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Chris Masse on football: Despite uncertainty this summer, Jersey Shore kept working

Their season looked like it might not happen at times last spring and summer. But Jersey Shore football players and coaches still rarely took a day off. It was business as usual and this program’s top business has become winning.

And while Jersey Shore obviously has featured some immensely talented players throughout a tremendous eight-year stretch which includes four district championships, three league titles and a state semifinal appearance, that success does not happen without paying the price when few or none are watching. So throughout the chaos an uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jersey Shore has picked up where it left off after last year’s historic season and is 4-0, battering its opponents by a 184-14 margin.

Jersey Shore did not play last Friday after Milton had last-minute COVID-19 issues, but it continues working and moving upward no matter the situation.

“Our team and coaches did an amazing job of doing whatever we could do to have team meetings on Zoom and update us on everything and that started as soon as the quarantine started which really showed the commitment that our team had for this season,” dynamic two-way starter and Jersey Shore’s all-time leading receptions leader Cayden Hess said. “Coming into summer workouts you could tell everyone on the team had been working really hard and that we were betting on going to Hershey this year.”

A decade ago that final comment would have elicited laughter. Jersey Shore had not enjoyed a winning season in the 2000s and won two games from 2010-12, going winless in 2012. A year later, though, the Bulldogs were district champions and they have never stopping winning since. They won the first two state tournament games in program history a year ago, finished a victory shy of reaching the state final and now are the state’s No. 2-ranked Class AAAA team.

As it has over the past seven years, Jersey Shore is replacing some super players from last season’s team, including three all-staters and Class AAAA Player of the Year Tanner Lorson. But the expectations never change. It is the next man up and year after year, the next man keeps producing and this heavy-powered train keeps on rolling.

“Our coaching staff and our team have been striving to be the best team we can be,” two-way lineman Karter Peacock said. “When you’re No. 2 in the state you have to play like it every week and set the tone.”

“After our team saw that we were ranked No. 2 we knew we had to prove ourselves because we also knew there were people in our own town doubting us that year. We have a saying at Jersey Shore that ‘Tradition never Graduates’ and we knew we lost some of the area’s best players but nobody in Jersey Shore football has ever stepped away from a challenge of filling those big roles. As soon as we started summer workouts you could tell we were going to be a great team just the way everyone looked and how in shape we all were despite not being able to do anything.”

The quarantine was the latest opponent which could not slow down Jersey Shore. The Bulldogs run a rocket-paced, no-huddle offense and often are waiting for the referees to place the ball so they can run another play. This offense is fast and explosive and averages 45.5 points and 434.3 yards per game. Hess was District 4’s leading receiver through four games, first-time starting quarterback Branden Wheary has thrown 14 touchdowns, first-time starting running back Cam Allison has topped 100 yards in each game and a stout offensive line has paved the way for everything, consistently blowing defenders off the line.

Jersey Shore has scored at least 33 points in each game, topping 50 points twice. It also delivered an emphatic statement three weeks ago, beating Central Mountain, 55-7, and handing the Wildcats (4-1) their only loss.

“Our practices are fast-pace, no huddle and you have to know the plays like the back of your hand,” Hess said. “I would say some people that doubted us are impressed with the new starters this year, but after seeing the work they put in it is awesome to see their work pay off and I’m glad that they are having a good season.”

While the offense produces more firepower than a Metallica concert, the defense attacks like a bunch of angry Orange and Black bees. The Bulldogs are deep, quick versatile, physical and tenacious at every level, shutting out two teams and not allowing more than seven points in a game. Jersey Shore also has forced 12 turnovers, scoring as many touchdowns as it has allowed (2).

Coach Tom Gravish has helped ignite this remarkable turnaround and defensive coordinator Alex Jackson gets a huge assist. This tradition was founded upon hard-nosed defense and this latest team is carrying it on quite well with Jackson continuing to hit all the right buttons.

“Defensively our team comes out to be nasty and swarm to the ball,” Peacock said. “On defense, our team collectively comes with the mentality of a winning team and that’s why I think we’ve been so dominant.”

Peacock also pointed out areas the team could improve and that is where Jersey Shore is at now. The Bulldogs are playing outstanding football, but they remain unsatisfied and all eyes are focused on the ultimate prize.

The 4-0 start sure has been impressive, but the work continues.

“I think we are having a great year so far because of the commitment to the team and the work everyone has been doing,” Hess said. “It can be as simple as wearing our mask and our whole team hasn’t complained once about it because we know what’s at stake. So we hope to continue being able to play and finish out the year with a state title.”

STEPPING UP: Loyalsock was missing several starters, including standout linebacker Joeb Schurer, and staring at a 13-point second-quarter deficit against an excellent Bloomsburg team last Friday. And all that makes Loyalsock’s 26-20 victory especially impressive. This was a win as gutsy as it was exciting with players like freshman linebacker Logan Bastian (10 tackles, 3 for loss) and Will Burdett (interception) making huge contributions as well as first-time starters like Naz Smith, Rian Glunk and JerVal Weeks-Shuler as well.

Smith caught three touchdown, Aeden Holler (2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss) anchored a defense which was outstanding over the final 2 1/2 quarters and Loyalsock scored 26 straight points before holding off a late comeback attempt. Korie Mayer ran for his fourth touchdown and Loyalsock (3-1) gave itself a major boost entering Saturday’s showdown against Montoursville.

