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Written by: Dave Fegley on Sunday, November 17th, 2019
By: Dave Fegley (11-17-19)
Saturday Night at Tiger Stadium, Southern Columbia capped off the most incredible run in District IV history with another title. Obviously at this point the nine-time state champion Tigers are focused on trying to become Pennsylvania’s first ever 10-time PIAA Champions, but their dominance in district play can’t be overlooked. Through 13 weeks, the Tigers offense has now scored an astounding 708 points which is more than any school in District IV history has ever scored before beginning the state playoffs. As crazy as it is, the more implausible number comes from the defense.
Southern’s defense has given up a total of just 26 points on the season which includes ten shutout wins. To quantify the magnitude of that number, it can be summed up quite simply. Every other school in District IV, regardless of classification, has given up more than 26 points in at least one game this season. So, in 624 minutes of game time, the Tigers have given up less points than any of the other 32 District IV teams gave up in a single game.
District IV’s Class 1A champion Muncy has given up 30 or more points in three games this season. Montoursville, winners of Class 3A, gave up 35 points in a loss to the Tigers. Jersey Shore, who is having their best season in program history after a 4A gold, has surrendered at least 30 points in four different games. Then there is the 2A Tigers in a galaxy of their own.
For the third consecutive year, Southern Columbia beat Mount Carmel Area handily to capture the District IV Class 2A Championship. In this year’s postseason version of the rivalry, the Tigers first half performance was arguably the most dominant one in the series history on their way to a 49-0 win. “Any time you play in this game, you know there is going to be a lot of hype leading up to it,” said Tiger head coach Jim Roth. “Our guys stayed focused in practice and came out and executed early.”
Back in 2002 the Red Tornadoes were victorious 42-0. In 2006, the Tigers came out with the most lopsided shutout with a 54-0 win. Over the last handful of years Southern has won rather easily with a current 11-game series winning streak, but the 2019 playoff version of this cross-town rivalry was the most impressive. The Tigers 49-point outburst in the first half was the most ever scored by either team in this historic rivalry. What has been named “The Game” has now been played 27 times with the Tigers leading the overall series 19-8 including 3-0 in the postseason.
After beating Mount Carmel in late August 48-0, the state’s top-ranked team scored one more point than they did in the regular season matchup, but the result on the field was even more dominant by the two-time defending state champion Tigers. Simply put, Southern Columbia did what they wanted, when they wanted, however they wanted in the first half during the Mercy Rule victory. The win marked an unprecedented 27th District IV gold medal in the last 29 years for SCA.
Unfortunately, many people will remember this game as the dirtiest in the rivalry’s history. Eight different sequences resulted in unsportsmanlike penalties with the Red Tornadoes being the guilty party in six of them. It got so bad, that two of MCA’s players got ejected from the contest. The one thing that nobody will forget though is the fact that the 2019 version of the Tigers will statistically go down as the most dominant squad since the rivalry began in 1996.
On top of the two MCA players ejected, an SCA player was also ejected. That player was already suspended for previous reasons and had no business getting involved in the scuffle during a late hit. The Tornado priest was also canned during the second half. “It got ugly at one point but I’m glad it didn’t turn into something that was really unfortunate. Both teams played hard and wanted to win, but we were able to make the big plays,” said Roth.
One of the few positive plays that the Red Tornadoes were able to muster came on the game’s first play. MCA deferred to the second half after winning the coin toss and successfully carried out an onside kick to put their offense on the field quicker than the Tigers anticipated. From that point forward, it was all Tigers for the remainder of the half. “We have a lot of experienced football players and they have been in a lot of situations over their careers,” Roth said. “There doesn’t seem to be any moment that is too big for this senior class.”
Southern’s defense forced a three-and-out, thanks to sacks by seniors Lear Quinton and Cole Schankweiler on consecutive plays, to give the offense their first possession. Gavin Garcia, who had four rushing touchdowns in the regular season matchup, scored on a 46-yard run along the Red Tornado sideline with 7:53 to go in the first quarter.
Just twenty second of game time later, Southern went up 14-0. SCA’s Cade Linn recovered a fumble coughed up by MCA’s Shane Weidner on the first play of the Red Tornadoes drive, and the next play Julian Fleming caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Preston Zachman. “We put a lot of pride into these games. On defense we fly around wanting to smash people. Our goal is to keep making plays, and we want to just have a helluva good time doing it,” Linn said.
