a point on three first-half possessions which reached their territory and Kooper Peacock added an interception.

Jersey Shore slowed Rocco Pulizzi for long stretches before the all-state running back broke loose for his 76-yard touchdown. It also produced five sacks with Tate Sechrist registering two and Stetts, Packer and Luke Springman the others. Packer displayed his all-state credentials all night and made 10 tackles, including 2 for loss.

Every Bulldog did his part. Every Warrior did his part. And together, these two proud programs produced a riveting performance.

“Hat’s off to Montoursville because they have great players, great coaches and we have a lot of respect for them. It was a classy game and we just happened to be on the winning side,” Gravish said. “It was great seeing the fans and the student body, and they bring a ton of people with their tradition and they have great band and we have a great band. It was Lycoming County high school football at its best.”

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