Jersey Shore defense stuck to plan to slow Lampeter-Strasburg
Lampeter-Strasburg quarterback Sean McTaggart put on an aerial first-half show, completing 16 of 30 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns as the Pioneers built a 28-21 lead.
Jersey Shore’s defense remained unfazed. L-S had shown an explosive dimension, but it was just one dimension as the Bulldogs snuffed out any running threats. So instead of making wholesale changes, Jersey Shore simply set out to crush that one dimension.
Consider that misson accomplished.
The Bulldogs swarmed McTaggart throughout the second half, preventing him from rediscovering his first-half groove. He threw for 122 second-half yards and no touchdowns, was sacked twice and rushed countless times. Of those second-half yards, 54 came on a third-quarter screen pass as Jersey Shore’s defense allowed just seven more points and helped the Bulldogs win a 39-35 Class AAAA Eastern Region championship thriller. That defensive rebound has Jersey Shore (10-0) playing for its first state championship Saturday at Hershey when it faces defending champion Thomas Jefferson.
“Once we realized they were passing a lot more we were able to hit a few more moves and not worry about the run as much and sqeeuze down and stay on our guys,” defensive tackle Karter Peacock said after collecting two sacks. “We could just hit our moves and try to get the quarterback.”
L-S runs a spread, wing-T offense and was balanced over its first nine games. From the start, however, it was apparent the Pioneers would try to ride the arm of McTaggart and the hands of Beau Heyser (10 catches, 215 yards) and Ian Herr (9-141) to a state final appearance. L-S ran the ball just 13 times in the first half and five of those were designed quarterback runs or hurries out of the pocket.
Jersey Shore features one of the state’s best run defenses and L-S managed just 41 yards on 28 carries. The Pioneers had little luck running the ball and did not try pressing it after their first two possessions. Because Jersey Shore figured L-S would continue winging it in the second half, that enabled it to do what it loves best and attack the quarterback with fury. McTaggart is an all-state candidate receiving Division I-AA interest, so he was able to avoid what could have been several sacks, but the damage was done since his timing was thrown off and he had to rush his throws.
Peacock, Quincey Myers and Hayden Packer combined for four sacks and defenders knocked down three passes at the line of scrimmage. Jersey Shore did not adjust its game plan, just its execution.
“They weren’t having much of anything with the run so we could focus on the pass,” Peacock said. “That screen was about it in the second half and we were able to take away most everything else.”
“The defensive ends really squeezed him in,” safety Cam Allison said. “He didn’t have a lot of places to go and that forced the ball out of his hands quick.”
Defensive end Dalton Dugan wreaked havoc with his pressure, but showed he can be dangerous in coverage as well. A play after Allison’s 9-yard touchdown pulled Jersey Shore within a point, Dugan went after the receiver instead of the quarterback. In the first half, he knocked down a pass in the flat. In the second half he made the play of his life.
With the pressure coming, McTaggart tried hitting a quick pass on the same play Dugan read perfectly earlier. Dugan immediately knew what was coming, jumped the route and ran 32 yards untouched into the end zone for the touchdown which gave Jersey Shore a 33-28 lead. Others may have been surprised, but not Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish.
“I told Dugan this week he’s going to make that play because he makes that in practice every day,” Gravish said. “He can spy a certain type flare (pass) and I said you’re going to do that on Friday. He said, ‘I might get two.’ That’s the way he thinks. He’s a playmaker.”
Jersey Shore executed an outstanding gameplan, showing balance and creativity against a stout defense. Jersey Shore used some plays it has been setting up all season and both Brady Jordan and Owen Anderson connected on 33-yard halfback passes to Cayden Hess.
Jersey Shore threw the ball 38 times, completing 21 for 318 yards with quarterback Branden Wheary throwing for 252 yards and three touchdowns. The Bulldogs ran the ball 34 times for 167 yards with Allison gaining 130 and scoring twice. Equally important, Jersey Shore avoided long third downs. The Bulldogs converted their last six third-down conversions, finishing 8 of 13.
Cayden Hess (13-162) and Anderson (6-119) each made big plays downfield, but also were excellent on the shorter routes, making key catches to extend drives. The Bulldogs started flipping the second-half script with a brilliant 14-play, 83-yard touchdown drive which featured eight runs and six passes. The drive took nearly five minutes and allowed Jersey Shore to settle itself after L-S had built its seven-point halftime lead.
“Our goal was to be in manageable down-and-distance situations on second and third downs. That opens a lot of options in your playbook,” Gravish said. “Sometimes when it looks like you’re going to run you can throw and vise-versa and that helps a lot.”
Hess became the area’s all-time leader in catches, surpassing four players, including Warrior Run’s Zach Shaffer who held the record of 134 catches since 2002. In just three seasons, the junior all-state receiver has caught 139 passes for 1,786 yards and 20 touchdowns … Allison went over 1,000 yards rushing, topping 100 yards for the seventh time. He has 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns this season … Anderson has done damage three ways offensively and went over 1,000 total yards. The senior has produced 1,055 yards and 17 touchdowns.