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Tigers Retire Rams

Written by: on Saturday, November 30th, 2019

 

SCA One Win Away from 10th PIAA Title

By: Dave Fegley (11-30-19)

They say objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Well, that theory may be correct for motorists, but anyone that witnessed the Class 2A Eastern Final knows that the scoreboard wasn’t telling the truth at the end of the game when it read that the Tigers won by 22 points. In fact, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Southern Columbia (15-0) dismantled Richland (13-1) in the first half at Selinsgrove’s Harold L. Bolig Memorial Stadium. The Tigers built a 49-7 halftime lead and ultimately won 49-27. Proceed with caution if you think the final scoreboard display was an indication of how the game played out on Black Friday.

Regardless of what the final score showed, the only thing that really mattered was that the Tigers coaching staff knew that they would be returning to their home away from home. The win for SCA punched their ticket to another PIAA Championship. Officially it will be their 18th trip to the final party since 1994 which is by far the most of any school in the Keystone State. “I was really pleased with the performance tonight. On offense we were able to move the ball effectively in the first half,” said Tiger coach Jim Roth. “Other than one long pass, the starting defense stepped up and shut down their passing game. Richland was a very good team. They had some guys with a lot of speed and had a lot of success through the air coming in, but I thought in the first half our guys made the plays that they needed to.”

Gaige Garcia capped off the opening drive with a two-yard touchdown run with 9:51 remaining in the first quarter. The drive covered 62 yards on eight plays including four first downs to establish the tempo. “The line played really well. They pushed their defense back and opened holes. All credit to them,” said Garcia about his offensive line. “We wanted to be physical and disciplined. Everyone knows their assignments on both sides of the ball and we executed.”

Just over a minute later, the Rams tied the game at 7-7 when Trevor Tustin beat his man and caught a pass from Kellan Stahl and raced 62 yards into the end zone. Richland recovered an onside-kick on the ensuing kickoff to try and take the lead, but from that point forward it was all Southern Columbia for the remained of the first half. “We came out and wanted to make our presence known. We stuck to playing Southern football. Our coaching staff has been successful for a long time so we know that we can always trust the plan,” said Julian Fleming.

The Tigers defense forced a punt, and then the offense went to work quickly. Gavin Garcia ripped off a 67-yard run on the first play of the drive. Two plays later, quarterback Preston Zachman took a designed run into the end zone from four yards out giving Southern a lead that they would not surrender. “It was very important for us to be more physical than them,” SCA offensive lineman Cam Haladay said. “Our coaches told us from the beginning of the week that it would come down to us controlling their offensive and defensive fronts.”


On the next drive, Gavin Garcia extended the lead to 21-7 with 1:45 remaining in the first quarter. He caught a screen pass on the short-side of the field, and then he pulled off one of his vintage plays. “He has shown all season that he can turn what appears to be minimal gain into a touchdown. Not too many players can do what he can on some of those plays where he goes from one sideline to the other before making the impact,” Roth said. The sophomore didn’t see an opening, so he completely changed direction to the open-side of the turf and weaved his way in for a 27-yard touchdown.

The second quarter was when the Tigers officially made their reservations to Chocolate Town. Southern scored four touchdowns in the second to put the game into a Mercy Rule for the entirety of the second half. Touchdown runs of 59 yards from Gaige Garcia and four yards from Gavin Garcia made the score 35-7 with 6:31 remaining in the first half. “That’s the best football team that I have ever seen at the high school level. They are so tough to stop. They have so many great players that can beat you on any play,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said.

Southern’s defense continued to bring heavy pressure to Stahl who was hit on more than half of his passing attempts. “Getting pressure on the quarterback was big. We got to him quick and he wasn’t able to get comfortable when throwing the ball,” said linebacker Max Tillett. After a third consecutive Richland three-and-out, Fleming caught a 54-yard touchdown pass across the middle from Zachman pushing the lead to 42-7. Fleming finished with 117 yards on six receptions. On defense, Fleming had one of the three interceptions thrown by Stahl. The Rams sophomore quarterback had just four interceptions in total on the season coming in.

The other two interceptions came from safety Owyne Pursel who comes in on passing downs when the Tigers go into their 4-3 defense. “We knew the only way that they could beat us was throwing the ball. Our secondary and linebackers stepped up. I’m especially proud of Owyne Pursel for stepping up and making plays,” said starting safety Cade Linn. A fourth turnover forced by Southern’s defense came on a fumble recovery by Zachman.

