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Jersey Shore’s defense limits Meadville as Bulldogs advance to state semifinals

Tate Sechrist of Jersey Shore celebrates his touchdown in the first quarter against Meadeville at Clarion University Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

CLARION–After coming within one play of potentially capturing the Class AAAA state championship a year ago, Jersey Shore players took some well-deserved time off.

For a month.

That is all the Bulldogs could stomach. Then it was back to the grind. With all but four starters graduating, Jersey Shore knew some would doubt whether it could continue building on its stellar success over the last decade.

The work goes on, but look at where that effort has brought Jersey Shore–again.

A stifling defense shut down one of the state’s best running attacks, Cayden Hess and Kooper Peacock caught long touchdowns and Tate Sechrist returned a fumble 75 yards for a touchdown as Jersey Shore overpowered District 10 Meadville, 30-6 in Saturdayás state quarterfinals at Clarion University. The Bulldogs (14-0) are state Final 4-bound for a third straight year and will play District 7 champion Aliquippa in next weekendás semifinals at a time and date to be determined.

Brady Jordan of Jersey Shore tries to break the tackle of Andre Jefferson of Meadeville at Clarion University Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

“I can’t even put it into words. This team has worked so hard for each other. We’ve been working since January. We all pull on the same rope,” Peacock said after also forcing the fumble which Sechrist returned for a second-quarter score. “We just keep going at it. We had a lot of doubters who didn’t think we could do what we did last year and we’ve built a great tradition. We just keep pounding the rock.”

Like it did against Allentown Central Catholic far from home last week, Jersey Shore delivered enough hammer shots that the rock eventually crumbled. The Bulldogs scored 24 second-quarter points, built an 18-point halftime lead and blanked Meadville (9-4) over the final 32 minutes. Brady Jordan threw for 180 yards and two touchdowns and Karter Peacock ignited the nasty defense, making a career-high 18 tackles while adding a sack.

“We put in so much offseason work to be where we’re at right now. It feels amazing to see our work paying off,” Jordan said. “We kept hearing about how many people we lost and we just embraced that with a chip on our shoulder. We just did our thing.”

Jersey Shore’s thing has become playing tremendous complementary football over the last nine seasons while capturing six district championships and five league crowns. Its thing has become every player embracing his role, doing his job and doing it so well. All those parts clicked in again Saturday and the Bulldogs dominated the final 36 minutes following a scoreless first quarter.

The defense started it by turning offensive. Meadville twice threatened early, recovering a fumble at the Bulldog 15-yard line before being turned away. A series later, Meadville moved to the Jersey Shore 11. On the second quarter’s second play, Peacock came charging through untouched on a safety blitz. He drilled the quarterback 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, jarring the ball loose in the process. Sechrist picked up the ball on the run, showed off his speed and went 75 yards untouched, giving Jersey Shore a 7-0 lead.

Jersey Shore defense celebrates a turnover in the fourth quarter against Meadeville at Clarion University Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

“Coach Jackson called the blitz and I went for it. I was just going for the sack. I knew it was going to be a pretty bad loss if I could get to him but I didn’t even think about getting the ball. Thankfully, it went our way,” Peacock said after making 10 tackles. “It was the happiest I’ve ever been. I was so happy for Tate. It was one of his first varsity touchdowns and especially to do it on defense, it was awesome.”

Khalon Simmons capped a short Meadville drive with a 17-yard touchdown run on the ensuing possession but Jersey Shore’s defense made life miserable for it after that. As the Bulldog defense constricted its offense opened up and dramatically changed the game’s complexion over the first-half’s final 4 minutes, 30 seconds.

Meadville bottled up Jersey Shore’s offense after Haydn Packer and Jordan ripped off runs producing 36 yards on the game’s first two plays. Jordan, however, changed all that when he rolled out on a second-and-8 from the 44 and threw a perfectly-placed pass toward Hess. The two-time all-state receiver caught the deep ball in stride and raced in for the 56-yard touchdown, giving Jersey Shore a 14-6 lead.

“It definitely built a lot of momentum,” said Hess, the first player in area history to catch 30 career touchdowns. “It gave us a good edge to know we were up another score and after that we kind of caught fire and kept going.”

The big plays continued a series later. Packer delivered a fantastic block and prevented a blitzer from reaching Jordan who then planted and found Kooper Peacock for 15 yards across the middle. Peacock juked the defender, making him miss and then outran the rest of the defense, going 59 yards as Jersey Shore went up 21-6, scoring its second touchdown on four plays.

Jersey Shore fans celebrate a turnover by the Bulldogs in the fourth quarter by Meadeville at Clarion University Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Meadville was not saved by the bell either. Jordan tipped a third-down pass on the next possession and Hess intercepted it at the Bulldog 42-yard line with 25 seconds remaining in the half. Jordan and Peacock went back to work a brilliant 27-yard Peacock reception in traffic gave Breck Miller a shot at a last-second field goal. Miller, the first player in area history to top 100 kicking points in a season, drilled a 29-yarder as time expired. Jersey Shore produced 10 points in less than two minutes and with Meadville possessing little passing game, that field goal felt like a back breaker.

