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Written by: Dave Fegley on Saturday, August 24th, 2019
Even with a record nine PIAA titles to show for, one could make the case that the upcoming season for Southern Columbia is the most anticipated one in the program’s storied history. From the season opener on ESPN2, to what Tiger Nation hopes ends in with more gold in Hershey, the fans will witness what is collectively the most talented group of skill players that SCA has ever had. With a veteran coaching staff, and a senior class that is as talented as any to come through the Tiger Dynasty, Southern Columbia will need to stay focused on their goals while dealing with the outside noise that is filled with hype and championship aspirations. “Most of our coaches have been around since our first title so we have been in this spot before in the preseason,” said head coach Jim Roth. “There is a great appreciation of what our past players have meant to the program, but the bottom line is when it comes time to start a season all the focus is on that season and we take it one day at a time. The past doesn’t mean anything. You need to take care of business in the present.”
The hype starts out on Sunday as the Tigers play an out of state opponent for the first time in the program’s history. SCA will take a long bus ride down to Columbia, South Carolina and take on the Hammond Skyhawks who have the most successful program in the Palmetto State. The battle between the two states will be broadcasted live by the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network at 2:00 on ESPN2. “This is a once in a lifetime type of opportunity for our program. Our players are excited to play in a game of this magnitude that can be viewed all around the world,” Roth said.
The Tigers will be playing for something extra this season. Last month, Southern assistant coach Don Traugh passed away suddenly. He was entering his 19th season as an assistant coach and will be missed dearly by everyone involved in the program. “The thing I appreciated the most about Don was his calm demeanor and management skills. He was a local fire chief for over 30 years and at his funeral service it was brought up about how well he handled crisis and tough situations. He was like that as a coach and it brought a sense of relaxation,” said Roth. “He knew all the positions on the football field and was able to help out by talking to the players no matter what position they played. Not many assistant coaches are able to do that at any level, so we were blessed to have that extra source of knowledge. He would give players quick tips or explain different schemes and the kids responded well to that type of communication.”
In addition to Traugh’s contributions with the Tiger program, he was a retired teacher, a former assistant college coach, and an active grandfather and an overall family man. “He was on the kids more than any other coach on doing things right both on and off the field. From walking back to the huddle, leaving something lay in the locker room, or anything else that wasn’t done in the correct fashion, he wanted to hold the players accountable to do things the right way. He was a great guy and leaves a positive imprint on our program,” said Roth.
Here is a look at what the two-time defending PIAA State Champion, and defending HSFA Small School National Champion, Tigers have to offer on their quest to becoming Pennsylvania’s first ever 10-time PIAA State Champions:
Jim Roth (36th year at SCA)
Record: 428-63 (never had a losing season)
9 State Championships (PIAA Record)
17 Eastern Championships (PIAA Record)
Andy Mills (41st year)
Al Cihocki (38th year)
John Marks (27th year)
Mike Johnston (25th year)
Andy Helwig (21st year)
Brandon Traugh (11th year)
Alex Carawan (8th year)
Roger Nunkester (7th year)
Division: N/A (Ineligible in 2019)
2018 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).
Numbers of Interest:
2,859 – The number of days since Southern’s last regular season loss to the 2019 opener on Sunday, August 25th. The Tigers need to win their first four games in order to break the state record with 75-consecutive regular season victories.
122 – The number of wins the Tiger program has had this decade entering the final year. During the 2000’s Tiger squads won a school record 125 games and in the 1990’s they won 124 games.
32 – The current winning streak of the Tigers which is currently the seventh longest in the United States. SCA’s last loss was in the 2016 PIAA Class 2A State Championship.
26 – The number of rushing touchdowns Gaige Garcia needs in order to move into tenth all-time in United States history for a career according to NFHS.
20 – The number of receiving touchdowns Julian Fleming needs in order to move into third all-time in United States history for a career according to NFHS.
9 – If Southern Columbia can run the table and finish undefeated, they will finish this decade with just nine total losses. Pretty darn impressive considering the Tigers have played the maximum number of games five, and potentially six, out of ten seasons this decade.
0 – The percent chance that the Tigers have of winning another Heartland Conference Division III championship. No this isn’t a mistake, but rather a league rule since SCA won’t be playing divisional opponent Bloomsburg this year due to kicking off the 2019 campaign in South Carolina.