On the final play of the first half, Roth seemed content just running the football and letting the remaining seconds click off the clock. Gaige Garcia, who finished with a game-high 154 yards rushing, had other plans. The Michigan-commit ran 39 yards to the end zone on a play that only he could score on with his strength.  “It was originally a dive which was then an audible to a sweep. My side was called, and time was running out, so I had to do something with it,” said the senior running back.


In the second half, with a 49-7 lead, the Southern starters looked on from the sideline as Richland’s starters remained on the field for the remainder of the game. The Rams were able to compile stats that will look good on paper, but they weren’t able to do it against the Tiger starters apart from one long pass. At the half, the Tigers defense limited the Rams to just eight yards rushing on nine carries. Other than the touchdown pass, Richland completed just five passes for 32 yards on 19 attempts and they turned the ball over four times.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, but the Rams used some trick plays to score three times in the final 12 minutes. After each score the Rams went for two, and they even attempted an onside-kick late. The way it played out didn’t sit well with the Tigers starting unit. “We just thought it wasn’t right that they were trying to do that on our jayvee players, it was really uncalled for. We were really confused. Why try those trick plays on our jayvee team when you played a whole half against our first team,” Linn said.

Caleb Burke, who will join Tillett next year at New Hampshire on the gridiron, scored on a 14-yard wide receiver reverse for the first touchdown. Stahl found Tustin on an 87-yard streak pattern for the second score of the quarter. The Rams failed to covert on both two-point conversion attempts. The game’s final touchdown came when Stahl hit Burke on an eight-yard pass and then again on the two-point conversion to make the score 49-27. Even though the final score was closer than the play on the field, it still qualified as a Mercy Rule win for the Tigers keeping their streak intact for every game this season.

Although the Rams very successful season came to an end, some of their offensive weapons posted single-season Richland records. Stahl set a school record with 3,007 yards passing and 43 touchdown passes. Burke finished his senior season with 73 receptions for 1,425 yards and 23 touchdown receptions. “Southern Columbia was just a better football team than us,” Bailey said. “It doesn’t take away from the success that our team had this season. I am proud of the way they fought and the leadership from our seniors, but the Tigers proved that they are just too much to handle.”

With seven successful extra points in the victory, SCA senior kicker Ethan Haupt broke the state record for the most converted PAT’s in a season. As crazy as it sounds, he is now the third different Tiger kicker in the third straight year to reset the Pennsylvania mark. The first-year kicker has made 110 on 114 attempts heading into next week’s final. “We like to score points. That’s the goal in sports, to score more than the other team,” Fleming said with a smile. “It doesn’t matter who it is with the ball, we just want to get into the end zone.” The Ohio State-bound receiver already holds the state records for the most receiving yards and touchdowns in a career, and he moved into second for receptions with his third catch on Friday. Fleming needs 13 receptions in Friday afternoon’s PIAA Championship game to claim the third state record.

Next Friday Southern Columbia will look to become Pennsylvania’s first ever 10-time PIAA Champions. Their opponent will be Avonworth out of District 7 who beat Wilmington, a familiar Tiger foe, 33-21 in the Western Final. The Tigers beat the Greyhounds the past two seasons in the state final, which is held at Hershey Park Stadium, so Roth’s squad will face a new foe in the Antelopes. “We have never played Avonworth so I’m not familiar with what their style of play is yet,” said Roth. “We will prepare this week like any other week. Our seniors will be motivated in their final game. They will go down as our most talented class ever, so this would put a final stamp on their legacy.”

 

SCA: 21-28-0-0 = 49

RCH: 7-0-0-20 = 27

 

SOUTHERN COLUMBIA (15-0)

Rushing:

Gaige Garcia 12-154, 3 TD’s; Gavin Garcia 9-125, TD; Preston Zachman 4-30, TD; Ty Roadarmel 3-16; Wes Barnes 5-2; Jayden McCormick 2-1; Matt Masala 3-0

Passing:

Preston Zachman 7-13-1, 144 yds, 2 TD’s; Ron Zsido 0-1-1

Receiving:

Julian Fleming 6-117, TD ; Gavin Garcia 1-27, TD

First Downs: 21

Penalties: 8-65

 

RICHLAND (13-1)

Rushing:

Allen Mangus 3-16; Kellen Stahl 3-14; Tyler Reed 1-13; Jacob Sabol 2-3; Jordan Ford 1-2; Caleb Burke 2-1, TD; Trevor Tustin 3-0

Passing:

Kellan Stahl 12-36-3, 275 yds, 3 TD’s

Receiving:

Trevor Tustin 2-149, 2 TDs; Caleb Burke 7-89, TD; Allen Mangus 1-26; Koby Bailey 2-11

First Downs: 11

Penalties: 1-5

 

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