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Written by: Dave Fegley on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018
By: Dave Fegley (8-22-18)
The Tigers head into the 2018 season with a target on their back. A target that will be worn during the regular season and on into the playoffs based off of the program’s sustained success and tradition. Last season, Southern Columbia ran the table without any losses and defeated Wilmington 48-0 in the state final at Hershey Park Stadium. Here is how the defending state champs are looking heading into this season…
Jim Roth (35th year at SCA)
Record: 412-63 (never had a losing season)
8 State Championships (PIAA Record)
16 Eastern Championships (PIAA Record)
Andy Mills (39 years)
Al Cihocki (36 years)
John Marks (25 years)
Mike Johnston (23 years)
Don Traugh (17 years)
Roger Nunkester (6 years)
Alex Carawan (6 years)
2017 Record: 16-0 (PIAA Class AA State Champions)
Colors: Black & Vegas Gold
Stadium: Tiger Stadium (Jim Roth Field)
All of the Southern Columbia football games can be streamed live on internet radio at www.blackdiamondsports.net. The Tigers will also be featured on local radio at either 99.7 FM or 95.3 FM at different points throughout the season. Look for Twitter posts on game nights, after each score and quarter, and throughout the week by following @BlackDiamondSN. On Saturday mornings, there will be a weekly article on this website recapping every Tiger game written by myself (Dave Fegley @dfegs9 on Twitter).
Andrew Bell: 2x all-state lineman
Tyler Bendas: all-state defensive end
Connor Fulmer: two-year starting lineman
Elijah Hoffman: all-state kicker
Anthony Scicchitano: two-year starting linebacker
Offensive Starters Returning: (7)
QB Stone Hollenbach (Sr)
RB Gaige Garcia (Jr)
WR Julian Fleming (Jr)
WR Preston Zachman (Jr)
OL Troy Donlan (Sr)
OL Oak Six (Sr)
OL John Stabinski (Sr)
Defensive Starters Returning: (5)
DL Lear Quinton (Jr)
LB Cal Haladay (Jr)
LB Max Tillett (Jr)
LB Preston Zachman (Jr)
DB Julian Fleming (Jr)
2018 Team Outlook:
Southern Columbia is the pre-season No. 1 ranked team in the state, and it’s certainly for good reason. The Tigers have represented the East in the last three PIAA Class 2A State Championship games, winning two of them, including last year in Mercy Rule fashion. Heck, the last time a Tiger team lost a regular season game, Joe Paterno was still walking the sidelines as the head coach at Penn State back in 2011. With that being said, if there is anyone who knows how to deal with high expectations it’s Southern Columbia head coach Jim Roth and his veteran staff.
“The main concern after having a very successful season is making sure that the players stay focused. It’s important to not look ahead and to just take it one game at a time no matter who the opponent is,” said the man who has guided the Tigers to a state record eight state championships. “I’ve been fortunate to have a staff that has been in this position numerous times before. We just try to make sure that the kids aren’t listening to the outside chatter of what the fans are assuming or expecting,” said Roth who has never coached a Tigers team that finished with a losing record.
The junior class is as talented of a class as any that has come through the program, and two of those players have a shot at going down as all-time leaders in Pennsylvania history. “We have a lot of talent in the junior class. Obviously some of these guys like Julian and Gaige have been putting up outstanding numbers since they’ve been freshmen on the offensive side of the ball. We have a lot of other very good football players in that class on both sides of the ball,” Roth said.
Julian Fleming, who is the top-ranked recruit in the state and in the conversation of being the top-ranked in the country, already holds all of the school’s career receiving records. More impressively, the athletic wide receiver is on pace to break state records. However, the 6’3” and 210 pound specimen is more focused on the team than his individual success. “We are taking the same approach as we did coming into last season. You have to stay focused, hungry, and motivated to get back to that final game. We want to go back-to-back,” said Fleming.
Gaige Garcia is on pace to break the school’s record for rushing yards which is held by former NFL Super Bowl champion Henry Hynoski. It has rarely been talked about, but this junior also has an outside chance of setting a new state mark. “I just have to make sure to keep my head on my shoulders and not try to do too much. We have a lot of weapons on offense and I’m excited to see what we can do in trying to defend the state championship. I try to do my job each play to the best of my abilities,” Garcia said.
