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Branden Wheary’s wait behind Tanner Lorson paid off as he led Jersey Shore to state final

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore's Branden Wheary is congratulated after the Bulldogs’ 39-35 win over Lampeter-Strasburg in Lancaster on Friday.

Branden Wheary did not play much last year, but he always could play.

A talented quarterback, Wheary was stuck behind last year’s Class AAAA state Player of the Year Tanner Lorson. Another team, another situation and Wheary likely would have been playing. But the senior never complained. He just kept working.

And when Wheary’s time came this season he was ready. All the first-time starter has done after getting his chance is enjoy one of the best passing seasons in program history and help lead undefeated Jersey Shore to its first state championship appearance. Wheary and the Bulldogs (10-0) play defending champion Thomas Jefferson Saturday in Hershey for the title.

He had to wait, but Wheary certainly is experiencing the good times now.

“I’ve been working the last three years. I knew I probably wasn’t going to be able to play over Tanner because Tanner is just a beast but I learned from him and everybody else ahead of me,” Wheary said. “I took in all that knowledge and was able to transform it into what I was able to do all season. Being able to learn from them helped me so much.”

Wheary has been a master student and has been conducting class all season, operating one of the state’s most potent offenses. The 6-foot quarterback was at his best Friday against Lampeter-Strasburg, throwing for 252 yards and three touchdowns as Jersey Shore rallied for a 39-35 Eastern Region championship win. Wheary helped Jersey Shore erase three deficits and his 5-yard fourth-quarter touchdown to Cayden Hess was the game-winner.

This is a story of persistence and preparation meeting opportunity. Wheary worked for this job and for a moment like last Friday. Given the opportunity he’s owned them.

“Branden Wheary is my best friend in the world and we knew he would step up,” running back Cam Allison said. “We knew he would have a great season. We trust him 100%.”

“Once he shakes off those early-game butterflies he’s pretty spot on with what he’s doing and what he has to do,” lineman Karter Peacock said. “He comes up big.”

Wheary has done so all season, throwing for 1,814 yards and 23 touchdowns. Just as impressive, Wheary has thrown one interception in 226 attempts and none since Week 4 while operating a rocket-like paced offense. And when his teammates needed him most against L-S, Wheary delivered time after time.

It was not just the numbers Wheary produced which stood out, but the way he earned them. He made some brilliant throws, including dropping a dime on a 55-yard second-quarter touchdown to Owen Anderson. Wheary also was outstanding on the game-winning 62-yard drive, staying poised when defenders converged on him, buying time and finding Hess in the back of the end zone for the biggest score in program history.

“My confidence with Branden has grown since the summer. Him, me, Kooper (Peacock) and Owen would all go meet up during the spring,” Hess said. “We’d run routes and get our connection down and ever since then I knew Branden was going to have a great year. It’s all led to this season.”

“He’s always been good, he just happened to behind last year’s Player of the Year. He would have started for most teams,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “He’s had a fabulous year. He’s just a good kid and he listens.”

That was critical because replacing a reigning Player of the Year who topped 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing could have overwhelmed some players. Wheary, though, never worried about being another Tanner Lorson. He and his teammates knew that Wheary being Wheary was what the team needed most.

Wheary never set out to try and duplicate Lorson’s numbers, just his example. He knew he was surrounded by terrific teammates and that, together, this team could again achieve greatness following last year’s state semifinal appearance. That formula has worked and Wheary has been a model of consistency, topping 100 yards and throwing at least one touchdown in every start.

“The whole team was behind me,” Wheary said. “The coaches were saying you don’t have to be Tanner Lorson, just be yourself. They said do what you do and that gave me confidence in myself.”

That immediately became apparent when Wheary threw four touchdowns in his first start against district finalist Shamokin. He added three more the following week against Shikellamy and never really slowed down, leading the area in touchdown passes during the regular season. Allison has topped 1,000 yards rushing and Wheary’s development has kept defenses on their heels all season with the Bulldogs being as balanced as they are dangerous.

Wheary has the talent, possessing a strong arm and the ability to quickly read defenses. Maybe even more important, he has grown into a leader and has total command of the offense. Wheary leads by example and he has set quite a good one throughout his Jersey Shore career.

Waiting for something one wants really bad is never easy, but the measure of a person is who can keep working through the hard times to eventually taste the fruits of their labor. Wheary and his teammates are tasting Hershey’s chocolate now and his fingerprints are all over this success.

He waited his turn and now Wheary has quite a place in program history.

“Branden is a great kid, a great quarterback, a great player,” Hess said. “He’s an amazing leader.”

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