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Jersey Shore is motivated to be the best

MARK NANCE/For The Express Jersey Shore players pose with the District 4 Class AAAA championship plaque after beating Shamokin.

If a Jersey Shore athletics team reaches a state tournament, the school district supplements a meal at some point along the road trip. When Jersey Shore football defeated Bishop Shanahan for its first-ever state tournament victory last fall, Domino’s Pizza was the selection.

When Jersey Shore won again the next week and reached the Class AAAA state semifinals, it stuck with Domino’s because you don’t mess with superstition. Shortly after Jersey Shore defeated Crestwood, 26-14, in last week’s state quarterfinals, the Domino’s delivery car was there again.

Domino’s is a celebratory meal … but so is ice cream … and wings. Whenever Jersey Shore shuts out an opponent, the coaches buy ice cream and a state tournament victory provides chicken wings the following week.

“Our guys are motivated by food,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said.

Who isn’t, especially when it’s free? But Gravish was joking and immediately made that clear.

“They’re motivated by competition.”

Jersey Shore also is motivated to be the best and that combination has created quite a team, program and season. The Bulldogs are back in the state’s Final Four for a second straight season and play for a spot in the state championship tonight at District 3 champion Lampeter-Strasburg.

The Bulldogs (9-0) have been motivated since losing to Dallas in this spot last year. Gravish said his players already were attacking the weight room within a month following that defeat. COVID-19 and quarantine did not dampen this team’s drive either last spring as they stayed connected through Zoom meetings and relentlessly worked on their own or in small groups.

A strong core graduated from last year’s team, but Jersey Shore’s motto is “Tradition Never Graduates” and this team has epitomized it. These Bulldogs never doubted they would again reach this point. The desire to take the next step and reach a state final has sparked every bench press, every sprint, every hit, every block, every run and every throw.

“They were talking about getting back right after last year’s (final) game,” Gravish said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them.”

They always do. So do the all the coaches. This truly is a collective effort and it has been that way since a remarkable turnaround and upward climb started in 2013. Jersey Shore’s mascot being a Bulldog is perfect because this is a team which attacks every game, every challenge and every play like a pack of hungry bulldogs.

This is not a team of individuals, it is a group bonded as one. Jersey Shore features an explosive offense, a stifling defense and some outstanding coaches. At its core, though, this is a hard-working, hard-nosed, tough team which never surrenders. That showed again last week when the defense made three stops inside the 10-yard line and a balanced offense made key plays at crucial times as Jersey Shore went on the road and handed Crestwood its only loss.

But those qualities have been there all season and during the last eight seasons. Teams throughout this run have kept raising the bar. They also have never grown satisfied. District title dreams have become state championship aspirations. The blue print has been provided and each new team adds another key element.

The successes have been many, but this program remains hungry. What it craves is not edible rewards, but the ultimate high school prize. Pizza, ice cream and wings are nice, but championships last forever.

Jersey Shore understands Lampeter-Strasburg presents an immense challenge tonight. Any team at this point of the year does. But this hungry team always has embraced challenges like a bulldog does a new bone.

That is what this team’s loyal fans love about it. Everybody loves a winner, but the fans love more how this team wins. The Bulldogs represent all the qualities people seek in themselves. That is why they provide such vocal support and make an impact even during a season when COVID-19 restrictions have limited crowd sizes.

“It’s insane,” defensive end/wide receiver Dalton Dugan said following the Crestwood win. “The crowd was on our side yelling and that just helped our players with what we were doing. They helped us out a lot.”

The players help them as well, giving them something of which to be proud. Now a proud team and town try elevating the program even higher.

The hunt continues.

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