EXTRA POINTS: Central Mountain continues turning heads and is 4-1 for the first time in the 2000s after defeating Shamokin, 41-27. The Wildcats snapped Shamokin’s 3-game winning streak, ran the ball at will for 359 yards behind a powerful offensive line and scored 28 straight second-half points while turning a seven-point deficit into a 41-20 lead. Micah Walizer ran for 85 yards and a touchdown, Peyton Johnson ran for another score and he also returned an interception for the game-clinching touchdown … Wellsboro looked outstanding playing its first game in three weeks, blanking Towanda, 43-0. Freshman Hayes Campbell made eight tackles, Isaac Keane produced four touchdowns and Will Kibler caught two scores … Devon Deem collected three sacks and Kaide Drick ran for a career-high 170 yard and three touchdowns as Montgomery routed CMVT, 48-14. The starters outgained CMVT, 349-61 … North Penn-Mansfield sophomore Kohen Lehman ran for 208 yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries as North Penn-Mansfield defeated Cowanesque Valley, 30-12. Brett Harvey made 12 tackles and Noah Spencer caught six passes while scoring a touchdown and intercepting two passes. Elliott good totaled 115 yards and a touchdown for CV.

DR. MASSE’S TOP 5 RANKINGS

1. Montoursville (5-0): Lewisburg has run two different offenses this season and throws various looks at opponents. Montoursville’s defense, though, was ready for everything and surrendered just 152 yards in a 45-7 victory which clinched a third straight HAC-II championship. It was the latest strong performance by a defense which has forced 16 turnovers, produced four touchdowns and held four opponents to seven or fewer points.

“It was a fun week to be able to coach these guys up and get them to understand and learn some things when it comes to adjustments based on some things they were doing,” Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. “It was a good all-around week, let alone Friday night.”

2. Jersey Shore (4-0): Perched atop the district standings, the two-time defending district champions host Shikellamy on Friday and are closing in on a third straight HAC-I championship. Jersey Shore also is 4-0 for the first time since 2014.

3. Williamsport (5-0): An offensive line which dealt with some early-season injuries is hitting its stride and imposed its will through a dominant 48-13 win at Wyoming Valley West as Williamsport defeated the Spartans for just the third time since 2002. Linemen like Austin Best, Beau Smith, Dade Splain, Charles Crews, Joel Feleppa and Hunter Entz have played a major role in Williamsport featuring one of the district’s most balanced offenses and that continued Friday with the Millionaires topping both 170 rushing and passing yards. That line could grow even stronger as Connor Adkins, a starting guard last year, nears his return. A dominant defense continues making life miserable for opponents and the starters have not allowed more than 14 points in a game. Valley West did break two big touchdown plays which totaled 108 yards, but on the other 41 plays, Williamsport surrendered just 50 yards. The defensive line can take over the games, linebackers are flying to the ball and defensive backs are blanketing receivers as Williamsport continues its best start since 2016. The special teams is pretty good, too, and Cam Sims returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown after having two others erased by penalties. He also caught his fourth touchdown.

4. Muncy (5-0): A program which has produced three district championships in four years has produced some excellent players, but at its core, these are tough, junk yard-dog like players who seem at their best when pushed hardest. That was evident again in a hard-fought 21-13 victory against defending Eastern Conference champion Northwest. Muncy erased its first deficit this season and the defense made three critical stands in the fourth quarter. Gage Wertz made one of the game’s biggest plays, stopping Northwest two yards shy of a first down late in the game while Ethan Gush broke up another fourth-down pass. The starters still have not let a team score more than two touchdowns against it and Branson Eyer intercepted a pass for a second straight week. He also connected with cousin Ross Eyer on a go-ahead 76-yard touchdown. Ross Eyer, a sophomore, has caught 28 high school passes and 12 have produced touchdowns. Expect another thriller Saturday night when Muncy heads to Canton for a rematch of the last two District 4 Class A finals.

5. South Williamsport (3-0): The Mountie defense was outstanding again, not allowing any points until late in the fourth quarter of a 28-8 win against Bucktail. South, 3-0 for a third straight year, allowed just 128 yards and has held three opponents to 34 points. Linebacker Lane Lusk was seemingly everywhere, making 14 tackles, intercepting his second pass and running for two touchdowns. Jake Casella reached 10 tackles for a third straight game and Ryan Rischoff collected his second sack. Wide receiver Grant Bachman recorded his second straight 100-yard receiving game, going for 104 yards and catching Landon Lorson’s 60-yard touchdown pass. Zack Miller ran for 86 yards and a touchdown as South generated momentum entering Saturday’s game at undefeated Athens.

Players of the Week — Chase Cavanaugh, Loyalsock and Ryan Pentz, Central Mountain

If one wants to be understand who Cavanaugh is show them this highlight tape. A three-year starter, Cavanaugh showcased his will again, completing 14 of 19 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns while running for 103 hard-earned yards on 24 carries. An excellent leader, Cavanaugh also intercepted two passes … Pentz was a big-play machine throughout the second half against Shamokin, running for a career-high 237 yards and three touchdowns. Pentz scored on runs of 61, 68 and 76 over the final two quarters while surpassing 100 yards for the third time this season.

Game of the Week — Montoursville at Loyalsock

The regular-season game each team often looks forward to the most takes place Saturday at Kenneth Robbins Stadium and is a rematch of last year’s District 4 Class AAA championship. Montoursville swept two games from Loyalsock last year, mercy-ruling it each time and has three straight victories in this cross-creek rivalry. Loyalsock obviously will be excited to try and even the score and this one could more resemble the close battles of the past more than last year’s blowouts.

Chris Masse covers high school football and may be reached by email at cmasse@sungazette.com.

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