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Written by: Dave Fegley on Saturday, September 21st, 2019
By: Dave Fegley (9-21-19)
Friday night was the annual celebration of Homecoming for Southern Columbia at Tiger Stadium. The school welcomed the return of alumni to cheer on the Tigers. Unfortunately, the Tigers on the gridiron didn’t make their guests from Central Columbia feel that same sense of hospitality. SoCo decided to make the endzone their rudimentary home during the festivity, but the defending PIAA Class 2A State Champions weren’t willing to share their home with the Blue Jays. By the end of the game, Southern Columbia made nine stops in their golden endzone and Central Columbia wasn’t allowed in at all as the Tigers posted another shutout win of 62-0.
Although it was a disheartening loss for the Blue Jays, it wasn’t anything new for a Tiger opponent. “Our goal is to shutout every team in our path. We just have to keep sticking to our assignments and playing hard and we will see what happens,” said SCA linebacker Max Tillett. So far, through five games, the Tigers have achieved their goal in each game as they have yet to surrender a point to any of their opponents. In total, Southern Columbia has now combined to win the first half of their regular season slate by a score of 284-0. “It is exciting to see the younger guys go into the game in the second half and watch them work to keep the shutout. All of our starters are yelling to keep them motivated because we don’t want to let our opponent score at all. That’s the mentality, and we are having a lot of fun as we hope to keep doing it,” the linebacker said.
For as dominant as the offense has been, the defense has played nearly perfect football. When you are able to control the game in every way possible, the opposition just simply has no chance of competing. “Southern Columbia is better than us. It’s just that simple. In almost every position they have better players. They have a great scheme and probably the best coach in Pennsylvania history,” said Central head coach Scott Dennis who has been around the game of football for a long time. “We tried to run the ball and had no success with that. We weren’t able to throw on them. In my 26 years of coaching they are the best defense that I have ever coached against.” From a first half yardage comparison, Southern Columbia held about as wide of an advantage as a team could have. During the opening two quarters, the Tigers outgained the Blue Jays by over 500 yards. SCA accumulated 519 yards of total offense and the defense surrendered a total of just 11 yards.
The only advantage that the Blue Jays held on the stat sheet was in the penalty column. The Tigers committed eight penalties compared to the Blue Jays not committing one all game. “We played a clean game in that aspect. You can’t make mistakes against a team as good as them. I’m glad that we didn’t commit any penalties, but ultimately that wasn’t near enough. They have multiple guys that can score at any time on offense, and their defense is suffocating,” Dennis said. By the end of the game the Blue Jays were able to only total 26 yards of offense compared to the more than 650 yards produced by a Tiger team that leads the PIAA in both points scored (56.8 points per game) and in points allowed (zero).
After the game, on the playing surface that is named after him, Southern’s head coach Jim Roth tried his best to think of some type of concern that his staff has at this point. “Our starters would like to play longer as they are all competitors. I know some of those guys have been getting frustrated, but there just aren’t enough plays to go around. When you have three backs that you are trying to get the ball to, and then trying to throw the ball on top of that it makes it difficult to get players enough touches when they haven’t had the chance to play in the second half,” Roth said. “The positive out of this on top of obviously winning is that they stay healthy and they stay hungry. They aren’t getting beat up because they aren’t playing as much, and our younger guys are getting a lot of playing experience in the second half of our games.”
It took a whopping 12 seconds for the Tigers to go in front for good on the turf of Jim Roth Field. On the first play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Preston Zachman connected with his classmate Julian Fleming for the first touchdown of the game. Fleming burnt past the Blue Jay secondary and found his home from 69 yards out to give Southern an early 6-0 lead with a miscue on the extra point snap. The touchdown reception for the senior was the 60th of his astonishing career. Fleming is now just two touchdown receptions away from breaking the Pennsylvania-record for the most receiving touchdowns in a career. He finished the game with a season-high 166 receiving yards on five receptions.
Fellow senior star Gaige Garcia, who is already PA’s overall touchdown king, would go on to score the next three touchdowns for the Tigers to extend their lead to 27-0 after the first quarter. Like Fleming, Garcia is within striking distance of another state record. The 205-pound running back now sits just three rushing scores away from breaking the Pennsylvania-record for career rushing touchdowns. “I think the thing that sticks out the most in my mind is that these guys are putting up these numbers while essentially only playing in the first half of most of the games in their career. It’s not like they are accumulating these stats late in the games when we have big leads. They are doing their damage against the other team’s starters and then watch from the sidelines after halftime,” said Roth. The touchdowns for Garcia came on runs of 8, 23, and 2 yards.