After Mount Carmel Area was forced to another three-and-out on the next drive, Jack Chapman had his punt go off the side of his foot giving the Tigers great field position. Two plays later, at the 4:56 mark, Gaige Garcia carried the ball 22 yards into the end zone to extend the lead to 21-0 in the final game of his career at Tiger Stadium. “It hit me on the way to the game. That was the final time that us seniors will make that historic walk down the hill in front of our home crowd to play on our field,” said Garcia. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. It has been a humbling experience and just an honor to play for this program, but we aren’t done yet.”
Mount Carmel needed to score on their next drive with their season now officially on life-support. Chapman caught a 65-yard touchdown pass from Tom Reisinger, but it was called back for an obvious offensive pass interference penalty. To make matters worse, on the same play, two-way lineman Colin Herb suffered a leg injury and was transported to a hospital via an ambulance. While tending to the injured senior player, a Mount Carmel assistant coach was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty a couple of minutes after the play ended.
After about a ten-minute break in the action, inexcusably the Tornadoes didn’t get the next play off in time and were pushed back for a delay of game penalty. After what the Big Red faithful thought might be a touchdown turned into a 3rd and 40 with the Tigers stuffing that play forcing MCA to punt out of its own end zone. “Our defense played a tremendous game. I can’t say enough of how well they have played all season long,” said Roth.
Fleming returned the low line-drive punt to the MCA four-yard line and then scored on a four-yard pass on the very next play from Zachman. With still 3:35 left in the first quarter, the game was out of reach as SCA took a commanding 28-0 lead. On the next drive, junior Jake Davis intercepted Reisinger for his team-leading sixth interception to help set up the Tigers to put the game into the Mercy Rule. “It is our rivalry game and we came out more prepared. They tried to spread us out after our defense shut down their running game, but I think we did a good job of adjusting to it and they didn’t have any success passing the ball either,” Davis said.
On the first play of the second quarter, Halley’s Comet appeared to strike. For the first time in three years, a Southern tight end caught a touchdown pass. Zachman found Wade Kerstetter open in the corner of the end zone. “I knew I was open and when the ball was thrown my way, I was just thinking I can’t drop this football. Then when I caught it I was relieved and couldn’t believe I scored a touchdown,” said Kerstetter when asked about the play which also resulted in the first reception by a tight end on the year. The touchdown was a three-yard play that made the score 35-0 and checked off the 13th straight Mercy Rule for the Tigers during this historic 2019 run.
After another three-and-out, and another bad punt, Gaige Garcia got the edge and scored on a 48-yard run on the first play of that drive to make the score 42-0 with 9:10 left in the half. On the ensuing kickoff, Weidner had a good return near midfield and the senior was knocked out of bounds as the defender and him collided. His momentum carried him into the team’s bench where he took an unfortunate blow to his neck area. The game was eventually stopped for over a half hour as Weidner was placed on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. The long delay was due to not having an ambulance on hand because of the first injury that sent that ambulance to the hospital.
Another three-and-out forced by the Tigers dominant defense led to another Tiger touchdown. Gaige Garcia capped off his hat trick with a 61-yard touchdown run for the game’s final score with 5:31 remaining in the second quarter. After Ethan Haupt’s extra point Southern was in front 49-0. That margin was the largest halftime lead by either team in the all-time rivalry which has produced a lot of memorable moments over the years.
At halftime, with the game out of reach, the main concern was for the safety of Weidner. “My heart goes out to him. We will be praying for him and hope for a full recovery,” said Gaige Garcia. “Unfortunately, that is the negative side of football and you hate to see it. Injuries happen, but you just hope that they are never serious ones.” Thankfully, by the time Weidner left the stadium he had feeling in all parts of his body and was talking to his teammates and coaches. Further tests will be done in the upcoming week to diagnose the severity of the injury.
In the second half, the Southern starters watched the entirety of it from the sidelines. The backups didn’t allow the Mount Carmel starters into the end zone in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter both sides reverses came up with fumble recoveries to prevent any scoring from happening. “I was very happy with our on the field play. Mount Carmel is a very good football team, and to shut them out for the second time this season was impressive,” Roth said after the team’s shutout.
