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Written by: Dave Fegley on Saturday, September 18th, 2021
The last time Southern Columbia lost a football game, one of their star running backs had to watch from the sidelines injured in the 2016 Class 2A final. Fast-forward to last night, 64 games later, and there was an eerily similar vibe floating through the air.
All junior Braeden Wisloski could do was watch from the sidelines, just like record-breaking halfback Gaige Garcia had to do five years ago as a freshman.
For the first time since losing to Steel Valley, Southern found itself in a double-digit deficit. This time, the Tigers answered the call in one of the most dramatic ways possible to beat Wyoming Area 37-30.
“Watching from the sidelines, it was a pain to not be able to be on the field. I knew the guys could do it, and Gavin (Garcia) was just running up and down the field in the second half to get us the win,” said Wisloski who will be a question mark heading into next week.
What Gavin Garcia, the younger brother of Gaige, did will go down as one of the pluckiest performances of all-time.
It’s no secret that the younger Garcia has become the most electrifying runner to ever walk the halls of Southern Columbia as he is on pace to break Pennsylvania’s record for the highest yards per carry mark for a career.
What he was able to do in the second half facing a 17-point deficit, in a game that didn’t feature one of his typical highlight reel plays, will leave a lasting mark on his legacy regardless of how the rest of the season pans out.
After scoring three touchdowns in each of the Tigers first three wins, the senior scored all five of his team’s touchdowns.
The final one, a one-yard plunge, came on a drive where his team started at their own one-yard line with under four minutes remaining, trailing 30-29.
“Every play, I give everything that I have. We got into the huddle on that final drive, and just looked ahead knowing what we had to do and were going to do,” Garcia said. “Our defense got a huge stop to give us the ball back with the chance to take the lead and we were determined to come away with a victory.”
The stop that the Kent State recruit was referring to, came with 3:36 left to play. The Warriors, who were trying to get payback from a 42-0 loss to the Tigers in 2019 when both teams won state championships, had a fourth and goal leading by a point.
Derek Berlitz, who is a one of the team’s captains along with Garcia, stopped the fourth down attempt short of the goal line.
“I had it in my mind that if they come to my side, they weren’t going to score. What happened up until that point didn’t matter. We had to erase it from our minds. Ultimately, you can never underestimate the heard of a champion and we showed that in the third and fourth quarters,” said Berlitz.
In the first half, Wyoming Area jumped out to a 14-0 lead on a touchdown run by Drew Mruk (31 yards) and a touchdown reception from Blaise Sokach-Minnick to Usamah Alansari (26 yards) before Garcia scored late in the quarter on a 28-yard screen pass from Liam Klebon.
The Warriors would score all 10 of the second quarter points which included a 32-yard strike from Sokach-Minnick to Rocco Pizano and added a late 30-yard field goal by Jayden Rusyn to take a 24-7 lead into halftime.
After Garcia made it 24-13 on a long run to start the third, Leonardo Haros answered the call to give the home team its second 17-point lead.
That score, which came with 6:51 left in the third, was the final time the Warriors would put points on the board. Garcia scored the final three touchdowns of the game and Wes Barnes converted two-point conversions on all three scores.
“We didn’t play up to our capability in the first half. That takes nothing away from what Wyoming Area did because they earned the right to hold a big lead heading into the locker room,” Roth said. “They were beating us in every aspect of the game and our guys needed to decide on how they were going to handle it. We didn’t change anything up with the X’s and O’s because it was more about desire.”
Wyoming Area (3-1) will try to get back on a winning streak next week when they travel to Crestwood. The Comets won their first game of the season last night.
Southern will take their United States leading win streak into Tiger Stadium next Friday night as they host their biggest rival. Mount Carmel Area, who is coming off an impressive 21-7 victory over Montoursville, will try to beat Southern for the first time in the regular season in a decade. The Red Tornadoes were the last team to down the Tigers in the regular season when they did so 22-21 in 2011.
“We better come out ready to play these next two weeks. Mount Carmel and Wyomissing both have strong teams, and we can’t afford to play just two quarters. We need to execute for all four quarters if we want to keep the streak going,” said Roth.
Southern is now two wins away from tying Clairton (2009-2013) for the most consecutive wins in state history.
Southern Columbia (4-0) 7 0 22 8 — 37
Wyoming Area (3-1) 14 10 6 0 — 30
W — Drew Mruk 31 run (extra point blocked), 7:39.
W — Usamah Alansari 26 pass from Blaise Sokach-Minnick (Mruk run), 3:47.
S — Gavin Garcia 28 pass from Liam Klebon (Isaac Carter kick), 1:15.
W — Rocco Pizano 32 pass from Sokach-Minnick (Jayden Rusyn kick), 9:22.
W — Rusyn 30 field goal 0:33.
S — Garcia 54 run (extra point blocked), 8:49
W — Leonardo Haros 37 run (extra point blocked), 6:51.
S —Garcia 2 run (Wes Barnes run) 4:12.
S —Garcia 32 run (Barnes run) 0:29.
S —Garcia 1 run (Barnes run) 0:31.
Southern Columbia Wyoming Area
First downs 16 15
Rushing-yds. 40-377 31-184
Passing 84-8-0 9-20-0
Passing yds. 89 161
Total yds. 466 345
Fumbles-lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-yds. 4-32 7-40
RUSHING: Southern: Gavin Garcia 23-259, 4 TDs; Wes Barnes 14-72; Matt Masala 1-10; Liam Klebon 1-1; Trevor Yorks 1-(-2). Wyoming Area: Drew Mruk 11-91, TD; Leonardo Haros 12-81, TD; Blaise Sokach-Minnick 3-7; Aaron Crossley 3-4; Nico Sciandra 2-1.
PASSING: Southern: Liam Klebon 4-8-0, 89 yds, TD. Wyoming Area: Blaise Sokach-Minnick 9-20-0, 161 yds, 2 TD’s.
RECEIVING: Southern: Jake Rose 3-61; Gavin Garcia 1-28, TD. Wyoming Area: John Morgan 3-44; Rocco Pizano 2-58, TD; Usamah Alansari 1-26, TD; Nico Sciandra 1-16; Leonardo Haros 1-12; Aaron Crossley 1-5.
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