Chris Masse on football: Huge 3rd down play lifted the Bulldogs

An adjustment made last Thursday instantly altered Friday’s District 4 Class AAAA championship.

Jersey Shore was in a precarious situation, facing a third-and-32 from the Shamokin 47-yard line three plays into the final. The odds of converting felt as long as those of finding an honest politician. But quarterback Branden Wheary and Owen Anderson made it look quite easy.

The offensive line protected well and Wheary threw a perfect deep ball, finding Anderson down the left sideline for a 47-yard touchdown. Jersey Shore never slowed down following that big play and steamrolled its way to a third straight district championship, thumping Shamokin, 54-0. The Bulldogs (8-0) joined Muncy as the only area teams to win three straight district titles and go to Crestwood for Friday’s state quarterfinals in a showdown of unbeatens.

Film study, anticipation and opportunity all came together on that initial touchdown, setting the stage for a torrent of points to soon start raining down.

“We just installed that (Thursday) and we knew that corner was going to be pressing,” Anderson said. “Honestly, it was just an amazing throw. He made it easy for me.”

Anderson got a good release off the ball and Wheary split two defenders, hitting Anderson in stride. Anderson went the rest of the way untouched and it was just the kind of start Jersey Shore needed against a team playing in its first district final since 2011. Anderson forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, scored four plays later and Jersey Shore built a 26-0 first-quarter lead.

Take away that third-and-32 touchdown and the complexion could have changed. Jersey Shore defeated Shamokin, 41-7 in the season opener, but the Indians made major improvement since then and were coming off a 15-0 semifinal win against Selinsgrove. Scoring so quick in such a tough spot set a tone for both teams and Shamokin never really recovered.

“That set up the rest of the game right there. That got everybody excited,” Cam Allison said after running for 146 yards and two touchdowns. “I think that’s what helped us put so many points on the board tonight.”

Jersey Shore scored on seven of its eight first-half possessions while taking a 47-0 lead against a team which had allowed 34 points in its last three games. The offensive line opened big holes, Jersey Shore backs ran hard and Wheary connected on two more deep passes to Dalton Dugan and Cayden Hess which set up touchdowns. By halftime, Jersey Shore had gained 359 yards on 34 plays.

The Bulldogs again are District 4’s best Class AAAA team and almost surely would have won the game without such an early jolt. But the path they took toward reaching another championship could have been more difficult without that first touchdown. That adjustment less than 24 hours earlier changed everything and Jersey Shore won its fifth district title in eight years in its most impressive fashion yet.

“They thought they had us,” lineman Joe Lorson said. “We showed them that no matter what the yardage is we can score.”

1,000-YARD CLUB: South Williamsport’s Zack Miller and Montgomery’s Kaide Drick both played outstanding final high school games, each going over both 100 yards and topping 1,000 yards for the season. Miller ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-14 District 4 Class AA championship loss at Southern Columbia, making it nine straight years in which South has produced a 1,000-yard rusher. Equally impressive, Miller joined that list in just seven games, running for an area-high 1,111 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 158.7 yards per game.

Drick ran for 170 yards and a touchdown against Hughesville and reached a goal he set last November when he finished 34 yards shy of 1,000. The hard-working, hard-running senior finished with 1,036 yards and 12 touchdowns and has produced 2,002 yards the past two seasons.

CLOSING STRONG: Hughesville played an outstanding game against Montgomery, building momentum for next season with its 26-7 victory. The Spartans made some nice strides this season and have a good core to build around in 2021. The offensive line dominated against Montgomery, paving the way for 381 rushing yards as Hughesville controlled the clock all night.

Hayden Robbins was a big part of Hughesville’s success on both the offensive and defensive lines. He forced and recovered two fumbles while Joey Swink intercepted a pass and ran for two touchdowns. Freshman Angelo Ferrigno ran for a career-high 74 yards and a touchdown. He also made 10 tackles, including two for loss.

Chris Masse covers football and may be reached by email at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.


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