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Jersey Shore football headed to 1st state final with victory over Lampeter-Strasburg

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore football players celebrate the 39-35 win over Lampeter-Strasburg in the PIAA semifinal at Lampeter Strassburg Friday night.

LANCASTER – As Black and Orange-clad fans rose in excitement, Cam Allison took the pitch and ran right. His blockers perfectly executed and Allison and his teammates ran right into Jersey Shore immortality. The 9-yard first-down run clinched a win which once seemed so unfathomable.

For so long, the state championship was a game that always felt like it was for someone else. For so long, the only way Jersey Shore could reach a state final was in its dreams.

Friday night, dream became reality. Jersey Shore, there is a state final and your gritty, hard-nosed Bulldogs will be playing in it. Your Bulldogs are the Eastern Region’s best Class AAAA football team.

Branden Wheary found Cayden Hess for a go-ahead 5-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown, Allison ran for 130 yards, and the defense made a final stand inside the 15-yard line as Jersey Shore captured the Eastern Region championship, defeating Lampeter-Strasburg, 39-35, on its home field in a game that was heart-pounding from start to finish.

A program which won three games in four years prior to 2013 has become a state power and will play defending champion Thomas Jefferson in Saturday’s state final. Wheary threw for 252 yards and three scores, Hess caught 13 passes for 162 yards, Owen Anderson topped 100 yards receiving, Dalton Dugan returned a third-quarter interception 32 yards for a touchdown and Jersey Shore (10-0) became the first area team since South Williamsport in 1997 – just the fourth overall – to reach a state final.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore's Cayden Hess (24) makes a pass reception over Lampeter-Strasburg's Ian Herr (81) in the first quarter.

“All our hard work, all the stuff we did in the offseason pays off so much. Nobody thought we were supposed to be here but we knew deep down we were going to make it back down here,” Wheary said. “We knew we had the guys. We knew that we were going to work hard  enough to get here. It’s just gratification. I don’t even know what to say I’m so excited.”

So were all those Jersey Shore fans who traveled 2 1/2 hours to watch their team make history. Hess’s end zone interception ended Lampeter-Strasburg’s final scoring threat with 4 minutes, 19 seconds remaining. From there the offensive line and Allison took over as Jersey Shore converted three third downs and ran out the clock.

Allison went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season and scored twice. His final run will long live in Jersey Shore lore. Facing a third-and-four from the L-S 39-yard line, Allison followed his blockers, beat pursuing defenders to the outside and clinched the biggest win in program history.

“I just want to present our community the best we can and make it proud,” said Allison, who also made a fantastic touchdown-saving pass breakup a play before Hess’ interception. “Not to sound cheesy, but winning this and seeing the support we had just fills your heart. It makes you feel so warm. It’s just awesome.”

This win was classic Jersey Shore. This game featured four lead changes, 999 yards of offense and enough fireworks to light up New York City. So many times it appeared Lampeter-Strasburg (9-1) had taken the momentum and was threatening to break away. So many times Jersey Shore responded, twice overcoming second-half deficits.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore's Owen Anderson (15) stiff arms Lampeter-Strasburg's Matt Weese (30) in the second quarter.

Pioneers quarterback Sean McTaggart threw for 473 yards and three touchdowns. Beau Heyser caught 10 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns, and Ian Herr added 141 more receiving yards. But the defense stiffened in the second half, frequently pressured McTaggart, and allowed just seven more points against a team averaging 47.4 per game.

Jersey Shore trailed 28-21 at halftime, but never wavered. Allison, Dugan and Hess scored second-half touchdowns and the Bulldogs completed a journey eight seasons in the making. Fans and players threw Hershey’s Kisses around the field following the game, players jumped higher than possibly ever before and this team created a performance and a moment which it and its community will never forget.

“Our team has worked so hard for this. We deserve it so much,” Hess said after becoming the area’s all-time leader in receptions with 139. “We wouldn’t be here if not for the kids in that locker room and the work they put in. It’s crazy all the effort everyone has put in.”

“It’s the best feeling ever,” defensive tackle Karter Peacock said after playing his first game since Week 2 and collecting two sacks. “I’m keeping some goodies, some Hershey’s Kisses for later in life. I can always look at them and remember what we did.”

