Chris Masse on football: Shore made a tremendous impact Friday night

DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish talks with his team prior to the start of their semifinal game against Aliquippa at Central Cambria High School Dec. 3, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

The WPIAL Conference is, arguably, Pennsylvania’s most decorated. It has produced several NFL players and Aliquippa is where Hall of Famer Ty Law and future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis began their football journeys.

So, obviously, Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield has seen some great teams over the years. He watched another one Friday night. And Warfield’s words drive home how sensational Jersey Shore was yet again in 2021.

“I have mad respect for those guys. They were tough. They were tough-nosed kids,” Warfield said after Aliquippa erased a 10-point deficit and defeated Jersey Shore, 41-16 in last Friday’s Class AAAA state semifinals. “They’re not big in size but those are hard-nosed kids. I’d put them at the top (of opponents they played). I have so much respect for those guys.”

So much so that Warfield stopped as he was leaving the field and asked Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish if he could address his players. Warfield then showered the Bulldogs with praise. It was a small gesture, but it was kind, gracious and powerful.

Warfield did not know a lot about Jersey Shore before Friday’s game, but in defeat, the Bulldogs made a tremendous impact. It’s great when a team’s fans salute it, but the opponent doing so may be the ultimate honor and the one Warfield offered was well-deserved.

Everything the Aliquippa coach said was true. Jersey Shore never awed anyone with their size. Only one starter weighed more than 225 pounds, but their size could not measure their strength or their heart. Jersey Shore overpowered teams throughout the season, romped to fourth straight HAC-I and District 4 championships and won two more state tournament games, giving them six over the past three seasons.

Maybe they don’t look like it, but believe me, these are big dogs. Jersey Shore set a program record and tied an area record with 14 wins in a season, entering the Final Four undefeated despite playing a difficult schedule. The Bulldogs outscored four playoff victims, 149-20 and nearly made it back to a second consecutive state final. All this despite returning just four full-time starters and having six seniors.

“We have a motto that tradition never graduates because of the leadership the younger guys learn from the seniors,” Gravish said. “I think the younger guys definitely learned from this group of seniors and now we’ll rebound and get back after it.”

“We just tried to use the heart of the Bulldogs and keep powering through and pounding the rock,” Jersey Shore tackle Donald Steinbacher said. “That’s all we could do.”

They did it so well.

This is a team as entertaining as it is tough. The Bulldogs again ran their no-huddle offense at Daytona 500 speed, lighting up the scoreboard throughout the season while wearing out one team after another. Despite most starters going both ways, Jersey Shore always seemed to grow stronger and put up some video-game numbers.

Quarterback Brady Jordan became the program’s fourth 2,000-yard passer since 2016 and also went over 1,000 rushing yards. Haydn Packer ran for 1,237 yards and 20 touchdowns and freshman Elijah Jordan nearly reached 800 yards. Cayden Hess obliterated all major area career receiving records and produced 1,000 yards while Connor Griffin and Kooper Peacock combined for 956 yards.

The defense was equally exciting. Announcers often said, “tackled by a pack of dogs,” because there were so many swarming defenders near the ball. Packer, Karter Peacock and Connor Davis all went over 100 tackles, each player made an impact and the defense scored five touchdowns.

This team is high-octane energy and fireworks. Half the time I found myself watching and waiting for one of the players to go Russell Crowe in Gladiator and ask, “Are you not entertained?” I don’t know how anyone could watch this team player and not be.

It’s been chronicled many times here before, but what Jersey Shore has done truly is remarkable. This is a program which went 20-107 during the first 13 seasons of the 2000s. Now it has become a state power, making an area record three straight state Final Four appearances, while winning six district championships, five league titles and going undefeated in the regular season three times.

The names keep changing but the results do not. Each team keeps leaving its mark, raising the bar and achieving greatness. The 2021 Bulldogs sure did. They were well-coached, hard-working, tough as nails and wildly exciting.

They really were the perfect representatives for a community which has wrapped their arms around them and enjoyed all the good they have provided.

“After the game I told them I know it hurts, I know it stings and the reason it does is because they care so much. They care so much for each other, but they should feel proud of themselves,” Gravish said. “Winning 14 games is a school record and they battled their tails right to the end and played with class. I’m proud of our seniors and I truly believe our kids are champions in the class room, champions in the community and champions on the field and are going to be champions in life.”

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


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today