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Jersey Shore vs. Dallas

Location: Tonight at Danville, 6 p.m.

Dallas road to semifinals: In District 2, beat Abington Heights, 56-14; Crestwood, 37-16, and Valley View, 29-7; in states, beat Imhotep, 43-36.

Dallas PPG–43.1, PPA–10.9; YPG–412, YPA–199.1

Dallas facts: The Mountaineers have matched the program record for wins and are pursuing their first state championship since 1993 when they won the Class AA crown. Dallas is competing in states for the first time since 1999 and has a senior-laden team which has made enormous strides in each of the last three years. Nine players started as freshmen and this core group went 2-9 in 2016 before improving to 7-4, 11-2 and now 14-0. Dallas lost to Valley View twice last season, including in the District 2 championship, but routed it twice this season, outscoring it, 66-14. Dallas went back and forth with Imhotep last Friday, building a 13-point first-half lead, then producing a late-game drive to go up, 43-36. The defense stopped Imhotep on its final drive after it reached the red zone. Dallas features a strong running game that produces 281.4 yards per game, but also a strong passing game led by four-year starting quarterback Michael Starbuck who went 14 of 16 for 207 yards and three touchdowns against Imhotep. The left-hander has thrown for a career-high 1,803 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. He has 4,783 career yards and 56 touchdowns. Four players have caught at least 19 passes and Bucknell recruit Luke DeGaudio who has 34 catches for 542 yards and seven touchdowns. As dangerous as the passing game is, this still is an offense that runs through its ground game. Lenny Kelley is having one of the best seasons in program history, running for 2,354 yards and 36 touchdowns. Kelley averages 8.9 yards per carry, has topped 100 yards in all 14 games and has 5,026 career yards, along with 65 touchdowns. He ran for 297 yards in the first Valley View win and had 127 yards and three touchdowns last week. He also has gone over 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. Fullback Dan Meuser is another running threat and will play at Bucknell next year. Meuser has run for 819 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 10.2 yards per carry. He has five 100-yard games and also has caught 24 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown. Meuser also has a team-high 84 tackles and helps spark a physical and opportunistic defense. The Mounties allow both fewer than 100 rushing and passing yards and have 30 sacks, along with 18 interceptions. Defensive end Xander Shaner averages 5.9 tackles per game, has 12 for loss and is second on the team with five sacks. Defensive backs Ben Fife and Jacob Esposito have intercepted seven passes and Ryan Fisher has been a reliable kicker, connecting on 70 of 75 extra points.

Dallas player to watch–Taylor Bolesta: The senior defensive end provides Dallas with another outstanding player on the edge and has collected a team-high 9 1/2 sacks. Bolesta has been a factor against the run as well and has 21 tackles for loss. The 6-0, 255-pounder has at least one tackle for loss in all 14 games and has four sacks this postseason. He also has recovered a fumble and has 13 1/5 sacks over the last two years.

Jersey Shore road to semifinals: In District 4, beat Shikellamy, 72-25, and Selinsgrove, 33-14; in states, beat Bishop Shanahan, 33-14, and Pottsville, 42-35 (3 OT).

Jersey Shore PPG–38.0, PPA–22.7; YPG–423.7, YPA–262.4

Jersey Shore facts: Jersey Shore is playing in the state semifinals for the first time after winning its first state tournament game two weeks ago against District 1 champion Bishop Shanahan. Last week’s quarterfinal win against Pottsville will long be remembered after the Bulldogs erased a 21-0 first-quarter deficit, tied the game with 54 seconds left in the fourth quarter and won it in three overtimes. The defense allowed just 102 yards after the first quarter, Tanner Lorson threw for 279 yards and five touchdowns and Cayden Hess scored twice. Jersey Shore has won seven straight games and its three losses are to Southern Columbia (14-0), Montoursville (12-2) and Mount Carmel (10-3). The Bulldogs lost a lot of starters from last year’s district champion, but have kept moving forward, tweaking its defense throughout the season and finding the right mix on both sides of the ball. The defense has performed well throughout the postseason, minus last week’s first quarter, and also blanked Class AAA state semifinalist Bald Eagle Area in Week 9. Linebacker Dawson Sechrist has made 171 tackles and his third-and-one stop for no gain late against Pottsville gave the offense a chance to mount the game-tying scoring drive. Defensive ends Ryan Kershner and Dalton Dugan form a quality tandem, combining for 13 1/2 sacks. Each player also has gone over 100 tackles and Kershner consistently has disrupted opposing quarterbacks. Jersey Shore had six sacks against Pottsville while bottling up a running game that had run roughshod in the District 11 championship. Lee Springman and Colin Samar played well up front and Karter Peacock did a nice job blowing up plays behind or near the line of scrimmage. Cornerbacks Brett Guthrie and Anthony Shaffer each have six interceptions and Guthrie sealed last week’s win with an end zone interception. Shaffer also is one of four wide receivers who has caught at least 34 passes. Stanton Westlin went over 1,000 yards last week and caught the game-tying touchdown, but was injured soon after. If he cannot play, Guthrie will take his place after catching the game-winning touchdown against Pottsville. Cayden Hess has broken the program single-season catch record (66) and produced nine catches, 102 yards and two touchdowns last week. Lorson is one of only two District 4 quarterbacks to ever reach 3,000 passing yards, throwing for 3,129 yards and 32 touchdowns. He also has run for 1,141 yards and 22 touchdowns. Running back Josh Malicky is another 1,000-yard rusher and produced some big plays after contact a week ago. An offensive line that returned just one starter has jelled throughout the season with Peacock, Springman, Samar, Eddie Woodring, Joe Lorson and Seth Ingraham performing well.

Jersey Shore player to watch–Owen Anderson: Jersey Shore’s Swiss Army knife, Anderson does a bit of everything and has caught 45 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns. He also has intercepted three passes, returned a punt for a score and taken an interception for a touchdown. Anderson is a good punter, too, averaging 40 yards per punt and putting 12 inside the 20-yard line.

Winner plays: District 7 champion Thomas Jefferson (14-0) or District 3 champion Lampeter Strasburg (11-3)

Outlook: Jersey Shore finds itself in its accustomed underdog role, but often has thrived in this spot with last week providing another example. Still, Jersey Shore has to come out stronger than it did a week ago. Dallas is the best team Jersey Shore has played since confronting the Southern Columbia machine in Week 7. Dallas often has controlled things up front so Jersey Shore must do everything it can to reverse that trend. Simply put, Jersey Shore has to play one of its best games, if not its best game, to continue this historic season and go where so few people ever throught it could.

— By CHRIS MASSE

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