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Written by: Dave Fegley on Friday, January 29th, 2021
Southern Columbia has already established itself as the most successful program in the Keystone State’s history when it comes to winning state titles. They now have 11 after this past one, which is nearly double the amount of the second most successful in PA history. In addition to their PIAA, Eastern, District IV, and other titles, they are now tied for the most National Titles in the history of Pennsylvania. The Tigers now have three United States titles to their name which ties the Bulldogs of Berwick for the most the state has to offer.
MaxPreps released their final national rankings for the high school football season on Wednesday, and a very familiar program topped the list. After winning a record 11th PIAA State Championship in November, Southern Columbia was awarded the title of 2020 MaxPreps Small School Football National Champions. “It’s very satisfying to receive the recognition and realize that these national organizations are recognizing and choosing our team for this honor. The consistency within the program I’m sure has played a role in this,” said Southern Columbia head coach Jim Roth who is now the winningest coach in Pennsylvania football history.
This is the third consecutive season that the Tigers have been selected for their performance on the gridiron as Small School National Champions. In 2018 and 2019, SCA won back-to-back High School Football America National Championships. This most recent award however comes as more of a surprise than the previous two because of the senior class that the Tigers lost to graduation a season ago. “It’s great for our team to be named Small School National Champions yet again for another year. Our main goal each and every year, regardless of graduation losses, is winning the State Championship. These accolades come along with dominant runs and it’s exciting to see our team be selected for this after much doubt in the offseason,” said Pennsylvania’s Class 2A Player of the Year Gavin Garcia. Garcia, a junior, was also just selected as a MaxPreps All-American at running back.
This past undefeated season, the Southern coaching staff had to replace all but two returning starters on both sides of the ball, including six Division 1 athletes, but the wins continued to transpire. During the shortened season, because of COVID-19 precautions, the Tigers went 12-0 on their way to capturing a fourth straight PIAA Class 2A title. “The success of our past teams and having some elite level players has provided exposure for our program that makes this type of award possible. This was a special championship season because of the turnover and losing so many outstanding players. This year’s team gave outstanding effort during a difficult offseason with the pandemic,” said Roth.
Up until the PIAA Championship game, the Tigers won via the Mercy Rule in their first 11 games, which kept a streak alive that dated back to early in the 2018 playoffs. On the biggest stage in Hershey, Southern defeated Wilmington for the third time in four years to claim the gold. “What makes our football program elite, really in comparison to mostly any other sport at any school, is the culture. As a young kid you dream of wanting to continue the championship tradition at Southern in football,” senior defensive back Jake Davis said. The Tigers beat the Greyhounds 42-14 to move their gap to five state titles ahead of Archbishop Wood, Berwick, and St. Joseph’s Prep who each have the second most with six.
On their path to perfection, Southern averaged more than 21 points per game in the first quarter on their way to averaging 50 points per game for the season. The Tigers first quarter scoring output alone was more than double the amount of points that SCA’s defense gave up in total on the season. “It was very impressive the way the players approached the season and competed at a consistently high level throughout. There was no change in attitude and expectations from previous seasons,” Roth said. “For those reasons, I know everyone associated with the program was extremely proud of what this team was able to accomplish.”
Southern Columbia will enter the 2021 season riding a PIAA record 88-game regular season winning streak. They are currently on a 60-game winning streak overall which is the second longest in the country, and it is the second longest in state history. “It is such an honor to know that a national publication thinks that highly of our team to rank us as the #1 small school in the country. With the coaching staff, and our team’s work ethic, I feel we are very deserving of that honor,” said junior all-state defensive end Derek Berlitz. “I already started preparing for next year by getting bigger, stronger, and faster. We aren’t done yet. We have a lot more things to accomplish as a team.”
The man that has been by Roth’s side since his tenure began at the Central PA high school surrounded by cornfields is defensive coordinator Andy Mills. As the state’s winningest coordinator, he knew what was coming into the new decade. “I think when the season began, we thought our front would be good but really didnt know about the backend of the defense. I think as the season progressed we needed to make several moves with our front and we ended up with players that didnt complain about where they played, but accepted their roles for the good of the team,” said Mills. “I also think that we had a great deal of stability with our linebackers and secondary, with very little shuffling of players. As a result our kids played with confidence, plus we stayed healthy.”
The starting defense of the Tigers gave up a grand total of three points through the district playoffs. They say defense wins championships, and Roth respects all that Mills and the rest of his staff has done. “All of the praise that I get, I don’t take it as a personal thing. The bottom line is that I have had a staff in place that puts everything that they have into making sure our program is as successful as possible. We have had sustained success, but they players need to buy into our philosophy. Thankfully, our entire staff is on the same page of knowing what it takes and it has been that way for a long way and I hope it continues,” Roth said.
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