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Regardless of outcome, Bulldogs should celebrate

Jersey Shore fire trucks and police cars blared their sirens at 1:30 last Saturday morning, providing residents an early wake-up call.

Few cared about the noise. This was a scene many thought they would never witness. So if some sleep was the price to pay, so be it. The Jersey Shore football team was arriving in town as conquering heroes after defeating Lampeter-Strasburg, 39-35, and earning a spot in the Class AAAA state championship game.

Honestly, many might have thought they were still sleeping. Jersey Shore playing in the state final? Just eight years ago that would have elicited laughter. The Bulldogs had endured 15 consecutive years without a winning season, had three wins over the previous four years, and were coming off a winless campaign.

But the seeds were planted in 2013 when Jersey Shore captured a district championship and each ensuing season this program has continued to blossom and turn a far-fetched dream into reality.

The dream season continues today in Hershey when Jersey Shore faces Thomas Jefferson for the title at 3:30 p.m. The past seven Jersey Shore teams have lent a big hand, laying bricks in the foundation each year. Something great has been built and Jersey Shore will try to complete this remarkable journey with the most storybook ending possible.

It’s no accident Jersey Shore is here. The Bulldogs have become a true state power and are 10-0 with road state tournament wins against previously undefeated Crestwood and Lampeter-Strasburg. A year after placing four players on the all-state team, Jersey Shore likely will have even more this season.

The power of this team, though, is not in the individual but the collective effort. The 2020 foundation was built upon relentless work through chaotic times created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every player bought in and each one has made an impact. Fans see the finished product on game day, but they do not see all that goes into making those performances possible, including unselfish scout team players prepping the starters so well. This is a case where every player truly has his finger prints on this team’s success.

Ditto for the coaches. My father coached at Chester for two decades and I know first hand how much time and sacrifice high school coaches make each day. A group of excellent, creative and dedicated coaches have set quite an example for the players who have bought in, executed so well and revealed so much character.

Jersey Shore has created something special and that is why residents will line the streets this morning and salute the Bulldogs as they leave for Hershey. But one does not have to be from Jersey Shore to share in the excitement. The Bulldogs are the first Sun-Gazette area team since South Williamsport in 1997 to reach a state championship game. They are one of only four area teams to reach this point and have the opportunity to be the first to capture the championship.

Personally, I cannot begin to describe how excited this reporter is. This is my first time covering an area football state finalist and seeing it happen in a season I thought would never happen adds extra meaning.

COVID-19 has shaken up so many things, created so much stress. It is wonderful covering these games and losing myself in them, forgetting for a few hours everything else that is going on. It has been a joy watching this unforgettable run unfold and I salute not just this team, but all the area teams which I have been privileged to watch this season.

This area has waited 23 years for a day like today and the moment has arrived. Win or lose, this is a celebratory day. Jersey Shore has achieved something so few others have and provided this area a season’s worth of thrills.

Keep those fire trucks and police cars ready because a team which has produced such a memorable ride certainly needs a worthy escort bringing it home.

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

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