Shore defense forces fumble Friday when it most needed a stop

MARK NANCE/For the Express Jersey Shore’s Dalton Dugan celebrates after making a play against Crestwood on Friday night in the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals.

It took Crestwood just six plays to move 78 yards and come within 9 yards of scoring a go-ahead third-quarter touchdown.

It took just one monstrous Colin Samar hit and Dalton Dugan forced fumble to end the drive and dramatically alter Friday’s Class AAAA state quarterfinal.

Samar powered through the line and stoned Crestwood running back Kaleb Benjamin in the backfield. Dugan hit Benjamin a split second later and forced a fumble which Hayden Packer recovered at the 15-yard line. Seven plays later, it was Jersey Shore scoring a touchdown. That dramatic turn of events at Crestwood is a big reason Jersey Shore remains undefeated and its state championship dreams remain alive. It was the biggest play in a game filled with them and helped the Bulldogs (9-0) earn a second consecutive Final 4 appearance.

Jersey Shore heads to District 3 champion Lampeter-Strasburg on Friday night as it tries to reach its first state final.

“They were driving it right down our throats and we had to come up big,” Dugan said after playing a fantastic game which included 2 1/2 sacks. “I think in the second half that was the turning point in the game, especially when they were driving right down the field on us. It picked us up and we went down and scored and played a heck of a game the rest of the way.”

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore's 2 and 38 celebrate their win over Crestwood in the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal game at Crestwood Friday

Crestwood and Jersey Shore exchanged first-half leads in this showdown of unbeatens and Owen Anderson’s 39-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter had the Bulldogs up 12-7 at halftime. Jersey Shore had neutralized a potent running game throughout the first half, but quarterback Noah Schultz ripped off a 39-yard run and Benjamin added two 12-yard bursts before his 5-yard run set up Crestwood for a second-and-5 at the Bulldog 9-yard line.

The Comets had averaged 17 yards on those previous four plays. A Jersey Shore defense which had yet to give up 10 points in a game this season was scrambling.

Then Dugan changed everything.

Samar and Dugan have made some critical plays throughout their scholastic careers but this was their best and most important. Samar was in the backfield in a flash and immediately sent Benjamin moving backward. Dugan then followed with another big hit and the ball popped free before a scramble ensued. Packer (12 tackles) chased down the ball, recovered it at the 15, and gave Jersey Shore quite a jolt.

“They were pounding it up the field and Dugan cracked the kid,” Packer said. “He hit him so hard and the ball flew out and people were diving it. I eventually got on it and that was a big moment.”

“That was a heck of a play by Dugan. That was a momentum-changer,” said cornerback Cayden Hess who made a touchdown-saving tackle on Schultz’s 39-yard run. “That meant everything. They had that big, long run and Dugan stuffing him on that and getting the ball back that was a game-changer.”

So was what happened next.

Jersey Shore’s offense built on the momentum the defense created and moved 85 yards on seven plays to take a 12-point lead. The Bulldogs mixed it up well with Packer and Cam Allison gaining chunk yards and Anderson catching a 21-yard pass. Anderson scored his second-quarter touchdown on a third-down play and did so again here, catching a short pass on third-and-4, breaking two tackles and going 42 yards for the touchdown to put Jersey Shore ahead, 19-7. In just two minutes, the game’s complexion had been drastically altered.

“Once we scored on offense after that (fumble) my confidence went way up,” said Packer, who also scored a touchdown. “I felt a little more comfortable back there knowing if they score we’re still up. The defense stuck together well.”

Crestwood did score in the fourth quarter, making it a five-point game, but Kooper Peacock’s interception and 27-yard return set up Cam Allison for a 10-yard touchdown run that made it 26-14. Peacock clinched the win two minutes later, intercepting a pass in the end zone.

It was a collaborative effort defensively with all three levels playing well, but the defensive line’s performance might have been the ultimate difference. Dugan, Samar, Quincey Myers, Lee Springman and Ben Webb wreaked havoc throughout the game and collected four sacks. Just as importantly, they limited burly Crestwood leading rusher Jimmy Hawley to 6 yards on 12 carries, containing a powerful running game which helped the Comets romp to a District 2 championship.

Dugan and Myers both forced fumbles which led to touchdowns and interior linemen Samar, Springman and Webb closed off running lanes all night, either making the tackles or freeing up the linebackers to make them.

“That team is really good. (Hawley) is a heck of a runner and (Logan Arnold) is a heck of a lead blocker,” Hess said. “Our line did a great job containing them and getting the gaps filled. It was a great team effort.”

Defense and offense complemented each other all night with Jersey Shore scoring touchdowns following three of the four turnovers the defense forced. The offensive line neutralized a strong defense, Allison and Packer ran hard, Branden Wheary threw for 161 yards, and both Hess and Anderson had big receiving nights.

Samar’s hit and Dugan’s forced fumble flipped the game’s script. Ultimately, though, Jersey Shore stuck to its core philosophy as it moved to another Final 4 appearance.

“We talk a lot about complementary football. It goes from special teams to defense to offense,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “That was a transition that kept that momentum going to the next couple plays we had and we built on it from there.”


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