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Jersey Shore’s 4-minute offense helps send it to state title game

MARK NANCE/For the Express Jersey Shore’s Cayden Hess celebrates a 39-35 win over Lampeter-Strasburg in Lancaster in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals Friday.

LANCASTER–With a four-point lead and the ball, Jersey Shore was faced with a crucial third-and-7 with just over a minute left in the PIAA class AAAA semifinals against Lampeter-Strasburg on Friday night.

Conventional wisdom said to take the conservative approach and dial up a running play in an attempt to drain the clock. But that’s not Tom Gravish’s style. It’s not the style of the Jersey Shore offense either.

Senior quarterback Branden Wheary, who tossed three touchdowns and threw for 252 yards, took three steps and rifled a spiral to wide receiver Cayden Hess for a first down.

The aggressive approach by Jersey Shore on the game’s final drive revealed what kind of the team the Bulldogs are. And that aggressive approach has the Bulldogs headed to their first state final.

Jersey Shore defeated Lampeter-Strasburg on Friday, 39-35, overcoming a seven-point halftime deficit to earn a spot in the PIAA Class AAAA final Saturday against returning state champ Thomas Jefferson.

“We wanted to try to win with it with what we thought was our best plays. We had a good play there. If we’re not going to win the game, we’re not going to lose because we’re too conservative,” Gravish said. “Like Bill Cowher always talks about: four-minute offense. And we had four minutes to control the clock.”

Cam Allison scored the game’s first touchdown when he took a sweep for a 24-yard score with 2:49 left in the first quarter. The Pioneers responded with a score of their own the next possession. Beau Heyser hauled in a 42-yard touchdown pass from Sean McTaggart. It was quite the night for Heyser. The junior tight end totaled 220 yards on 10 catches and three touchdowns.

After the two first-quarter scores, one by each team, the game turned into basketball on grass. Five total touchdowns were scored in the second quarter alone.

Jersey Shore was not in favorable territory at halftime. The Bulldogs trailed Lampeter-Strasburg, 28-21, at the end of the first half and were set to kick off to begin the third. The Bulldogs needed a stop in order to flip the game.

Jersey Shore’s defense stepped up as it has all season long. The Bulldogs forced the Pioneers to punt on their first possession to begin the second half. Quincey Myers and Hayden Packer recorded back-to-back sacks on third and fourth down to give the ball to Jersey Shore’s offense.

Myers, who played a solid role for Jersey Shore’s defense throughout the game, said the coaches kept the team motivated at halftime. The senior defensive end said the stop to begin the second half was game-changing.

“It was exactly what coach told us to do. He said go out there and play hard, and they won’t be able to do anything. We just kept doing what coach told us to do,” Myers said.

Packer, who recorded the other sack on the game-changing drive, said the way Jersey Shore’s offense was able to score points Friday night was putting pressure on its defense to step up.

“It just motivated us so much more, we knew the game was on the line, everyone was clicking on all four cylinders. It got us going even harder than before, and it pumped us it,” Packer said.

Karter Peacock led Jersey Shore in sacks with two in his first game back since Week 2.

The game’s momentum had been changed. Lampeter-Strasburg had the ball and was looking to score. Jersey Shore’s Dalton Dugan had other plans.

Dugan read the swing pass like a book. The senior linebacker intercepted McTaggart’s pass and returned it for a touchdown. Jersey Shore took the lead.

McTaggart snuck in a keeper with just under two minutes left in the third quarter to take the lead back for Lampeter-Strasburg.

Although, the lead did not last for long. Cayden Hess had a monstrous fourth quarter for the Bulldogs. Hess ran a flawless route near the end zone and Wheary found him for a touchdown.

Jersey Shore took the lead. Then, in desperate need of yet another stop, Hess intercepted the ball for Jersey Shore to give the ball back to the Bulldogs with just over four minutes left.

The interception came after Jersey Shore recovered a potential fumble. Although, the Lampeter-Strasburg receiver was called down by contact.

Myers, who forced the fumble for Jersey Shore, bounced back on the next play and batted down a pass. Myers said it reflected the defense’s resiliency.

“We talk about next-play mentality, and that might be a letdown for somebody. We kept battling and knew sooner or later we would make a play,” Myers said.

The Bulldogs then went into their four-minute offense in order to close out the game and secure a spot in the PIAA state title game.

“They have no quit in them. They will play 48 minutes and that’s all we said at halftime, we feel we’re in elite condition and eventually the game will turn our way,” Gravish said. “We left some possessions out there in the first half that we didn’t cash in, we just played it possession by possession and it ended up working out for us.”

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