Jersey Shore Bulldogs prepare for first round of the AAAA state playoffs

Jersey Shore Defensive End Kaden Barr (32) and Wide Receiver/Safety Austin Breon (25) celebrate after scoring a touchdown in the District 4 Championship against Selinsgrove. Jersey Shore won, 31-15

MILL HALL – Jersey Shore conquered its competition in the district 4 talent-pool, now it’s time for that success to carry over into the state playoffs.

Tomorrow, the Bulldogs battle the Greater Johnstown Trojans in the first round of the state playoffs, and head coach Tom Gravish is excited with the strides his team has made during their game-planning this week.

“We’re having a great week of practice,” said Gravish. “We had a light-Monday practice since our game is on Saturday–we had an outstanding practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and we’re expecting to have an awesome practice today.”

The Bulldogs are facing a Trojans team who are 11-1 on the year and possess a wide receiver named Exree Loe who has already accepted a full-ride scholarship to West Virginia University. In addition to Loe, the Trojans have a balanced offense with enough playmakers to go around.

“They’re very good at hitting you with a big play,” Gravish said about Johnstown. “They have wide receivers who are fast,  and sometimes they line four or five of  them up at a time.  They just have explosive players all-over on offense and we need to make sure we line up correctly and execute our assignments on defense.”

Against the Seals last week, Jersey Shore’s defense was able to execute its assignments, but the offense struggled with protecting the football. Jersey Shore committed four turnovers in the district championship–but the Bulldogs are aiming to eradicate its ball-security issues in order to maximize scoring opportunities on offense.

“Our goal is to be plus-two or plus-three in the turnover margin,” said Gravish, “That’s our goal every week. If we can finish plus-three in this game I think we have a great chance of winning it.”

Although the game is held on a neutral site, the field’s proximity creates a huge advantage for Jersey Shore, who are essentially being awarded an extra home game. The Bulldogs have a 20-minute drive to Williamsport, while the Trojans must travel over two hours to play in the first round of the state playoffs. Although Gravish said he’s fortunate his team is playing a state-playoff game just 15-miles away from its home turf, he’s preached to his athletes not to get too occupied with the perceived home-field advantage.

“I tell the guys it will be a great crowd, but the fans in the stands won’t be able to score any touchdowns or make any tackles,” said Gravish.

The in-game executions, not the crowd will decide the outcome of this game, and Gravish knows this. All week he has prepared his team thoroughly and he believes he knows what strategies Johnstown will implement to hinders his team’s offense.

“The guys understand how Johnstown likes to attack their opponents and what their strengths are,” said Gravish. “And we know what our strengths are and how Johnstown will probably try to counter it by playing tight man-to-man coverage on the outside.”

In regards to Saturday’s forecasts, Gravish isn’t concerned with the predicted rain–as he believes his team is ready to perform in less-than-ideal weather.

“We practice anytime it rains or pours and practice is always outside,” said Gravish. ” We feel like we’re prepared for any kind of weather. We think we’ll have better field conditions to play on than what we’re practicing on. Our home field is a little slick and they have a great surface down there in Williamsport at STA stadium.”

Jersey Shore faces Greater Johnstown at 1 p.m on Saturday at Williamsport High School in the first round of the PIAA state playoffs.