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Written by: Dave Fegley on Saturday, October 17th, 2020
They old adage is that football is a game of inches. For Southern Columbia, it has become a game of miles – and a lot of them. After last season, when the Tigers became Pennsylvania’s first ever 10-time PIAA champions, everyone expected there to be a noticeable decline in their performance. After losing six Division 1 athletes, even more all-state players, and a plethora of other weapons, it was only logical to think that way.
Thus far, in still a relatively small sample size, the Tigers have continued from where they left off after also winning the 2018 and 2019 HSFA Small School National Championships. “We are pretty much set now with our guys in positions. We did move some players around a little bit to get some different looks. I wanted to implement some more passing early on because we still need to work on getting more reps there,” said Southern head coach Jim Roth after beating Lewisburg 42-7 Friday night.
With the victory, Roth became just the second head coach in Pennsylvania history to win 450 career games, joining the late George Curry. He is now just six wins away from passing the former Berwick coach for the most victories. Arguably Roth’s most impressive accomplishment, in a list that is longer a Supreme Court Justice’s term in office, is his consistency. Through now 37 seasons, the veteran has never had a losing season.
The past week had been an incongruous one for both teams leading up to the game, but who would expect anything different during these historic times. Southern officially picked up a win via forfeit earlier in the week as the District 4 committee awarded the three-time defending PIAA champions a victory over rival Mount Carmel Area. The Red Tornadoes opted to cancel the remainder of their 2020 campaign because of a hazing incident that is under the investigation of law enforcement involving members of their team. The Tigers also had their backup quarterback transfer out of the district unexpectedly earlier in the week with preliminary reports of him heading to Central Columbia. “After Thursday’s practice, I told the players to come to school Friday with their home uniform, away uniform, and their practice gear because everything was up in the air,” Roth said. “Thankfully everything went as planned and we were able to get a game in because we are already missing out on live action with the Mount Carmel situation and the last game of the regular season being the first round of playoffs.”
Lewisburg hadn’t practiced since Tuesday because of an illness going around their program in fear of it being Covid-19 related. In fact, the game between the Tigers and Green Dragons was in jeopardy up until 10:00 am on Friday when the schools were notified that they were cleared to play as scheduled. Give the Green Dragons credit though as they didn’t use it as an excuse. “Two of our starters got sick over the weekend and we just thought it was the stomach bug. By Tuesday, we had six starters out showing the same symptoms, so we took precautionary measures and shut it down for the week,” said Lewisburg coach Marc Persing. “For us to come out and perform the way we did tonight early on, I couldn’t be prouder of the guys considering the circumstances and taking on the best team in the state.”
After the first quarter, the Tigers held a slim 7-0 lead thanks to a 1-yard run by junior running back Gavin Garcia. Garcia, who happens to be the nephew of Persing, ripped off a 56-yard run two plays prior to the score. “If we had our full lineup, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the game, but I felt we did an outstanding job early on. They just have a lot of weapons, and it was assumed that they would fall off a little from what they graduated last year. They proved that they still are outstanding. Gavin is the leader and he is just a machine. He can do it all,” Persing said.
Southern senior Nick Zeigler set up the Tigers next score by intercepting a pass. Three plays later, Braeden Wisloski scored from two yards out with 10:35 left in the half. Southern added two more touchdowns in less than a five-minute span to extend the lead to 28-0 at the half. Zeigler intercepted his second pass on the following possession and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. Wisloski scored a second time on a short 1-yard plunge with 5:30 left in the half after the defense forced another three-and-out which they have done consistently all year. “It was an exciting atmosphere being that it was senior night, and it was the first game that our fans could come to outside of our parents,” Zeigler said. “Having a defensive touchdown was an added bonus.”
In the third quarter, Garcia put the game into the Mercy Rule with a 5-yard run after defensive end Derek Berlitz recovered a fumble on the first play of the third quarter. “We weren’t fully ready at the beginning of the game, and I think that had to do with us not knowing until hours before if we were even going to play. Give them credit for starting off strong, but then as the game went on, we got back to doing what we do,” said Garcia who came into the game averaging an absurd 26.4 yards per carry on the season. He finished the game with 181 yards on 12 carries.
