BOTD No. 5: 2019 Shore team had one of most explosive offenses in area history
While the 2014 Bulldogs were defined by a menacing defense, 2019 Jersey Shore likely will be remembered for having one of the most entertaining, explosive offenses in area history.
Jersey Shore scored points at a Daytona 500 rate, utilizing a rapid no-huddle offenses that might have Chip Kelly yelling to slow it down. The Bulldogs averaged 37.3 points and 424 yards per game, quarterback Tanner Lorson took a blowtorch to the area record book and Jersey Shore lit up the scoreboard nearly every week.
Oh yeah, those 2019 Bulldogs also will be remembered as history makers who went 11-4, reached the state semifinals for the first time while repeating as both district and league champions for the first time. What a fun ride it was, too.
Jersey Shore captured its second District 4 Class AAAA championship in three years a season earlier, rallying from a 1-3 start, avenging a regular-season loss against Selinsgrove with a thrilling overtime win in the final and coming within a play or two of winning the program’s first state tournament game.
The problem was that Jersey Shore lost the bulk of its starters from that team, including leading rusher Kyle Tomb, leading receiver Koby Peacock, four offensive linemen and all-state defenders David Tomb and Hunter O’Connor. Duplicating that success would be difficult, but these Bulldogs embraced the challenge, enjoyed the underdog role and then proved doubters wrong all season.
“It’s unbelievable,” Lorson said following a dramatic triple overtime, state quarterfinal win against Pottsville. “No one ever thought we would be here. Nobody ever thought we could do it.”
Jersey Shore started showing that it could do it in the season opener when it blasted eventual District 6 Class AAAA champion Bellefonte, 55-35, snapping a two-game losing streak against the Raiders. They then made a major statement a week later, limiting Selinsgrove to 40 yards and one first down in a 36-0 demolition.
Losses against Montoursville and Mount Carmel followed as did a Week 7 defeat against three-time defending Class AA champion Southern Columbia and its four future Big Ten players. That stretch highlighted just how brutal Jersey Shore’s schedule was. All three of those games were non-conference ones, as were the victories against Bellefonte and District 6 Class AAA state quarterfinalist Bald Eagle Area. Every week felt like a prize fight as Jersey Shore measured itself against some of the state’s premier teams. Those three regular-season losses came against teams which finished the season a combined 38-5.
The turning point came in Week 8 when Lorson threw for a program-record 400 yards and Jersey Shore thumped surging Lewisburg, 47-21. A week later it overpowered BEA, 42-0, and closed the season with an emphatic 54-13 win against rival Central Mountain. The offense went into video-game mode in a 72-25 district semifinal win against Shikellamy, then broke open a close game late and defeated Selinsgrove, 33-14, to capture the program’s fourth district championship since 2013.
But Jersey Shore was not satisfied. The Bulldogs wanted to make history and attained it a week later when it defeated District 1 champion Bishop Shanahan, 33-14. It looked like the ride was over a week later, however, when Pottsville opened a 21-point first-quarter lead. Instead, the Bulldogs delivered a performance that symbolized everything they represented, battling back, forcing overtime in the last minute and winning a 42-35 triple overtime thriller.
Jersey Shore football has existed for more than 100 years and never had it seen anything quite like this performance, which sent it to the state’s Final Four. When the pressure was highest and one misstep could end the season, all the Bulldogs rallied together and all parts of team’s machine hummed in perfect harmony.
“We’re so resilient,” cornerback Brett Guthrie said after catching the game-winning touchdown and then making the game-clinching interception. “We just keep going and we will not stop until that final buzzer blows.”
“We play hard till the end. Even in our losses we played hard till the end,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “Our kids will play right to the last tackle of the game. We preach Bulldog Ball for 48 minutes.”
And while Bulldog Ball in 2019 featured a high-octane offense, it also was highlighted by a bruising defense. Linebacker Dawson Sechrist earned all-state honors, making 191 tackles and fellow linebacker Dalton Dugan and defensive end Ryan Kershner joined him in the 100-tackle club. Jersey Shore relentlessly pursued the quarterback, stifled the run for much of the season and had a pair of lockdown corners in Guthrie and Anthony Shaffer who combined for 10 interceptions.
Still, the offense often received the headlines because it so consistently lit up the scoreboard. Lorson not only threw for 3,505 yards, but also ran for 1,183 yards and 23 touchdowns. The Class AAAA State Player of the Year’s 4,687 yards and 67 touchdowns were the most produced by a quarterback in District 4 history. Wide receivers Stanton Westlin and Cayden Hess both earned all-state honors as wel and were two of four players who caught at least 44 passes, with Owen Anderson hauling in 52. Running back Josh Malicky also was dangerous and ran for 1,195 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Jersey Shore used that powerful offense to shred Dallas in the state semifinals, but the Mountaineers shined even brighter and brought the curtain down on a storybook season, defeating the Bulldogs, 56-28.
Following the game, all the Jersey Shore fans who packed the stands at Danville flooded the field and made it feel like a community celebration. Jersey Shore lost that night, but they long ago had proven themselves as winners and champions, producing a season that they and their fans will never forget.
“It definitely was a year to remember. The group of seniors that we had and the brotherhood that we have, they made every single practice, every single game a blast,” Westlin said after catching eight passes for 91 yards in his final game. “It’s one of the best thing that’s happened in my life so far. This was a great season and it’s been a great four years of my life.”