SLATINGTON >> As quarterback Jay Sisko pushed the pile into the end zone from a yard out, a voice echoed out from the home team sideline.
“‘That’s Pottsgrove football! That’s Pottsgrove football,’” cried out linebackers coach Preston Moser before high-fiving each Falcon player as they jogged off the field. “‘That’s the way we do it.’”
And the way the Falcons did it Friday night, was the vintage Pottsgrove way.
Sisko’s run capped a key 18-play, 10-minute drive late in the second quarter while the Falcons’ defense dominated the second half on the way to a 14-10 win over Jersey Shore during the opening round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs on Friday night at Northern Lehigh.
With the win — Pottsgrove’s first ever win in the state playoffs — the Falcons (12-1 overall) advance to face the winner between Bethlehen Catholic/Saucon Valley next week at a site and time to be determined.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be the first team ever,” said Sisko, who finished with 65 yards on the ground. “We know other teams have won district championships in the past, but this year was all about making history for our program.”
Jersey Shore (7-6 overall) opened up the game with their own type of Pottsgrove drive.
The Bulldogs marched the ball 70 yards on nine plays, ending it with a six-yard strike from quarterback Tanner Lorson to Dawson Sechrist just a few minutes in.
Pottsgrove was quick to respond later in the quarter.
On the second play of the Falcons’ third possession, junior running back Isaiah Taylor busted loose and took it 66 yards up the left sideline to even it up at 7-7.
“It was difficult for us at first,” said Taylor, who racked up 180 rushing yards on 31 carries. “Their center No. 52 (David Tomb) was a beast, he tackled me a lot in the backfield. It was difficult because of their push up front. We struggled against that, just like we did against Upper Merion as well during the season.
“But we kept pushing and we pulled through at the end of the day.”
After forcing a Jersey Shore punt on the Bulldogs’ ensuing drive, Pottsgrove put together its 18-play drive that moved the ball 62 yards and gave the Falcons a 14-7 lead with less than two minutes left in the first half.
Pottsgrove converted a pair of fourth-down conversions on that key drive, including a direct snap to Bryce Kennedy on a fake punt while Sisko had 26 yards rushing on the possession.
“That’s what we look for,” said Pottsgrove head coach Bill Hawthorne, “a drive that takes the will out of a team. That is Pottsgrove football. You know it’s gonna keep coming back and we’re gonna keep pushing it.”
Pottsgrove’s defense set the tone in the first half, limiting the Bulldogs to just 52 total yards on five possessions between their opening offensive drive and halftime.
And the defense came through several times during the second half as well.
With neither team moving the ball particularly well during the third and fourth quarters, Rylee Howard came away with a pair of interceptions while Ryan Bodolus had a strip-sack as part of a three-sack performance.
“I tried to make plays when the team needed me,” said Howard, whose interceptions both came in Pottsgrove territory.
The only points Jersey Shore came away with was a 22-yard field goal from Cameron Griffin late in the third quarter after a red zone stand from Pottsgrove’s defense.
“Once again, we rode our defense,” said Hawthorne. “They’re a special defense. Our front four is very, very good and they cause so many turnovers for the rest of our team. These guys have made plays for us all year.”
For the night, the Falcons sacked Lorson five times, with Nijer Owens and Justin Adams getting in on the action, all before Jimai Springfield iced it with a game-sealing interception on the Bulldogs’ final possession.
Lorson finished with 222 yards passing, completing 14 of his 33 attempts. Koby Peacock pulled in four receptions for 67 yards while Stanton Westlin had 69 yards on three catches.
Josh Malicky led Jersey Shore’s ground game, racking up 78 rushing yards on seven carries, including a 35-yard burst during the second half.
Now as his team eyes up the second round of states for the first time in program history, first-year head coach Hawthorne couldn’t help but to get a bit reflective.
“This group of kids deserves all of this. They worked hard since I took over with my staff in late February,” he said. “All they did was work, work, work. This senior class really bridged the gap and kept the Pottsgrove tradition going.”
Safe to say, Hawthorne will have plenty to be thankful for when he sits at the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day next Thursday.
“Hey, all I can say is I get to play another week with these kids,” said Hawthorne. “We get to practice and extend the season.
“I don’t know that there is any fall sport playing in this area right now. We take pride in that. We’re going to give it everything we have.”
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