Tiger linebacker Jake Rose recovered a fumble in the endzone on the next drive to extend the lead to 42-0. The Green Dragons got on the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter when quarterback Jackson Landis scored on a 1-yard keeper. The senior, who got his first ever start at quarterback, had himself a memorable night even in the loss. In addition to his touchdown, he recovered two fumbles, intercepted a pass, and kicked the extra point. “He has never started a game before at quarterback, but he showed true grit by going out and battling considering the circumstances,” Persing said. “Southern is still the best in the state, so I thought we did a masterful job in terms of giving them their toughest game so far.”
Two of the turnovers came near the goal-line, with a fumble at the one and an interception at the three, keeping SCA from grabbing two more scores. “It didn’t make a difference, but taking care of the football is something we need to continue to work on,” Roth said. “We also had some penalties that can’t happen in crucial situations going forward.” Wisloski had an additional long touchdown called back due to a personal foul called against the Tigers.
With the win, Southern Columbia continues to build on their records. The victory was their 54th in a row overall, which is currently the second longest active streak in the United States, trailing just Caledonia out of Minnesota. SCA’s win also extended their state-record regular season winning streak to 87 consecutive games dating back to 2011. It was also the Tigers 24th consecutive win in Mercy Rule fashion. “We have some things that we still need to improve on. We had some blocking mistakes, and we need to get more consistent throwing the football. The most important thing though is to continue to win. Some wins aren’t as pretty as others, but we take them however we can,” Roth said. “Lewisburg deserves credit. They had some key guys missing and still came out to battle. They made us earn our points early on.”
Lewisburg (1-5) will host the Lancers of Loyalsock Township next week. Southern (6-0) will look to continue their unprecedented streak next Friday as they head to Central Columbia. The Blue Jays are currently sitting in the 3-seed of the District 4 2A standings, trailing just Southern and South Williamsport. With the Tigers having to cancel their final regular season game at home against Danville, because of the district playoffs, Roth’s program has now gone 10 straight years without losing a regular season game at home. Coincidentally, you would have to go back to week five of the 2010 season to locate the Tigers last home regular season loss, 28-21, which came from a Lewisburg team that went on to make the PIAA Class 2A Eastern Final that season.
Southern Columbia 42, Lewisburg 7
First downs 8 14
Rushes-yards 34-133 31-338
Passing yards 34 6
Total yards 167 344
Passing (C-A-I) 4-102 1-6-1
Penalties 5-34 7-66
Fumbles/lost 3-2 4-2
LEWISBURG (1-5) 0 0 0 7 — 7
SOUTHERN (6-0) 7 21 14 0 — 42
S — Gavin Garcia, 1-yard run (Isaac Carter kick)
S — Braeden Wisloski, 2-yard run (Isaac Carter kick)
S — Nick Zeigler, 31-yard interception return (Isaac Carter kick)
S — Braeden Wisloski, 1-yard run (Isaac Carter kick)
S — Gavin Garcia, 5-yard run (Isaac Carter kick)
S — Jake Rose, fumble recovery in end zone (Isaac Carter kick)
L — Jackson Landis, 1-yard run (Jackson Landis kick)
RUSHING: LEWISBURG — Max Moyers 23-92; Jackson Landis 5-13, TD; Cam Michaels 4-26; Michael Casale 1-6; Dante Sims 1-(4). SOUTHERN — Gavin Garcia 12-181, 2 TD’s; Braeden Wisloski 6-52, 2 TD’s; Wes Barnes 6-47; Trevor Yorks 2-41; Matt Masala 3-15; Liam Klebon 1-5; Connor Gallagher 1-(-3).
PASSING: LEWISBURG — Jackson Landis 4-10-2, 34 yds. SOUTHERN — Liam Klebon 1-6-1, 6 yds.
RECEIVING: LEWISBURG — Cam Michaels 2-13; Max Moyers 1-13; Jay Lannert 1-8. SOUTHERN —Jake Rose 1-6.
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