“Some people consider us a second-half team, so to come out there and score that many points in the first half and shut them down in the second quarter, it felt great,” Hess said. “Coming out at halftime we felt really confident.”

“The second quarter was key. We followed up the defensive score with some touchdowns and I thought the field goal was important to get,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “We just told our guys to keep battling for 48 minutes. Play Bulldog ball for 48 minutes and sooner or later we’ll make our plays.”

The defense continued making them throughout the second half as Meadville running backs continued running into an Orange wall. Meadville featured an 1,800-yard rusher and a 1,400-yard rusher, was averaging 42 points and was so devastating with its rushing assault that it attempted just 34 passes entering the contest. It was strength against strength and Jersey Shore’s defense won by knockout.

The Bulldogs surrendered just three yards per carry, clogging lanes, hitting hard and tacking extremely well. Meadville usually is exceptional at turning minimal games into long touchdowns, but it went against a different animal Saturday and Jersey Shore tacklers repeatedly finished them off soon after making contact. It was not one player hunting out its prey and making it hard for Meadville to sustain drives, but a pack of hungry Bulldogs attacking.

Dierk Stetts collected a sack and recovered a fumble, Karter Peacock added another sack and every player on defense did his job well as Meadville was limited to 92 second-half yards and crossed midfield just once after its second-quarter touchdown. No Meadville ball-carrier reached four yards per carry either.

Jersey Shore played well at all thre levels and Packer produced 15 tackles, including 10 solos. Connor Davis and Luke Springman were tough up front, combining for 22 tackles and Jordan added a career-high 14 tackles.

“We were flying to the ball,” Hess said after intercepting his sixth pass this season. “We wore Orange on Orange today to look like flames flying around. It was fun.”

“We told them with their offense, someone might pop one on us. It’s going to be hard just to snuff them out to no first downs,” Gravish said. “Our guys on defense played that team about as well as anyone has played them all year.”

Kooper Peacock played a terrific all-around game and made an impact on special teams as well, twice dropping punts inside the 20-yard line. His final punt had Meadville starting from its own 5-yard line and flipped field position to help produce the gameás final touchdown. After Jersey Shore forced a three-and-out, Meadville punted to the Jersey Shore 42. Connor Griffin was covered well but Jordan gave him a chance to make a play on a deep third-down throw and Griffin jumped high to win the battle, his 27-yard reception setting up Packer for a 6-yard score.

Packer’s 20th touchdown this season gave Jersey Shore a 30-6 lead and had its fans who traveled more than two hours for a second straight week jumping for joy.

Jersey Shore became the first area team to reach three straight state Final 4’s. It’s a phenomenal achievement, but that was not ultimate goal when the work began last January. Saturday was another moment to savor, but the work continues.

“We know (Aliquippa) is a great team,” Jordan said. “We’ll practice hard all week and come ready to play whenever we play them.”

Jersey Shore 30, Meadville 6

Meadville 0 6 0 0ä6

Jersey Shore 0 24 0 6ä30

Second Quarter

J-Tate Sechrist 75-yard fumble return (Breck Miller kick), 11:01

M-Khalon Simmons 17 run (kick failed), 8:05

J-Cayden Hess 56 pass from Brady Jordan (Miller kick), 4:30

J-Kooper Peacock 59 pass from Jordan (Miller kick), 1:56

J-Miller 29-yard field goal, 0:00

Fourth Quarter

J-Haydn Peacock 6 run (kick failed), 3:29

TEAM STATISTICS M J

First Downs 10 11

Rushes-yards 50-151 26-132

Passing yards 42 180

Total yards 193 266

Comp-Att-Int 5-6-1 7-13-1

Fumbles-lost 3-2 1-1

Penalties-yards 7-42 5-35

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: Meadville, Khalon Simmons 19-65, TD; Griffin Buzzell 14-58; Amarri Lewis 12-53; Gavin Longstreth 5-(-27). Jersey Shore, Haydn Packer 10-61, TD; Brady Jordan 9-43; Elijah Jordan 6-23; Kooper Peacock 1-5.

PASSING: Meadville, Longstreth 5-6-1, 42 yards. Jersey Shore, B. Jordan 7-12-1, 180 yards, 2 TDs; E. Jordan 0-1-0.

RECEIVING: Meadville, Buzzell 3-17; Andre Jefferson 1-13; Simmons 1-12. Jersey Shore, Peacock 3-87, TD; Connor Griffin 3-37; Cayden Hess 1-56, TD.

INTERCEPTIONS: Meadville, Buzzell. Jersey Shore, Hess.

SACKS: Meadville, Buzzell 2. Jersey Shore, Peacock, Dierk Stetts, Karter Peacock.

RECORDS: Jersey Shore 14-0. Meadville 9-4.

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