One game shy of the ultimate destination, Lampeter-Strasburg’s amazing football season is over.
In an instant-classic, scoreboard-popping, wonderfully wild and wacky PIAA Class 4A state semifinal game Friday night in Lampeter, Jersey Shore got the last touchdown in a game full of electrifying scores.
L-S had the lead into the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs scored the go-ahead TD with 9:14 to play, and Jersey Shore came up with two key takeaways in the second half for a 39-35 win over the Pioneers.
L-S, the L-L League Section Three and District Three champ, saw its season come to a screeching halt at 9-1 overall, and the Pioneers were denied a trip to the state championship game for the second year in a row, and for the third time in program history.
Jersey Shore, the three-time reigning District Four champ, punched its ticket to the Class 4A title game next week in Hersheypark Stadium against WPIAL winner and defending state champ Thomas Jefferson, which thumped District 10 winner Oil City 62-0 on Friday.
Coach Tom Gravish and his Bulldogs improved to 10-0, getting second-half interceptions from Dalton Dugan and Cayden Hess to stymie L-S, which put up 500-plus yards, but came up four agonizing points shy of playing for state gold.
“I told them I’m proud of them,” said L-S coach John Manion, exiting a teary eyed postgame huddle.
“I’ve loved this group since they were all in youth camp,” he said. “They’ve worked so hard they’ve done everything we’ve asked, and they care about each other so much. I thought we deserved another week. But so do they. They played some great football.”
They being Jersey Shore, which was also back in the Class 4A state semifinals for the second year in a row. The Bulldogs are going to a state championship game for the first time in program history, after fending off the Pioneers in an offensive slugfest.
L-S QB Sean McTaggart completed 24 of 47 passes for 476 yards with four touchdown tosses, and his 2-yard TD keeper gave the Pioneers a 35-33 lead with 1:55 to go in the third quarter. But Jersey Shore took the lead for good when Hess zoomed in from five yards out with 9:14 to go.
The game was played at a breakneck pace, with both teams employing no-huddle, up-tempo offensive attacks that combined for 996 total yards and 41 first downs.
L-S was up 28-21 at the half behind McTaggart, who passed for 354 yards with all four of his TD strikes before the break. Three of those TD passes went to Beau Heyser, who had a 200-yard receiving night for the Pioneers.
In the first half alone, McTaggart hit Heyser for 42-yard TD, and his 3-yard flip to Heyser knotted the game at 14-14. Later, McTaggart zipped a 35-yard TD strike to Berkeley Wagner, and his 84-yard bombs-away TD toss to Heyser gave the Pioneers a 7-point lead at intermission.
Heyser had 11 catches for 229 yards and Ian Herr had eight grabs for 127 yards for L-S, which played a good chunk of the game without two-way all-star flank threat Austin Stoltzfus, who hobbled off with an injury early in the first quarter.
Jersey Shore punched back, getting the first two touchdowns of the second half to gain momentum. Cameron Allison had a 7-yard run before Dugan jumped a route and picked off a pass, returning it 27 yards for a TD with 3:31 to go in the third to give the Bulldogs a 33-28 lead.
Undaunted, McTaggart hit Alex Knapp for a 60-yard pass, setting up McTaggart’s 2-yard plunge for a 35-33 lead late in the third quarter. But Jersey Shore, which piled up 483 yards, got a key 41-yard run from Allison, setting up Hess’ go-ahead 5-yard run with 9:14 to go.
The Bulldogs also completed a pair of halfback option passes, as both teams put up crooked numbers galore. The ones that mattered most in the end: 39-35.
“Crazy game,” Manion said. “It felt like we were in control on defense early on, and they they figured some things out. And then we figured some things out. It was a great game. I told my kids that I love them, and how proud I am.”