Troy Donlan: three-year starting center
Stone Hollenbach: three-year starting quarterback
Oak Six: three-year starting offensive tackle
John Stabinski: three-year starting guard
Offensive Starters Returning: (6)
RB Gaige Garcia (Sr)
RB Gavin Garcia (So)
FB Ty Roadarmel (Sr)
WR Julian Fleming (Sr)
TE Wade Kerstetter (Jr)
OL Jake Herr (Sr)
Defensive Starters Returning: (9)
DL Lear Quinton (Sr)
DL Cole Schankweiler (Sr)
LB Cal Haladay (Sr)
LB Max Tillett (Sr)
LB Preston Zachman (Sr)
LB Nate Crowl (Sr)
DB Julian Fleming (Sr)
DB Cade Linn (Sr)
DB Jake Davis (Jr)
2019 Team Outlook:
A trio of Tigers have a chance this season to do something that has never been done in the history of Pennsylvania high school football. Julian Fleming, Gaige Garcia, and Cal Haladay are looking to become the first set of gridiron triplets to earn a fourth selection on the AP All-State Team. There have been a rare group of four-time selections in the past, but never has it been done by three teammates during the same season. “It’s no secret that this senior class is special. This is a once in a lifetime type of talent for a class in a school that is as small as what we are. Julian, Gaige, and Cal have played at a very high level since they were freshmen. I can’t think of another trio that has been as consistent as these guys have been really from the first game of their freshmen year until now,” Roth said. Away from the accolades that they have garnered, all three have earned scholarship offers from Big 10 schools. Fleming will head to Ohio State, Garcia to Michigan, and Haladay to Michigan State. “We have one final season of being teammates. There is still business to take care of. Then things will change for a few years, but that isn’t on our mind right now. All we are thinking about is winning each game as teammates,” said Fleming.
The scary part is that this terrific trio is joined by a lot of other talented players on the 56-man roster. Joining the Big 10 commits as team captains are Lear Quinton, Max Tillett, and Preston Zachman. This dynamic trio has also earned scholarship offers at the Division 1 level. Quinton will join the Ivy League next fall as a wrestler for Brown University. Tillett and Zachman have received offers from a multitude of programs, and with another strong season they both might get a Power 5 offer. “This season adds some motivation to make plays for other coaches at the next level to see, but you can’t focus on it. We don’t need the added pressure,” said Tillett “We just need to go out and have fun and a school like us here at Southern gets a lot of attention due to the success of the program in itself.”
Fleming and Garcia will be the focal points of the offense once again, but there will be other talent that can burn the opponent on any given play. “Hopefully we can have a lot of fun this year, but the most fun comes with winning. We have a lot of guys on offense that are going to make big plays throughout the season. We won’t be satisfied with anything less than winning another state championship. As a senior, you have that extra motivation to go out one final time and accomplish your goals, ” said Fleming. The Tigers are coming off of a 2018 season in which they scored the second most points in PIAA history.
Zachman, who has played wide receiver the past two seasons, will take over as the starting quarterback. Last season he filled in for half of the regular season and proved to be more than capable as both a passer and a runner. The signal caller finished with 597 passing yards and eight touchdowns during that span. “Getting that starting experience last year was huge for my confidence. With the attention Julian gets on the outside and then our backs like Gaige that can be receiving threats, sometimes that will give me an opportunity to use my legs and take off instead of forcing a pass into coverage. As a former receiver I have practice in being a runner obviously,” Zachman said.
In the backfield, the elder Garcia will be joined by his younger brother Gavin. The 175-pound sophomore burst onto the scene last year as a freshman. “Gaige and Gavin are both effective in different ways. Gaige is more of a physical back whereas Gavin is more shifty,” said Roth. The fullback will be returning starter Ty Roadarmel who has added muscle to his 185-pound frame, and the senior an integral part in blocking for the setup of SCA’s offensive scheme and the senior rushed for eight scores last season.
Complementing Fleming, who had 1,524 yards and 22 touchdowns, on the outside as a second receiver will be sophomore Liam Klebon who has had a good preseason. Jake Davis, a junior, will also see time throughout the year as a sure-handed receiver. The Garcia’s add luxury to the aerial attack as dangerous receiving threats out of the backfield when they aren’t carrying the ball. “The main objective is to win another state championship and our backs are a big part in getting that done no matter what we need to do. As a senior, we need to set the tone and show the younger guys that you can’t ever be complacent,” said Gaige Garcia who rushed for 2,042 yards last season. The younger brother Gavin rushed for 1,179 yards, and the duo combined for an astounding 61 rushing touchdowns. They also combined for 10 receiving touchdowns.
The biggest question mark for the Tigers will be the offensive line and they will be challenged with their biggest test of the season in the opening game. When the Tigers travel to South Carolina to take on a perennial-power, the Hammond Skyhawks on ESPN 2, the almost brand-new SCA offensive line will have to block some of the top ranked linemen in the country. Jake Herr, who rotated in last season at guard, will be the only returning interior lineman that saw significant time. Quinton, who saw some snaps on the offensive line in times of need last year, will take over as full-time starter this season at the other guard. “Lear was our best overall lineman last season, so we have a lot of confidence in him and Jake is experienced as well,” Roth said.
Cam Haladay started last year as the tight end but will move to one of the offensive tackle positions. Senior Colin Doraski will be the other tackle. The two underclassmen starting up front will be a pair of juniors in center Derek Wertman and tight end Wade Kerstetter. Tillett will also see some time at tight end in certain packages. “We are going to be physical for all four quarters. Working together as a new group for the five of us has made it important to learn what everyone is doing on each play. We need to work together as a unit to make the offense work,” said Quinton. “Our motivation will be showing that we can get the job done by blocking up front.”