What Jersey Shore did is win a game which rivaled, and possibly surpassed, the thrills produced in last year’s triple overtime state quarterfinal win against Pottsville. The Bulldogs erased two seven-point deficits and went ahead to stay in the fourth quarter when they mounted a six-play, 62-yard touchdown drive.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore’s Hayden Packer (44) and Quincey Myers hit Lampeter-Strasburg quarterback Sean McTaggart during Friday night’s PIAA Class AAAA semifinal at Lampeter-Strasburg High School.

Although it was early in the fourth quarter, Jersey Shore sensed this might be its last shot at taking the lead and linemen Joe Lorson, Cadan Smith, Eddie Woodring, Lee Springman and Colin Samar shined bright, clearing the way for the game’s signature play, Allison’s 41-yard run to the 12-yard line.

Allison and Wheary ran for 7 combined yards on the next two plays, bringing up a third-and-3 at the 5. Wheary then rolled right and looked for Hess near the right pylon. Hess was covered well, but the line gave Wheary time to throw and Hess improvised, cutting back the other way. Wheary hit Hess between his numbers and Jersey Shore had a 39-35 lead with 9:14 remaining.

“That’s one of our go-to plays, the roll out and throw to Cayden,” Wheary said after completing 19 of 36 passes. “They always say if it’s not there, find the open space and he did that and I was able to get it to him. It was gratification again because we knew our defense would make the big plays when we needed them.”

It did. And it overcome some potentially demoralizing blows to do so. L-S was facing a second-and-16 early on the ensuing series and McTaggart was nearly sacked as three defenders swarmed him. He threw up a prayer high into the night sky and Herr caught it, gaining 26 yards. Later in the drive, it appeared Jersey Shore had recovered a fumble at the 25 when it looked like the ball popped out of the receiver’s arms before he fell to the ground. But the officials ruled him down by contact and the Pioneers’ drive continued.

Unfazed, Jersey Shore made its fourth stop over the last two weeks inside the 15-yard line. Dugan forced a hurried incompletion on second-and-10 before Allison extended his body and made a spectacular knockdown in the middle of the end zone.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore’s Dalton Dugan makes a falling catch for a 35-yard gain in the first half of Friday’s PIAA Class AAAA championship game at Lampeter-Strasburg High School. Jersey Shore advanced to the first state final in school history with a 39-35 win.

On fourth-and-10, L-S went with one of its bread-and-butter plays, but Hess was ready. Jersey Shore again pressured McTaggart well and Hess intercepted his sixth pass this season in the back of the end zone.

“He dropped back and I saw his guy running the slant which had done on the last five plays. I knew he was coming that way,” Hess said. “All the linemen in there did a great job getting to him and he just threw the ball up and I was there and in a good position.”

L-S had all three timeouts remaining when Jersey Shore took over at its own 20, but the Bulldogs shined on third down and started their march toward Hershey. Hess caught a 14-yard pass on third-and-7, forcing L-S to burn its final two timeouts after that. Allison’s 9-yard first-down run sealed it and Jersey Shore lined up for its most satisfying victory formation yet.

“That game was what high school football is all about. That was two great teams and it was back and forth all night and I’m really happy for the kids,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “They just battled. It was emotional plays on our side, emotional plays for them and as soon as we would get an emotional play they would answer back and then so would we. There was a lot of good football being played here.”

Lampeter-Strasburg led 28-21 at halftime, but the Jersey Shore defense forced a big three-and-out before putting together a well-balanced, well-conceived 14-play, 83-yard drive. Allison’s 9-yard touchdown run pulled Jersey Shore within a point and, a play later, it had the lead.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore’s Hayden Packer carries the ball during the first half of the PIAA Class AAAA semifinal on Friday night at Lampeter-Strasburg High School.

Dugan jumped a swing pass from his defensive end position on the Pioneers’ next offensive play and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown giving Jersey Shore a 33-28 lead. A 54-yard screen pass to Andrew Knapp set up McTaggart for a 2-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter and L-S went back up, 35-33, entering the fourth quarter.

