SHAMOKIN - The Jersey Shore Bulldog football team is no longer searching for its first big win.
After coming up short in 13 straight tries, the Bulldogs took care of business Friday night as they downed the Shamokin Indians 33-14 at Kemp Memorial Stadium.
"We had a lot of fun and we got the first one (win)," said a happy Shore head coach Tom Gravish. "We came down here to a beautiful stadium in beautiful weather, playing the greatest game in high school sports, a team game of football and there is nothing better than team football USA on Friday nights."
Gravish and his staff made the point to the team all week how good it would be to turn the corner.
"We told the kids that since we were coming down here in a great stadium, on a great surface, let's go down and have a great performance," he said. "The kids spirits were up, they needed a little confidence and as the game went along, they got that confidence."
There are a lot of different things in a football game that are going to challenge, and Gravish reflected on making that point to his team.
"We emphasize to these guys that they are going to be challenged," he said. "When you get some big important victory you are going to reflect that you had things going your way and all of a sudden, things aren't going your way. Their fans got it going for them and they had thought of tying this thing up, but we rose to the occasion with the defense and then followed it up with a score."
After two possessions by each team that failed to produce anything, the Bulldogs took over on their own 29.
On the strength of the legs of Utoa Agae-Naipo and some fine blocking on the right side of the offensive line by Tim Wool and Cameron Boughter, Agae-Naipo ripped off 47 yards on first down to get the Bulldogs deep in Shamokin territory.
Faced with a fourth down on the Shamokin 18, quarterback Logan English hit Derek Leese for the 18 yards and the score. Leese, covered tightly by a Shamokin defender, made a juggling catch for the score.
English drilled the PAT, and with 37 seconds left in the opening quarter, the Bulldogs held a 7-0 lead.
After three punts to begin the second period, the Bulldogs took over on their own 31 and drove to the Indian 14, where the drive stalled.
The Shore defense rose to the occasion and forced the Indians into a punting situation. A short punt went out of bounds on the Indian 10.
On the third play following the short punt, Agae-Naipo bulled in for the final yard and the score with three seconds left in the first half. English's PAT gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead at halftime.
"I really liked that series right before halftime," Gravish said. "I tried to emphasize to the kids that one team made some great plays defensively down there, called some timeouts and the special teams went after the ball and forced that short punt. We got the ball with no timeouts and then the offense got it into the end zone for the score. I think that was the series that gave our kids some confidence and momentum going into the second half."
Not to run away and hide, the Indians came right back on their first possession of the third quarter to go 82 yards on four plays, Draven Miller going in from six yards out.
Obviously awakened by the Shamokin score, the Bulldogs got a big break when Stephen Baier recovered an Indian fumble on the Shamokin17.
Agae-Naipo picked up 13 yards on first down, and three plays later, English hit Brody Smith with a 4-yard scoring aerial with 2:07 left in the third period.
On the next Shamokin possession, the Bulldog defense again went to work as Ethan Kutza blocked a punt and on the first play following the blocked kick, the English to Smith combo worked to perfection again for 18 yards and another Bulldog score.
"The coach asked me if I could get him on the deep route and I told him that I could," said Smith. "It felt real good to play like I was able to tonight. I thought I was going to get an interception or two, but the important this is we won the game. Right now it feels good so let's go get more".
Offensively, the Bulldogs were led by the legs of Agae-Naipo who carried he ball 35 times for 211 yards and two scores. After starting quarterback Jordan Tawney got nicked up a little bit early in the game, Logan English came off the Shore bench at quarterback and responded by throwing for three touchdowns, one to Leese and the final two to Smith.
For the game English completed eight of 18 passes good for 108 yards and the three scores.
"This was just a great team victory in all three phases of the game," said Gravish. "We tell the kids that in order for us to win a game, we have to be on the positive side of all three phases. If we finish on the plus side in all three phases, we are going to win the game and tonight we were positive in all three areas."