Unfortunately, the play that will be remembered in the second half came after the whistle. Southern picked up a first down on a high snap that was supposed to be a punt, but sophomore Liam Klebon had no choice but to run with the ball and he picked up a first down in the process. After being tackled, a Red Tornado was ejected for trying to stomp on Klebon with his foot as he was still on the ground. Then, a second Mount Carmel player was ejected as well during the process. The referees met and considered ending the game at that point with the result already in hand, but both teams kept their cool over the final minutes of the quick running clock.
At the end of the game, both sidelines had police escorting them during the handshake and off the field. Thankfully, no injuries took place during the extra-curricular events over the final three quarters of play. Although, MCA’s head coach John Darrah was disappointed that the season came to an end, he had high praises for his senior class. “A lot of these guys played for this team since they were freshmen. Those seniors put in a lot of time and effort to help get us to this point,” said the fifth-year head coach. “Southern just has some good athletes and at times we just couldn’t bring them down in the open field.”
The Red Tornadoes fell for the third straight year at Tiger Stadium in the District title to the Tigers. Weidner, who was the team’s leading rusher with 1,001 yards coming in, finished the final game of his career with negative-1 yard on two carries before his unfortunate injury and finished his farewell season with 1,000 yards on the dot. In Reisinger’s final game as the three-year starting quarterback for the Tornadoes, it wasn’t his most memorable outing as he was constantly under pressure. Reisinger also had negative-1 yard passing.
The one positive that MCA did have was that they were able to gain enough yards on the ground in the second half to become the only team to rush for more than 100 yards against the Tigers so far in 2019. That stat is misconstrued though as the bulk of those yards came in the second half against Southern’s reserves. The Tigers starting defense held Mount Carmel to just two yards total in the first half in 21 plays including 14 rushes and seven passes.
Mount Carmel Area, who won the PHAC Division 3 Championship due to Southern Columbia opting out of the conference to play a tougher schedule in the regular season, finishes another successful season 10-3 as the District IV runner-up. Unfortunately for them, they had to go through the Tigers and got outscored in the two games this season by a combined 97-0. “They have a lot of talented players and can score from anywhere,” Darrah said. Over the past two seasons, the Red Tornadoes are 20-0 against teams not named Southern Columbia or North Schuylkill. They are 0-4 against the Tigers and 0-2 against the Spartans.
Southern Columbia, winners of 45-straight games, will take on Upper Dauphin next Friday night at Selinsgrove in the PIAA quarterfinals. The Tigers will have all suited players available as they were able to keep their cool in the win. “I was telling the guys that we still are playing next week and can’t stoop down to their level. It doesn’t matter that they are spitting on you and kicking you in the privates. Let the officials make the calls,” said Gaige Garcia who is one of the team’s captains. “After the one play I personally got kicked in the head and punched in the ribs, but I kept my cool.”
The Trojans, who are having their best season in program history, had a bye this week after beating Delone Catholic in last week’s District III title game. They have by far their toughest challenge of the season coming their way next week when they try to battle against SoCo. The winner of that game will advance to the following week’s PIAA Class 2A Eastern Championship to face the winner of Richland Township and Philadelphia’s Bishop McDevitt.
SCA: 28-21-0-0 = 49
MCA: 0-0-0-0 = 0
SOUTHERN COLUMBIA (13-0)
Gaige Garcia 8-173, 3 TD’s; Gavin Garcia 6-91, TD; Ty Roadarmel 4-9; Liam Klebon 1-14; Wes Barnes 5-9; Jayden McCormick 3-9; Matt Masala 2-4; Ron Zsido 1-2
Preston Zachman 5-7-0, 56 yds, 3 TD’s
Julian Fleming 3-38, 2 TD’s; Gaige Garcia 1-15; Wade Kerstetter 1-3, TD
First Downs: 16
MOUNT CARMEL AREA (10-3)
Joey Bendas 8-43; Noah Berkoski 6-18; Damon Dowkus 4-1; Shane Weidner 2-(-1); Tom Reisinger 4-(-8); Pedro Feliciano 6-32; Jacob Zarski 3-15; Thomas Davitt 2-7; Bryan Trent 1-0; Ethan Fanella 1-(-2)
Tom Reisinger 4-8-1, (-1) yd
Jack Chapman 1-4; Noah Berkoski 2-2; Logan Wills 1-(-7)
First Downs: 8
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