CRESTWOOD — Seconds after intercepting his second pass, Kooper Peacock raised his right arm and held the football high so both his teammates and Jersey Shore’s enthusiastic fans could see it. Jubilant Bulldogs quickly surrounded him as what once seemed so far-fetched became reality again.
Jersey Shore is headed back to the Class AAAA state semifinals.
Peacock intercepted two passes in the final four minutes, a stout defense made three stops inside the 10-yard line and Owen Anderson scored two touchdowns Friday night at Comet Stadium as Jersey Shore defeated Crestwood, 26-14 in the state quarterfinals, earning a second straight Final Four appearance. A program that struggled for so long before it began its current remarkable eight-year run has now firmly entrenched itself as one of the state’s most successful and will play District 3 champion Lampeter Strasburg next weekend for a spot in the state final.
And considering all the obstacles it has faced this year, Jersey Shore (9-0) reaching another Final 4 is quite a statement not just about its talent, but also its character.
“I can’t even describe it. It’s insane being back to back with the year that we’ve had and dealing with the coronavirus. We stuck together this whole time,” Cayden Hess said after making seven catches for 77 yards while playing outstanding defense. ‘We’ve been putting our masks on all the time and doing whatever it takes so we can play. It’s a crazy year and to come back out and have this outcome shows the work that we did all summer.”
Jersey Shore did not even know if it would have a season, but started holding Zoom meetings last March and kept grinding. Breaking through that cloud of uncertainty, what a season these determined, resilient Bulldogs have made it.
The Bulldogs lost a strong core of players from last year’s state semifinalist, but have continued embodying their “Tradition Never Graduates” motto while winning a fifth district title in eight years and securing a third state tournament win in two seasons. This was Jersey Shore’s biggest and most impressive win this season, coming against an undefeated District 2 champion that pushed the Bulldogs hard, but that could never break them.
“It goes all the way back to those Zoom meetings. They would text or email or call and say, ‘this is what we’ve been doing or we got some guys together and we’re working on this,’” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “It was without us initiating anything or telling them what to do. They know our system and they know what we believe in and they worked on it constantly.”
It showed last night. Again.
Jersey Shore has blown out a lot of teams this season, but proved it can be just as tough in a close game against a state title contender. The Bulldogs forced three turnovers, made repeated timely stops and utilized a balanced offense to produce touchdowns at crucial times. Crestwood took a 7-6 second-quarter lead and Jersey Shore trailed for just the second time this season, but Owen Anderson’s 39-yard touchdown run less than three minutes put it ahead to stay. Quincey Myers set up that touchdown when he stormed into the backfield and recovered a fumble.
Crestwood constantly threatened Jersey Shore, but the defense kept responding when the pressure was highest and Cam Allison’s 10-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes, 14 seconds remaining proved a dagger as the Bulldogs earned their way back to the state semifinals the hard way.
“It was up and down all throughout the game and we had to dig down,” linebacker/fullback Hayden Packer said after making a team-high 12 tackles and scoring the game’s first touchdown. “Everybody stepped up and did what they had to do.”
“It feels amazing. We did what we came here to do and the scoreboard shows it,” defensive end Dalton Dugan said following a stellar performance that included 2 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble. “The defense came up with some big stops, the offense did what it had to do and we fought and came out with a win.”
Dugan and Packer combined to make, arguably, the game’s biggest play. Anderson’s 39-yard touchdown run on a third-and-6 midway through the second quarter had Jersey Shore up 12-7 at halftime, but Crestwood quickly took the third-quarter’s opening possession from its 13-yard line to the Bulldog 9. On a second-and-five, Dugan blew up the lineman in front of him, stoned Kaleb Benjamin and forced a fumble which Packer recovered at the 15.
“It must have been a bad handoff because he was muffing it. I came up and hit him and he fumbled it,” Dugan said. “It was in my hands and it rolled out and thank goodness we came up and got it. It was a big play in the game.”
Just as important, the offense quickly seized on the momentum and produced an 85-yard touchdown drive. The fumble turned into a 12-14 point swing as Jersey Shore went up 19-7 less than five minutes into the third quarter.
Like he did on his first touchdown, Anderson again made a big third-down play when he scored his second. Quarterback Branden Wheary (11 of 19, 161 yards) found Anderson open on a quick hitch for a first down. Anderson, though, turned the play into something bigger when he shed the tackler after catching the pass before breaking into the open and going 42 yards for the touchdown. Anderson also had a 21-yard catch on that series and totaled 122 yards.