Like it was against Pottsville last year, Jersey Shore was behind in the fourth quarter. Just like last year, Jersey Shore took over and won.

“We said at halftime that we’ve been in these situations before,” Gravish said. “We told them to just keep battling and sooner or later our conditioning is going to take over and I think it did.”

The first half produced an aerial show which likely had Don Coryell smiling somewhere. Wheary, Anderson, Brady Jordan and McTaggart combined for 602 yards as teams exchanged big plays like they Wall Street stock brockers.

Allison broke a 24-yard touchdown run for the game’s first score and Anderson caught a perfectly thrown Wheary deep ball for a 55-yard score early in the second quarter. L-S scored twice in a row and took a seven-point lead before Wheary found Hess for a game-tying 5-yard touchdown pass.

Jersey Shore was 3 yards from regaining the lead on its next possession, but L-S held and then went 97 yards on three plays with Heyser breaking a tackle on a short pass and going 83 yards for a touchdown.

That turn of events could have doomed some teams, but Jersey Shore is not like most teams. The Bulldogs executed excellent game plans on both sides of the ball and different players took turns producing critical plays which sparked the comeback.

Dugan, Peacock, Samar, Quincey Myers and Ben Webb wreaked defensive havoc in the second half. Linebackers Hayden and Gabe Packer were all over the field, and Hess and Anderson kept making key catches on pin-point Wheary throws.

Yes it’s a cliché, but this again was a team effort. And what a team Jersey Shore has become.

“It’s incredible. It’s years of hard work paying off for all these guys,” Allison said. “I love my teammates so much.”

Jersey Shore 39, Lampeter-Strasburg 35

Jersey Shore 7 14 12 6 — 39

L-S 7 21 7 0 — 35

First Quarter

J – Cam Allison 24 run (Allison kick), 2:49

L – Beau Heyser 42 pass from Sean McTaggart (Andrew Reidenbaugh kick), :13

Second Quarter

J – Owen Anderson 55 pass from Branden Wheary (Allison kick), 11:21

L – Heyser 3 pass from McTaggart (Reidenbaugh kick), 8:58

L – Berkeley Wagner 35 pass from McTaggart (Reidenbaugh kick), 7:35

J – Cayden Hess 5 pass from Wheary (Allison kick), 5:36

L – Heyser 83 pass from McTaggart (Reidenbaugh kick), 1:37

Third Quarter

J – Allison 9 run (kick failed), 3:43

J – Dalton Dugan 39-yard interception return (pass failed), 3:31

L – McTaggart 2 run (Reidenbaugh kick), 1:55

Fourth Quarter

J – Hess 5 pass from Wheary (run failed), 9:14

TEAM STATISTICS JS L-S

First Downs 19 19

Rushes-yards 34-167 28-41

Passing yards 318 473

Total yards 485 514

Comp-Att-Int 21-38-0 24-47-2

Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0

Penalties-yards 3-20 6-50

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: Jersey Shore, Cam Allison 20-130, 2 TD; Hayden Packer 8-25; Brady Jordan 3-17; Kooper Peacock 1-(-2); Branden Wheary 2-(-3). L-S, Sean McTaggart 16-19, TD; Andrew Knapp 6-15; Giovanni Malatesta 1-4 ; Owen Fikkert 2-2; Drew Harris 3-1.

PASSING: Jersey Shore, Wheary 19-36-0, 252 yards, 3 TD; Anderson 1-1-0, 33 yards; Jordan 1-1-0, 33 yards. . L-S, McTaggart 24-47-2, 473 yards, 3 TD.

RECEIVING: Jersey Shore, Cayden Hess 13-162, 2 TD; Anderson 6-119, TD; Dalton Dugan 1-35; Jordan 1-2. . L-S, Beau Heyser 10-220, 3 TD; Ian Herr 9-141; Knapp 2-59; Berkeley Wagner 2-41, TD; Fikkert 1-12..

INTERCEPTIONS: Jersey Shore, Dugan, Hess.

SACKS: Karter Peacock 2, Hayden Packer, Quincey Myers.

RECORDS: Jersey Shore 10-0. Lampeter-Strasburg 9-1.

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