To call what the Shippensburg football team has done this year a success may be underselling it just a bit.
A perfect, 10-0 record in which they beat all but one team by at least 17 points, a Mid Penn Colonial Division championship and the third seed in the District 3 Class 5A playoffs just begin the list of accomplishments for the Greyhounds.
But now, it’s a new season, and Ship’s first loss will also be its last, as it begins playoff action at home against No. 14 Solanco on Friday night at 7.
And while it may surprise some that Shippensburg fell to the No. 3 seed despite every other team in 5A having at least two losses, the Greyhounds were prepared for that possibility.
“We had a pretty good idea after Friday night that we were going to be playing this week,” Ship coach Eric Foust said. “We weren’t shocked by it, and we are going to be ready to play.”
Shippensburg is coming off a 40-7 win over Big Spring last week and have been quick-starters in nearly all of its home games this season, led by a dominating rush attack. Jacob Loy is the team’s leading rusher with 185 carries for 1,171 yards on the season with 19 touchdowns, and Alex Sharrow is just shy off 1,000 yards, with 974 on 99 rushes.
But it’s been the passing game that has been the biggest improvement over the last two weeks. Against the Bulldogs, Ship quarterback Zack Manning threw for four touchdowns and was 8 of 11 passing for 171 yards.
Said Foust, “It was really my fault that the pass game got off to the start it did this season. We just didn’t really go to it, because of the game situations. Looking back, we maybe should have gone to it earlier and more often. Zack is throwing the ball well, and I think we’ve shown the willingness to go to the pass game over the last couple of weeks.”
With Isaiah Houser at wide receiver and Nick Gustafson at tight end, the Greyhounds present a challenge that few defenses have an answer for. Houser has been a big play threat for Shippensburg all year, averaging over 24 yards per catch with nine total touchdowns. And Gustafson, at 6-feet, 6-inches, has the height and hands to catch the ball over any undersized defender.
“We have a lot of pieces in the pass game that give us a lot of mismatches,” Foust said. “If you single either one of those guys, we feel like we can beat you, and if you try to take them both away, we are fine to throw it into the flat to one of our back as well.”
For Solanco, the pass game doesn’t figure to be much of a factor for a team that features a triple-option-style rush attack.
“It’s certainly not something you see every day, and it’s something new for us to get ready for. Discipline and sticking to our gap assignments will be important to slow them down,” said Foust.
Solanco (5-5) has hit a bit of a rough patch to end the regular season, having lost their last three games by a combined 87 points. Their offense is led by running back Nick Yannutz, who has 1,194 yards on 178 carries and Grady Unger, who has rushed 105 times for 484 yards.
But the biggest advantage for Shippensburg may lie in its experience, as most of their veteran players played a significant role in playoff runs over the past couple seasons.
“We are in a good place mentally, and I think our experience can only benefit us,” said Foust. “I don’t think we have to do anything out of the ordinary. If we come out with the intensity we’ve had most of the season, I think we will have success.”