“We watched film all week and the corners back up before the snap. We knew we had that little hitch route all game and that’s what we did,” Hess said. “Owen did a heck of a job breaking tackles and getting upfield. He played a heck of a game.”
Crestwood thundered back and again put together a promising drive, converting a fourth down and setting up a first-and-goal at the 9. Again, Jersey Shore bent but didn’t break. The Bulldogs stopped Crestwood for minus-2 yards on the next play and Packer dropped Noah Schultz for a 2-yard loss, setting up a fourth-and-goal from the 4. Jersey Shore held again when Schultz’s fourth-down pass was thrown out of the end zone, but the Comets forced a quick punt and pulled within 19-14 when Schultz scored on an 18-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Jersey Shore put together a good drive following the touchdown, but it stalled from the 8 and Crestwood took over with a chance to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter. Peacock then began asserting himself and his running interception, followed by a 15-yard return gave Jersey Shore the ball at the 15-yard line. Allison ran for 77 hard-earned yards behind an effective offensive line and put on enough moves to make Barry Sanders smile two plays later when he zigged and zagged his way for the 10-yard touchdown which made it, 26-14.
“We put in a wrinkle with one of our running plays and it really paid dividends with Cam running,” Gravish said. “He didn’t have 200 or 300 yards but he had all the right yards at all the right times.”
Crestwood was battling both Jersey Shore’s defense and the clock following Allison’s touchdown but moved to the 1-yard line as the 1-minute mark approached. Again, Jersey Shore’s defense stiffened and took over. Dugan, Lee Springman, Colin Samar and Quincy Myers all converged and dropped Jimmy Hawley for a 4-yard loss. A play later, Schultz rolled out and tried throwing a pass into the back of the end zone, but Peacock had the receiver blanketed and made the game-clinching interception.
Peacock has covered well throughout the season. Because he did not have an interception, some might not have realized how good he was. They understand now.
“Kooper hasn’t had an interception all year and comes up at the biggest time of his life to make them,” Hess said. “He’s a heck of a player and those were two great plays.”
The first two turnovers Jersey Shore forced produced touchdowns. This one clinched another memorable one. With Crestwood down to one timeout, Jersey Shore was able to line up in the victory formation and savor its latest big victory.
And as it has been over the last eight seasons, this was a performance as complete as it was impressive. Every Bulldog that played made an impact, all three phases of the defense clicked, the offensive line blocked hard and the skill players made timely plays. Interior linemen Springman, Samar and Ben Webb slowed Crestwood’s potent running game and linebacker Jared Palski played the game of his life after replacing injured starter Gabe Packer in the first quarter.
It’s not just that Jersey Shore wins that excites its community. It is how it does so. That is why so many Bulldog fans made noise all night and why so many others followed online.
This is their team and what a team they have.
“I love it. It was a great crowd on both sides and it felt like a high school atmosphere,” Packer said. “Having that support meant a lot.”
Jersey Shore 26, Crestwood 14
Jersey Shore 6 6 7 7ä26
Crestwood 0 7 0 7ä14
J-Hayden Packer 2 run (kick failed), 8:22
C-Noah Schultz 20 run (Ethan Shudak), 8:01
J-Owen Anderson 39 run (pass failed), 5:19
J-Anderson 42 pass from Branden Wheary (Allison kick), 7:02
C-Schultz 18 run (Shudak), 9:53
J-Cam Allison 10 run (Allison kick), 3:14
First Downs 14 17
Rushes-yards 32-153 43-186
Passing yards 161 105
Total yards 314 291
Comp-Att-Int 11-19-0 8-16-2
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-yards 4-40 5-22
RUSHING: Jersey Shore, Cam Allison 20-77, TD; Owen Anderson 2-38, TD; Hayden Packer 7-38, TD; Branden Wheary 3-0. Crestwood, Noah Schultz 22-136, 2 TDs; Kaleb Benjamin 9-44; Jimmy Hawley 12-6.
PASSING: Jersey Shore, Wheary 11-19-0, 161 yards, TD. Crestwood, Schultz 8-16-2, 105 yards.
RECEIVING: Jersey Shore, Cayden Hess 7-77; Anderson 4-84, TD. Crestwood, Brenden DeMarzo 3-28; Logan Arnold 1-41; Marcus Vieney 1-22; Paul Feisel 1-12; Nick Kreuzer 1-1; Alex Romanoski 1-1.
SACKS: Jersey Shore, Dalton Dugan 2 1/2; Quincey Myers; Colin Samar 1/2.
INTERCEPTIONS: Jersey Shore, Kooper Peacock 2.
RECORDS: Jersey Shore 9-0. Crestwood 8-1.