Those aren’t the only two major contributors that the Tigers have coming back by any means. Their starting quarterback, senior Stone Hollenbach, will soon hold the school’s career passing yardage and touchdown records and is headed to Alabama as a preferred walk-on next fall. The Tigers also have a pair of linebackers in juniors Cal Haladay & Max Tillett that will most likely finish as the top two career tackle leaders in school history within the next two years. “We have a lot of speed and production coming back on both sides of the ball and it keeps the other teams from focusing too much on just one or two guys because others will then hurt you,” said Roth.
Three offensive lineman will return for their senior seasons with a ton of experience as three year starters in Troy Donlan, Oak Six, and John Stabinski. “It is important for us as seniors to set good examples for the new guys. Helping them along and showing them the way things need to be done is important,” Donlan said. The trio helped guide the Tigers to scoring the third most points in Pennsylvania history last season.
SCA has a returning two-way starter in junior Preston Zachman that is coming off an outstanding performance in last year’s state title win and will be a valuable piece in helping to take pressure off of Fleming as a receiver. “Offensively we want to keep up the high scoring that we had last year. The goal each game is to go out and dominate everyone that we play,” Zachman said. Lear Quinton will return for his junior campaign looking to build off of his experience as a starting defensive end last season.
The biggest question mark for the Tigers on offense will be filling voids on the offensive line with the graduation of a tackle, guard, and two tight-ends. “We lost some real good linemen from last year, so it’s important to get the new guys reps. I’m confident in them for sure,” said Hollenbach. The other two starters could be a committee approach at first. “Right now we have Lear Quinton as a starter and the other starter, depending on the situation, will be Seth Pletcher, Ross Wertman, or Jacob Herr,” said Roth. At tight-end will be the combination of junior Cameron Haladay and sophomore Wade Kerstetter.
Starting in the backfield with Garcia will be fellow junior Ty Roadarmel at fullback who has spent many hours in the weight room preparing for this opportunity. The other wingback is someone that Gaige is certainly familiar with, his incoming freshman brother Gavin Garcia. “It’s going to be fun to see how the two of them do playing with each other. They both are so competitive and different types of runners. Gaige is more of a physical runner and Gavin is more shifty,” said Roth.
The defensive line will also need to replace nearly everyone. Quinton, the lone returning starter, will be back as a defensive end and senior Payton Pursel is currently slated as the other end. Cam Haladay could also see some time. At defensive tackles, the Tigers need to replace both players but the coaches are confident in the new guys stepping in. “Cole Schankweiler (junior) and Robert Williams (senior) will start at the tackles on defense. They have both worked hard in the offseason and they have shown a lot of improvement. We have some other guys that could see time there as well if we need,” said Roth.
The fourth linebacker joining forces with Haladay, Tillett, and Zachman will be another junior in Nate Crowl who was a strong contributor on special teams a season ago. Crowl and Zachman will play the outside spots with the team’s two returning leading tacklers playing the inside spots. “As a defense we just need to stay focused and take it one play at a time. Each person needs to just do their job and we will be fine,” said Cal Haladay.
In the secondary, Fleming will be locked on the opposing team’s number one receiver. “Obviously when you have an athlete the quality of Julian, it makes it an easier decision of having him take away the other team’s number one option,” Roth said. Junior Cade Linn, who saw action last season in different defensive sets, will now be the starter at safety. The other cornerback position is currently a battle between sophomore Jake Davis and senior Shane Miller.
On special teams, the opposition will most likely be kicking and punting away from the returners each week. Fleming and the Garcia brothers will handle the kick and punt returns. The new kicker will follow the tradition of being a soccer player. Senior Ethan Dunkelberger will be the soccer team’s goalie during the week and the kicker on Friday nights. Fleming will handle the punting duties which most certainly provides a dangerous opportunity at all times for potential fakes.
Julian Fleming – Over the next two seasons, if Fleming average 78 receptions, 1,020 yards, and 11 touchdowns, he will set a new Pennsylvania high school record for a career in all three categories. The 5-star recruit already holds all of the Southern Columbia records. Bishop McDevitt’s Brian Lemelle set the state’s reception and yardage record in 2012. Fleming has also already committed to play in the prestigious 2020 Under Armour All-American game which features top-tier talent from across the country.
