A look at Friday’s most key plays for Bulldogs in the state semifinal
By CHRIS MASSE
Counting kickoffs and punts, Friday’s epic Jersey Shore vs. Lampeter-Strasburg Class AAAA Eastern Final featured 165 plays. Had just one of the many big plays Jersey Shore made gone the other way, the game’s outcome likely would have been reversed.
That in mind, the following is a look at some of the most key plays Jersey Shore made during its dramatic 39-35 victory which sent it to Hershey for Saturday’s state championship against Thomas Jefferson. The Bulldogs (10-0) made history and are the first area team to reach a state final since South Williamsport in 1997. These plays, listed in chronological order, are a major reason why:
• Owen Anderson finds Cayden Hess for 33 yards: Jersey Shore punted its first two series, but Anderson’s well-executed halfback pass to Hess provided an offensive jolt and the Bulldogs took off from there. Cam Allison followed some super blocking three plays later, scoring on a 24-yard touchdown run as Jersey Shore took a 7-0 lead.
• Branden Wheary’s dime: L-S tied it and had Jersey Shore facing a third-and-10 from its 45-yard line on the next series when Wheary saw Anderson gain a step on his defender going down the left sideline. Wheary threw a perfect deep ball, hitting Anderson in stride and allowing him to go untouched for a 55-yard touchdown as Jersey Shore went up back, 14-7.
• Brady Jordan shows off his arm: L-S had scored 14 straight points and taken a 21-14 lead. Jersey Shore needed a strong response and put the ball in the hands of its sophomore running back who may be the quarterback of the future. Jordan ran right, sucked in the defense and duplicated Anderson’s halfback throw, finding Hess for 35 yards at the L-S 13-yard line. Hess caught a game-tying 5-yard touchdown from Wheary two plays later. Jordan has been a breakthrough player this season, running for 333 yards and eight touchdowns, but considering the game’s magnitude, this was his best play yet.
Karter Peacock’s half-ending sack: L-S was up 28-21 and looking for more points as it moved toward midfield in the half’s final minute. Peacock then charged through the middle of the line and dropped quarterback Sean McTaggart for an 8-yard loss. With less than 20 seconds remaining, L-S did not run another play and Jersey Shore stayed within one score while taking some momentum into halftime.
• Jersey Shore’s initial third-quarter scoring drive: OK, this is cheating because it’s actually 14 plays, but collectively this 83-yard touchdown drive was immense in the game’s outcome. Equally interesting, this drive did not feature any big plays, just a bunch of efficient ones that repeatedly gained quality chunk yards. On a drive which included eight runs and six passes, Jersey Shore did not gain more than 9 yards on a play, but it rarely gained fewer than 4. It was outstanding balance, execution and Allison’s 9-yard touchdown run pulled Jersey Shore within 28-27.
• Dalton Dugan’s pick-six: Just one play after Allison scored, Dugan put Jersey Shore ahead for the first time in the second half, doing so in dramatic fashion. Dugan jumped a flare route, intercepted McTaggart’s pass and ran 32 yards untouched for the touchdown that gave Jersey Shore a 33-28 lead. McTaggart threw for 351 first-half yards, but this play not only put Jersey Shore ahead, but showed that the first half was going to be much different. McTaggart threw for 122 second-half yards, 54 coming on a screen pass, and did not throw any more touchdowns.
• Allison’s 41-yard fourth-quarter run: L-S had gone ahead, 35-33 and one could sense that Jersey Shore might have its last chance at regaining the lead when it took over at its 38-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Because of the end result this right now is the greatest drive in program history with the Bulldogs going 62 yards and taking the lead for good, 39-35. Allison highlighted the drive with a brilliant 41-yard run, showing his vision, burst and power. The line gave Allison a good hole, the senior blew through it, made an excellent cut and nearly went all the way before being tackled at the Pioneer 12. Three plays later on a third-and-5, Hess went right, cut back to his left and Wheary found him for the game-winning 5-yard touchdown.
• Allison’s touchdown-saving gem: With the help of a prayer of a pass being caught for a 16-yard gain and a Jersey Shore fumble recovery being taken away, L-S moved to the Bulldog 15 on its next series. The defense stuffed Owen Fikkert for no gain on first down and Dugan’s pressure forced an incompletion on second down. Facing a third-and-10, McTaggart spotted Beau Heyser cutting across the middle of the end zone and threw a laser which seemed destined to hit him between the numbers. From his safety position, however, Allison saw the play unfolding and gained ground. The senior stretched his 5-foot-10 frame as far as it would go and knocked the ball away a split second before it hit the receiver’s hands and put L-S ahead. Hess intercepted a pass in the end zone on the next play and L-S never touched the ball again.
• Wheary and Hess deliver again: Wheary threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns while Hess caught a career-high 13 passes for 162 yards and two scores. Their final connection was a huge one. Trying to run out the clock, Jersey Shore faced a third-and-7 from the Pioneer 41-yard line. Wheary looked to his left, spotted Hess open and whipped a quick pass his way. Hess caught the ball just beyond the first-down marker, broke a tackle and gained 14 yards. That gave Jersey Shore another set of downs, forced L-S to use another of its precious remaining timeouts and put the Bulldogs a first down from reaching Hershey.
• The clincher: As the clock approached one minute, Jersey Shore found itself 4 yards from the state final. Allison took a toss to the right, followed some strong blocking, beating containment outside and running 9 yards to glory. L-S was out of timeouts and Allison’s run clinched the biggest victory in program history. Players soon were greeted by happy fans throwing Hershey’s Kisses as a dream came true.