Jared Palski stepped up for Jersey Shore’s defense
As linebacker Gabe Packer hobbled toward the sideline just five plays into last Friday’s PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal, one might have thought Jersey Shore’s state championship dreams were following right behind him.
Packer is not just an outstanding player, but a team leader and a stingy defense’s quarterback. But this is Jersey Shore and the Bulldogs seemingly always have another strong player waiting in the wings. Losing Packer was a blow, but sophomore Jared Palski softened it and helped keep the defense going strong.
Palski played a terrific game, making several tackles and fitting in like a glove as Jersey Shore slowed a powerful offense and beat undefeated Crestwood, 26-14 in the Class AAAA state quarterfinals. When his team needed him most, Palski delivered and has helped the Bulldogs (9-0) earn a state semifinal showdown Friday at Lampeter-Strasburg. Jersey Shore is playing in its second straight state Final Four and Palski is a key reason why.
“Jared Palski stepped up. He came up big and that’s a heck of a time to do it in the state playoffs,” defensive end Dalton Dugan said after collecting 2 1/2 sacks. “He did his job well and the defense clicked.”
Palski had played a complementary role this season, making eight tackles and adding 1 1/2 sacks in five games. But when his name was called early against Crestwood, he showed how good he can be. The defense continued humming, neutralized Crestwood’s strong running attack and forced four turnovers. Palski also was part of a unit which turned the Comets away three times inside the 10-yard line.
When Packer exited, Jersey Shore was going with two sophomores, Palski and Hayden Packer, at linebacker. Both showed why the linebacking unit could be in quite good hands the next two years.
“Jared Palski was great (Friday),” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “He steps in there in a state playoff game and he battles like crazy. What a game he had.”
SUPER KOOPER: Gravish has nicknamed cornerback Kooper Peacock “Super Kooper” and the sophomore lived up to that billing against Crestwood. Peacock made his first two interceptions this season titanic ones. Those fourth-quarter picks set up the game’s final touchdown and clinched the win, respectively.
Peacock has provided excellent coverage throughout the season in his first year starting, but some may not have noticed because he did not have the interceptions. They sure are noticing now and Peacock was another sophomore who owned the first big-game moments in his young high school career.
“Koop came up really big,” Dugan said. “Those were two really big interceptions.”
Crestwood trailed 19-14 when it faced a third-and-16 from its 10-yard line with 3 minutes, 24 seconds remaining. Quarterback Noah Schultz looked deep in hopes of making a big play, but Peacock was on the receiver like glue. The ball was overthrown and Peacock made a running catch at the 42-yard line before reversing field, cutting toward the sideline and returning it 27 yards to the 15. Cam Allison scored two plays later from 10 yards out as Jersey Shore took a 26-14 lead.
On the next possession, Crestwood moved to the 1-yard line before the defensive line knocked Jimmy Hawley for a 4-yard loss. Schultz rolled out on the next play and threw a pass toward the back of the end zone. Again, Peacock was on top the receiver and he stepped in front of him to make the interception and send Jersey Shore back to the Final Four.
“He made some big-time plays tonight,” Gravish said. “He played a really good game.”
UNSUNG HEROES: Some Bulldogs who did not take the field against Crestwood still played vital roles in the game’s outcome. The Jersey Shore scout teams did an outstanding job preparing both the offense and defense for what they would see against the Comets and the Bulldogs were well-prepared.
That has been a recurring them during this fabulous eight-year run which includes five district championships. The offense and defense are both ranked among the district’s best and have been for years. It sure helps when those units consistently are receiving quality looks from the scout teams. It also shows that even if one does not play on game night, he can still make a big impact.
“Hat’s off to our scout team,” Gravish said. “They got us prepared on both sides of the ball and made sure we were ready. They deserve a lot of credit.”
LOADED ARSENAL: Early in the District 4 final, a Shamokin parent focused on one Jersey Shore player and declared, “you know he’s getting the ball, he’s the whole team!” As far as humor goes, it was a the joke of the night because anyone who has watched Jersey Shore play over the years knows how balanced and versatile this offense is.
That point was driven home again last Friday. Allison ran for 77 yards and a touchdown, Packer averaged 5.4 yards per carry and scored, Owen Anderson ripped off a 39-yard touchdown run and Branden Wheary threw for 161 yards. Hess caught seven passes and Anderson six more. Those two and Dugan all have caught at least 22 passes and four touchdowns this season.
Allison has run for 910 yards and is one of four players who has rushed for at least six touchdowns, including sophomore Brady Jordan who has a team-high eight. One gets the point.
“If they key in on me we have Owen or Dugan or any of those guys can step up and make plays,” Hess said. “It doesn’t matter who it is someone can make the plays for us.”
“You can’t focus on just one person. It can go anywhere,” Allison said. “I think that’s why we’re dangerous.”
CALLING ALL STARS: The Sun-Gazette’s annual all-star team likely will run on Christmas Day and will include stories on the Player and Coach of the Year. The coverage area has produced two district champions, seven district finalists and six teams that lost two or fewer games so competition for first team spots may be tougher than at any point during the team’s 19-year history.