By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE — Frankly put, the Jersey Shore football program isn’t known for producing winning teams.
Case in point: the last time that Jersey Shore had won a district title, at least a third of the Bulldogs’ current players weren’t even born yet.
In addition, Jersey Shore had only beaten Selinsgrove, its opponent in Friday’s District 4 Class AAA championship game, just twice in the near 30-year history of the series.
All of that changed after 48 minutes of intense action between the Seals and the Bulldogs, as the latter gutted out a 20-16 victory to claim the title at Harold L. Bolig Memorial Field.
“We made it a goal last year (to win the 2013 district title), though it might’ve sounded crazy,” said Jersey Shore second-year coach Tom Gravish. “We thought we had enough kids coming back and that we had the right character and work ethic (to compete).
“From the day I was hired, I used to hear from the kids that everybody is down on Jersey Shore football,” added Gravish. “They heard it from everyone and I think it was a motivator for this group right here. (Winning the title) is a testament to their character, their resolve and how much they believe in each other. They wanted it.”
Now fourth-seeded Jersey Shore (6-6) advances to the state playoffs for a first-round game next weekend, while second-seeded Selinsgrove (6-6), which has become accustomed to being in the position the Bulldogs are in now, begins a long off season.
“The one thing we talked about coming into the game is that Jersey Shore is a good football team,” said Selinsgrove coach Dave Hess. “We couldn’t beat ourselves, we couldn’t give up big plays and we couldn’t make mistakes – and that’s exactly what beat us tonight.”
One of Hess’ biggest fears came true on a 64-yard touchdown run by the Bulldogs’ Jordan Tawney just 3:23 into the game. The big play rocked the Seals harder than a quick uppercut to the jaw.
Selinsgrove clawed back later in the period to get a 35-yard field goal from Branden Sheaffer, but the one step forward was followed by two steps in the other direction for the Seals.
An interception thrown by Selinsgrove quarterback Isaiah Rapp at the 8:37 mark of the second quarter, the second of three he would throw in the game, was returned 35 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Zach Miller and Jersey Shore led, 14-3.
“We said (prior to the game) that we got to make plays everywhere. If we don’t make the plays, we can’t wait for Selinsgrove to fumble,” said Gravish. “But Miller has been (making plays) for weeks. (On Thursday) I think he picked off four balls in practice, and we’re like, ‘If you catch two of those (Friday night), I bet we’re going to win.”
But there was plenty of game left, and Selinsgrove got back in it on Mason Pope’s nine-yard touchdown pass from Rapp that was caught with a mere 33.2 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Seals kept the momentum going in the second half as they took their first lead of the game at 16-14 on a four-yard touchdown run by Angelo Martin with 2:42 left in the third.
“When we came out we did some no-huddle stuff and we tried to pick the game up a little bit in the second half,” said Hess. “We got our offense moving, but you got to hand it to Jersey Shore — they defended us well all night.”
Selinsgrove wasn’t able to sustain a drive longer than five plays following Martin’s touchdown, but worse than that for the Seals was Jersey Shore retaking the lead with four minutes left in the game on a 13-yard pass from Logan English to Troy Rowan.
“I said at halftime that we would go downtown here pretty soon, but (earlier in the game) we weren’t in the right situations where I wanted to do that,” said Gravish. “We had three receivers that could get open on that route down there. Troy practiced so hard on special teams this week and he stood out. I said Troy Rowan will have a big play in this game and probably win the game. And sure enough he won the game with that catch.”
Moments later Rapp was picked off for the third time by Boone Costa to effectively end the Seals’ chances at their 12th district championship.
“Offensively, we didn’t get the job done tonight,” said Hess. “We did fight back and we got the lead back, but we got in the situation where we didn’t have field position. Your offense has to get first downs and move the sticks, and we weren’t able to do that point. That is what beat us.
“Tom did a great job and their kids did a great job this year. We prepared well for this game and Jersey Shore deserves to be champions.”