Gaige Garcia – Following in the footsteps of the school’s greats like Henry Hynoski, Ricco Rosini, and Jerry Marks, Garcia can pass them all in rushing yards. If he averages 1,468 yards over his final two years, he will be the new leader at SCA. It’s also not out of the question that Garcia could join his classmate Fleming as a Pennsylvania leader by the time of graduation. He’d need to average 2,424 yards to break the state record of Hopewell’s Rushel Shell that was made in 2011.
Cal Haladay – This athletic junior joins his teammates Fleming and Garcia as the three Tigers that return as 2x all-state selections. Haladay needs 61 tackles this season to set a new school career tackle record. He already holds the single-season record when he compiled 151 as a freshman.
Stone Hollenbach – The senior holds all of the school’s single-season records. He is on pace to set the school’s career marks, held by 2016 grad Nick Becker, early in the season. He needs just 31 completions, 201 yards, and one touchdown to set the new marks.
Max Tillett – If not for fellow junior Cal Haladay, Tillett would be on pace to be the new tackle king at Southern. He needs to average 80 tackles over his junior and senior seasons to pass the current mark. As long as the two junior inside linebackers stay healthy, the Class of 2020 could finish with the top two tacklers of players to ever wear the black and gold.
Players to Watch:
Gavin Garcia – It’s not often that a freshman will be put under the spotlight as much as Garcia will be. The younger brother of Gaige has had quite the elementary and middle school success in both wrestling and football to say the least. However, with the production of his older brother over his past two all-state seasons, the younger one will be looking to fill some pretty big shoes. “I am looking to improve on my blocking coming up to the varsity level and doing a better job of reading the holes. Having my brother on the other side will help a lot because he gives me a lot of tips and advice,” said Gavin.
Lear Quinton – Arguably the most overlooked junior, Quinton is coming off of a solid sophomore campaign as a starting defensive end. This year he will return at that spot and also be a starter on the offensive line. “Playing both ways this year I’m going to need to make sure to stay hydrated all the time. I’m ready to focus on my duties and hopefully build off of last year now on both sides of the ball,” Quinton said.
Max Tillett – Although reserved off the field, this hard-hitting junior is looking to to build off of the success he had last season. If not for missing time with a broken hand, Tillett would have probably led the team in tackles. He was just three tackles from the top spot last season and is making the move from outside to inside linebacker in 2018. “The biggest change is that I need to be quicker off the snap playing inside. You need to be aware of what’s coming from both sides off the line,” said Tillett.
Games to Watch:
Week 2: Mount Carmel – The Tigers ended the Red Tornadoes season last year in the District IV AA Championship game. MCA gave SoCo all that it could handle in the first half before Garcia took the game over in the 2nd half to claim gold. This year’s rivalry game will be played at the Silver Bowl.
Week 4: Shamokin – It’s going to be a weird site seeing former Southern Columbia Star Henry Hynoski, who helped the Tigers win four state titles, walking the opposite sidelines in purple and white. He is entering his first year as the head coach of the Indians and is looking to rebuild a program that has struggled mightily over the past few years.
Week 5: Central Columbia – Assuming that the Tigers win their first four games of the season, this mid-season game against the local Blue Jays will be historic. With a win, Southern Columbia will become the first school in Pennsylvania, that started its football program after the year 1960, to win 500 games.
815 – The number of points that the Tigers scored last season. That total set a new school record, broke the Class AA record, and was the third most overall in PIAA history. This averages out to better than seven touchdowns scored per game.
61 – The number of consecutive regular season wins that SCA currently has. The state record is held at 74. Ironically, if the Tigers were able to continue this unprecedented streak and break that record, it would take place in 2019 against former SoCo star Henry Hynoski’s Shamokin squad.
58 – The number of rushing yards SoCo’s defense gave up per game last season. In total they gave up only 929 yards in their 16 game championship winning season. To put that into perspective, Gaige Garcia rushed for 1,080 yards in just the playoffs alone.
You’d be dumb to not pick the Tigers as the overwhelming favorites to win another PIAA State Championship assuming the injury bug doesn’t make its way to Catawissa. Southern Columbia’s toughest regular season and district matchup will be against their rivals from Mount Carmel. It’s hard to say who the Tigers would meet in the eastern side of the state playoffs, but don’t be surprised if the Tigers get a rematch with either Steel Valley (2016 opponent) or Wilimington (2017 opponent) in the Class 2A State Championship game. My prediction, the Tigers go 16-0 and bring home a state record 9th State Championship to the small farming towns in Central PA.
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