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Shore’s Hess has enjoyed a breakout season

Cayden Hess was competing against a Division I recruit at a Penn State football camp last summer, but the sophomore-to-be showed no fear. Hess ran a slant across the middle and tried showing Penn State coach James Frankin that he also is a player commanding attention.

But no player won this battle. And they both paid a price. Hess was drilled on the play and both players landed hard on the turf. Hess rose and wore a cut above his eye. The defender suffered a concussion. Franklin rushed the field, making sure both players were OK, but Hess was ready to keep playing.

Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish already had a good feeling about Hess and that one moment convinced him that his incoming receiver could become a weapon. He sure was right, too. As a freshman last year, Hess caught one pass for four yards. As a sophomore, he has shattered Jersey Shore’s single-season catch record.

“I saw how Cayden popped up and perked up and I thought we have something going on here,” Gravish said. “I kind of knew all along with had something with him and that confirmed it.”

Hess showed last summer that he is both talented and tough. He has spent his entire 2019 season reinforcing those qualities.

Hess has enjoyed a huge breakout season and was outstanding in last Friday’s 42-35 triple overtime Class AAAA state quarterfinal win against Pottsville. He caught nine passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns as Jersey Shore (11-3) earned a spot in Friday’s state semifinals against District 2 champion Dallas.

“I don’t even know what to say. We’re going through the roof,” Hess said immediately following the Pottsville win. “This is the first time in history we’ve won two state games. This is awesome.”

That was an accurate adjective to describe Hess’s play against Pottsville. He made a series of difficult catches that helped Jersey Shore rally from a 21-0 first-quarter deficit and dent what had been a stout defense all year. Hess caught two overtime touchdowns, one giving Jersey Shore a lead and the other tying the game.

Hess has produced some big games this year, but this was his best. Time and time again, especially late in the game when Jersey Shore had to be perfect, Hess delivered.

“Cayden had some really good catches and I’m proud of him,” senior linebacker Dawson Sechrist said. “He’s going to be a really good athlete. It’s crazy that he’s still got two more years.”

That certainly is true considering the strides Hess has made in his first full varsity season. The 6-foot-2, 186-pound athlete has caught 66 passes for 825 yards and nine touchdowns. His 66 catches lead District 4 and he broke Todd Sanford’s previous 60-yard single-season catch record by halftime against Pottsville. It was both the third time Hess has topped 100 yards and caught multiple touchdowns. He also has multiple catches in all 14 games and averages 12.5 yards per catch.

Wide receiver was a question mark entering the season. Koby Peacock was the team’s go-to player on last year’s district champion, but his graduation left a gaping void and no returning receiver had more than 26 receptions a year ago. It became immediately obvious, however, that the perceived weakness actually had Rocky Balboa-like strength. Hess, 1,000-yard receiver Stanton Westlin, Owen Anderson and Anthony Shaffer all have caught at least 33 passes and Lorson has thrown for an area record 3,129 yards.

Hess wasted no time showcasing his ability in the season opener against Bellefonte. He caught six passes for 110 yards and two scores in his first varsity start as Jersey Shore put a 55-35 thumping on the District 9 Class AAAA champions. Hess then helped fuel a winning streak that has reached seven games when he hauled in eight passes for 160 yards in a 47-21 against Lewisburg, a team that had won its previous four games.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Hess said. “We love being able to run all those routes and the linemen do a great job blocking. They give Tanner time to make those plays.”

Hess has made his biggest plays throughout the postseason. His 3rd-and-17 circus-like first-down catch two weeks ago against Bishop Shanahan jolted an offense that had been bogged down and ignited a 13-point fourth-quarter flurry as Jersey Shore pulled away for a 33-14 state tournament win. The offense desperately needed a similar spark against Pottsville and Hess again provided it. This time, he made a spectacular catch down the right sideline, sticking with a bouncing ball on the third play of what became a 67-yard touchdown drive.

Jersey Shore produced 11 yards on its first four possessions, but that highlight-reel catch became the signature play of a scoring drive that brought life into the huddle, sideline and crowd. The Bulldogs pulled within seven by halftime and tied it with 54 seconds remaining when Westlin caught a 26-yard touchdown pass which forced overtime.

And that is where Hess really shined. Consecutive sacks on its first two overtime plays had Jersey Shore facing a third-and-goal from the Pottsville 26-yard line. Lorson lofted a pass down the right sideline that only Hess could make a play on. The degree of difficulty was high, but Hess beat blanket coverage and snatched it while maintaining his balance and staying in bounds, giving Jersey Shore a 28-21 advantage.

Pottsville scored on the next two overtime possessions and Jersey Shore was two plays from defeat. This time, it was third-and-goal in the 10. Lorson was flushed to his right, but was able to deliver a rocket while moving back. Hess came sprinting from the middle of the field, again beat quality coverage and again was able to stay in bounds on a pass thrown just inside the pylon. The Bulldogs tied the game and won it in the third overtime when Lorson hit Brett Guthrie with the game-winning touchdown.

“I know any time he tells me to that he will go up and make a play that he can do it. That’s just what he did those last two touchdowns,” Lorson said. “It’s crazy what he can do.”

It is even crazier thinking what Hess might do the next two years. Obviously, losing a player like Lorson will be difficult in 2020, but having a receiver like Hess sure will help the incoming quarterback with the growing process.

The book on Hess features a potent blend of size, speed, hands and old-school toughness. What has Jersey Shore especially excited is knowing this fantastic season provides just the first chapter.

“I know every ball I throw to him he has a chance to catch it and he showed that again (last Friday),” Lorson said. “He’s been unbelievable this whole season and I just can’t wait to see how he does the next two years of high school.”

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