After forcing three-and-outs on a regular basis, the second quarter belonged to the backs that share the backfield with Garcia. His younger brother Gavin had a 16-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to make the score 34-0. The next drive, fullback Ty Roadarmel extended the lead on third and long when he caught a screen pass and took it pay dirt from 29 yards out. After an interception by Fleming, the younger Garcia would put an exclamation point on the opening half with a 49-yard scamper to give the defending HSFA Small School National Champions a 48-0 lead. “Gavin just seems so much more decisive this year. He had a great season as a freshman, but you can tell this year it seems more natural for him. He reads things and makes those quick moves with so much more confidence and doesn’t have to think about it as much,” Roth said. “He hasn’t put on much more weight since last year, but you can tell he has gotten a lot stronger. He’s running with so much more authority and can make cuts as good as anyone that I have ever coached.”
Early in the second half, the Tigers scored two touchdowns off of fumble recoveries. Nate Crowl scored on a three-yard run two plays after Ian Huntington recovered a fumble. Three minutes later, after a Wade Kerstetter fumble recovery, sophomore Matt Masala scored on a one-yard surge to make the score 62-0 after a final Ethan Haupt PAT. “We like to have the Mercy Rule in by halftime. That gives our starters rest, and it gives the younger guys experience to build confidence to hopefully keep the program dominant for years to come,” senior lineman Jake Herr said.
Another bad sign for upcoming opponents, as if things weren’t bad enough, is the Tigers in new positions continue to gain confidence. Each week the Southern offensive line gets more and more used to playing with each other after having to replace all but one starter from last year’s squad. “We still have our breakdowns every once in a while, but it seems like we are continuing to improve each week. We always try to make ourselves better each game. During practice, Coach (Mike) Johnston works with the line and always is pushing us to get better,” said Herr who is the only starting offensive lineman that returned from last year’s team. It’s not just the offensive line that is providing holes for the skill players to get through. Whenever one skill player has the ball, the other offensive weapons are doing their part in blocking as well. “Blocking is something that we all take pride in. I personally see it as the highlight of my career. I love to block and would rather see my teammates score when I know I helped with a nice block on the play,” Roadarmel said.
Zachman, also has continued to improve in the passing game with the more reps he is getting as the season progresses. He threw for a career high 257 yards in the win while completing a high percentage of his pass attempts. Gavin Garcia topped the 100-yard rushing mark for the third straight week and his yards per attempt continues to climb. “Week in and week out we have been able to come in and do the same thing. The line is blocking great. All of our backs have been able to make plays and our passing game continues to improve. The offense is clicking on all cylinders and we hope to keep that up,” said Gavin Garcia who averaged more than 20 yards per carry in the Tigers 76th regular season win in a row. He currently leads the state with an average of 15.1 yards per carry. His older brother and Roadarmel are each averaging over 10 yards per carry as well.
Next week Central will try to put this Mercy Rule defeat against their cross-county rivals behind them as they attempt to get back on a winning streak as they host Danville. Southern will host South Williamsport who will be coming in motivated after suffering their only loss of the year on Friday. “We just need to come out ready to play after another good week of practice. We will stay hungry and want to keep this streak going,” Roadarmel said. The Tigers, with Fleming and Gaige Garcia potentially breaking state records in the same game, will attempt to shutout the Mounties in their final scheduled meeting. South Williamsport is playing in their final year as a member of the Heartland Conference. Next year, the Mounties are set to join the Northern Tier League.
SCA: 27-21-14-0 = 62
CC: 0-0-0-0 = 0
SOUTHERN COLUMBIA (5-0)
Gavin Garcia 6-129, 2 TD’s; Gaige Garcia 6-80, 3 TD’s; Ty Roadarmel 2-79; Nate Crowl 2-19, TD; Braden Heim 6-48; Matt Masala 4-24, TD; Wes Barnes 4-18; Cade Linn 1-9
Preston Zachman 9-12-0, 257 yds, 3 TD’s
Julian Fleming 5-166, TD; Gaige Garcia 3-62; Ty Roadarmel 1-29, TD
First Downs: 26
CENTRAL COLUMBIA (3-2)
Troy Johnson 13-8; Isaac Kester 3-3; Nathan Smith 2-(-1); Logan Welkom 2-(-6); Garrett McNelis 2-(-8)
Garrett McNelis 3-11-1, 20 yds
Garrett Carter 1-12; Triy Johnson 1-7; Zander Bradley 1-1
First Downs: 2
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