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Southern State of Mind: Tigers capture 12th title @SoCoTigerSports

Written by: on Friday, December 10th, 2021

 

Southern Columbias Braeden Wisloski intercepts a pass in the PIAA 2A State Championship game.

Tigers Capture Record 12th PIAA Championship

In Southern Columbia’s 20th appearance in a PIAA Final, head coach Jim Roth said this one was the most unique, just moments after the Tigers won their record 12th state championship.

Southern scored 34 points in the fourth quarter to earn the Mercy Rule win over Serra Catholic 62-25.

“With all the injuries we suffered this year and losing that regular season game for the first time in quite a while, this capped off the odd season in the best way possible,” said Roth. “This game took over three hours, we had more penalties than I can ever remember with touchdowns and big plays being wiped away. However, in the end I am very proud of this group for finishing off what they set out to do.”

One of those injuries came in week three when junior Braeden Wisloski fractured his heel and tibia. Like many of his teammates, Wisloski worked to get back on the field after missing time and the fastest man in Hersheypark Stadium picked the perfect time to have his best game.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Tigers drove 53 yards on six running plays. On the final one, Wisloski scored from a yard out to put his team in front 7-0 less than three minutes in.

“If you would have asked me a couple of months ago, I was worried that my season was over,” Wisloski said. “To be able to win a fifth straight title with my boys, it’s really a dream come true.”

The Tigers did most of their damage on the ground, but the Eagles kept it a close contest heading into the fourth quarter with their aerial attack. On the six play of Serra Catholic’s opening drive, senior Max Rocco connected with senior Terrell Booth for a 56-yard strike to tie the game at 7-7.

The play of the day came on Southern’s drive early in the second quarter when Blake Wise tossed a deep ball in between Wisloski and a defender.

Wisloski leaped over the cornerback to catch the pass on 3rd and 19. From there, the reigning 100-meter dash gold medalist scored on a 63-yard play.

“Braeden is a tremendous athlete, and he showed every part of his skillset on that play. Many people know how fast he is, but to be able to come down with that ball and finish the play was very impressive,” said Roth.

Senior star Gavin Garcia added two rushing touchdowns to extend the Tiger lead to 28-7 at halftime. His first came on a 32-yard scamper. The second one came two plays after Wisloski intercepted Rocco.

With under a minute left until halftime, Garcia scored from five yards out for the 121st time of his career on the ground to move him ahead of Clairton grad Lamont Wade for the second most in state history, trailing just his older brother Gaige who had 138 during his career at Southern.

“These accomplishments aren’t just because of me. They are accomplishments for the team. Without the defense making stops and the line blocking, the touchdowns wouldn’t have been possible,” said Garcia who finished his career with 122 scores on the ground and 143 overall which is second in Pennsylvania to only his brother who had 159.

Give Serra Catholic credit, they didn’t quit. After scoring on touchdown passes of 30 yards to Jayvon Holt and an 80-yarder to Zach Weber, the Eagles had the momentum trailing just 28-19 entering the final quarter.

“Our guys gave a great effort. We felt we were in a good spot heading into the fourth quarter, but they closed out the game in a dominant way,” Serra Catholic head coach Jose Regus said.

In the fourth quarter, Southern showed why they have more titles than any other program across the state. As the defense continued to put pressure on Rocco, sacking him nine times on the day, the Tigers were able to score five touchdowns to cap off the victory.

“When they cut into the lead, we knew that we had to continue to grind it out. We seemed to be in their backfield on every play. I couldn’t be happier as to how we closed it out to win another title,” said SCA defensive end Derek Berlitz who had three of the sacks.

Berlitz finished his senior season with 15 sacks on the year to establish a new single-season program record.

With 11:50 left to play, Wisloski scored on a four-yard plunge. Then Garcia, who finished his season with 2,417 yards, the second most behind just his brother (2,479 yards), scored on a 21-yard dash.

Wisloski’s fourth touchdown, a 7-yard run, made the score 47-19 with 4:14 left to allow the Tiger starters to celebrate the rest of the day from the sidelines.

“This was a special day. They came at us and made some big plays, but we took control when we needed to,” said Wisloski.

Three more touchdowns were scored over the final three minutes. In between a two-yard run by Southern senior Matt Masala and a 70-yard jaunt from sophomore Louden Murphy, Booth scored the lone Serra Catholic touchdown of the fourth quarter on an 82-yard pass play.

The Eagles threw for 379 yards on the afternoon, but with the sacks and inability to run the ball, it wasn’t close to enough to hang with the Tigers.

The only job left over those final minutes for the Southern starters was to give Roth his 12th Gatorade bath of his career. Garcia, who finished with 7,217 career rushing yards, second to guess who — his brother, and left tackle Carson Savitski were able to catch Roth off-guard with the water cooler.

“Getting to this point 20 times and winning 12 of them, it shows the consistency of our program,” Roth said. “I have been blessed to have a great staff of dedicated coaches and there have been a lot of great players to come through the program. This group has earned the right to be called champions,” Roth said.

 

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