Jersey Shore’s Connor Griffin put an exclamation point on a breakout season
Connor Griffin blew past the defender but it looked like the pass coming his way might be overthrown. Griffin tracked it, sped up, extended his arms and caught the 40-yard strike before falling. This came on the game’s first play last Friday and offered a preview. Time after time, he made the difficult look routine.
Two later catches featured Griffin leaping high against blanket coverage and making pro-style catches for big gains. He even made a fourth-down, eight-yard grab exciting, eluding multiple tacklers and extending a fourth-quarter drive against the odds.
Nearly every play Griffin made against Aliquippa was highlight material. Embracing the big stage, Griffin shined bright under the Central Cambria lights and put an exclamation point on a fantastic breakout season. The junior wide receiver caught five passes for 109 yards and did all he could to help Jersey Shore in its 41-16 Class AAAA semifinal loss against Aliquippa.
“I said it’s ride or die and gave it my all. I had to,” Griffin said. “I had to pull through and I tried my best.”
Griffin’s best showed through all year and helped Jersey Shore go 14-1 while capturing a fourth straight District 4 and HAC-I championships. This was a team replacing all but four full-time starters from last year’s state finalist and Griffin was one of many first-time starters who made big impacts.
In addition to playing well at cornerback and intercepting four passes, Griffin finished second on the team in receiving, catching 27 passes for 526 yards and five touchdowns. Defenses did all they could to slow the area’s all-time leading receiver Cayden Hess, but Griffin and Kooper Peacock often made that strategy backfire, combining for nearly 1,000 yards as Jersey Shore averaged nearly 40 points throughout the season.
“Kooper and I, looking at Cayden and everything he’s done and achieved, we look up to him,” Griffin said. “We followed everything he did. We did offseason workouts with him and he really helped us out.”
Griffin helped out Jersey Shore as well. He burst onto the scene in Week 3 against Montoursville, catching two touchdowns, including a 76-yarder and a last-second game-tying one. He also went over 100 yards and helped the Bulldogs rally to win, 27-20 in overtime. Displaying a knack for making excellent catches at the right time, Griffin set up the game-clinching touchdown in a state quarterfinal win against Meadville, going up high and snatching the ball along the left sideline despite a defender hanging on him.
Then Griffin put together his best mix tape against Aliquippa and its stingy defense. The Quips covered him well at times, but there was no defense for the catches Griffin was making. Twice he broke down the sideline, went up in traffic and made tough grabs for big plays. His 27-yard second-quarter beauty helped fuel the game’s first touchdown drive. Even a defender holding him in the fourth quarter could not stop Griffin as he fought that off and made a brilliant, jumping 28-yard reception.
“Connor has a certain knack for following the football. This is a fantastic facility but there are some spots here that make it not the easiest place to track the ball with these kind of lights,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “It’s illuminated well for the fans, but from this angle here (near midfield) you can lose a ball in the lights real quick and he didn’t lose any.”
Griffin displayed glue hands all night and did not drop any passes while reaching a career-high in receiving yards. With Hess hobbled by a double groin pull, Jersey Shore needed Griffin and he again delivered in a big way.
“Connor really showed out. You could tell he didn’t want to lose,” tackle Donald Steinbacher said. “He kept saying we decide if we win or lose and he really tried to do his best.”
Griffin will keep doing that throughout the offseason and into 2022. Hess graduates, but tradition never does at Jersey Shore. Griffin and Peacock are back and are eager to fill the void.
He dazzled Friday night but like his first catch against Aliquippa, Griffin might be just offering a glimpse. The best might still be coming.
“I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else,” Griffin said. “I think we got the torch this year and it’s tradition. We kept it going and we (the underclassmen) want that tradition to keep going.”
That tradition appears in good hands.