On defense, the strength will certainly be the athletic group of linebackers that will return that include Haladay, Tillett, Zachman and Nate Crowl. Freshman Wes Barnes and Kerstetter will also see time depending on the situation or formation. “We just have to go out there and do what we do. It’s plain and simple. We have a lot of athleticism so we will just be flying around the field,” Haladay said. “It’s kind of like a competition to see who can get to the ball first and make the play.”
Haladay and Tillett will be the inside linebackers and return as the leading tacklers from last year’s defense that gave up less than 75 yards rushing per game. Haladay had 131 tackles and Tillett finished with 124. Zachman will be the most interesting one to watch play out as he will be just the third quarterback during “The Roth Era” at Southern to start both ways. Zachman, Crowl, and Barnes will be expected to contain the edge and put pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Quinton and Cole Schankweiler return on the defensive line as starters. The other spots will be filled by senior Ian Huntingdon and junior Tyler Waltman. The Tigers will have other players seeing action as well with Dyer Stine, Braden Heim, and Chris Treshock in the mix. “If we can control the front and not get pushed back it allows for our linebackers to make plays. The better the push we get really helps our whole defense. The new guys are really getting into the swing of things and learning quickly,” said Schankweiler. Quinton had 68 tackles to lead the front four last season and Schankweiler clogged the holes in the middle of the line during the playoff run. Gaige Garcia has also been wanting to have the chance to rush the quarterback for some time now, and he is hoping to get his wish. “We will see what happens throughout the season. You never know but I’ll be ready if they need me,” said Garcia.
The Tigers return an experienced secondary. Fleming returns for his fourth season at corner and had four interceptions last season, three of which he returned for scores. The junior Davis, who had three interceptions in 2018, will man the other cornerback position where he rotated in at a season ago. Cade Linn had a strong season at safety last year with 71 tackles and returns for a senior season. When the Tigers run their 4-3 defense, senior Owyne Pursel is expected to see some snaps. “Our confidence is our biggest improvement this year. Last year Jake and I were new starters, so now with another year we feel more comfortable,” said Linn. “We look forward to teams throwing on us. It gets boring when the front guys are just dominating by stopping the run and the secondary is just kind of in the background. We want a challenge to prove we can stop the passing game.” With Zachman’s speed, don’t be surprised if he moves to the secondary as a safety in obvious passing situations.
On special teams, Fleming and Gaige Garcia return as the most dangerous return duo in Pennsylvania. “They are weapons even when they aren’t touching the ball. Often times the other team will kick it away from them or out of bounds which gives us good field position just simply because they don’t feel comfortable with allowing either of them to get their hands on the ball and trying to make a play,” Roth said. Fleming will again handle the punting duties for SCA. Continuing the tradition of a soccer player being the kicker for the Tigers will be Ethan Haupt in 2019. Last season the Tigers didn’t even have to attempt a field goal during the undefeated title run.
SCA Record Breakers:
Julian Fleming has already shattered all of the Tigers receiving records for both a career and single-season. The 6-3, 210-pounder already has the most interception returns for touchdowns and has an outside shot of breaking the record for career interceptions as well. Gaige Garcia is already the king when it comes to total touchdowns at Southern. Barring any setback, he will break all of the school’s career rushing records by the middle of the season. Cal Haladay has the single-season record for tackles and last season broke the career tackling record. With another successful season rushing the passer, Haladay could potentially break the school record for career sacks that has stood for two decades. His sidekick, Max Tillett, should move into second all-time in career tackles by the end of the regular season which is an impressive feat considering those that have played in the program before the pair of linebackers.
Players to Watch:
Cam Haladay – The senior is making a rare transition that will require discipline. Left tackle is considered the most important position on the offensive line because you are protecting the quarterback’s blindside. Haladay, who started at tight end last year, is making the move to be the Tigers left tackle. “It’s actually been a pretty easy transition compared to what I first thought. The toughest part is being physical with the guys coming hard off of the edge. Basically the entire line is new so we are working hard and preparing to do the best that we can,” said Haladay. He will start the season listed at 235 pounds and is mobile enough to contain the quicker defensive ends.
Liam Klebon – Obviously the main target for Zachman will be Fleming, but the 5-star recruit will garner a lot of attention. This will put Liam Klebon, who is a three-sport athlete, in a lot of one-on-one matchups. “It’s going to be fun. It’s nice being at the same position as Julian because you learn a lot from a guy that is going to be playing at the next level,” Klebon said. “The focus will be on him so that frees up other guys like me to make plays and I’m excited to be a part of this team.” Jake Davis is another option that will have an opportunity to get snaps as a receiver to make plays opposite of Fleming.
Preston Zachman – Southern’s version of a Renaissance Man will be counted on to lead the offense this season. He will also have the rare opportunity to go both ways as a quarterback and defensive starter. “We don’t have a quarterback play both ways often and that is because we don’t always have the confidence in knowing if the kid can handle it. Preston fits the mold because of how athletic he is and he is a smart player. He has put in the work in the offseason and his conditioning will allow him to play at a high level,” Roth said. Brad Fegley played quarterback and linebacker for the 2011 state runner-up squad and Jon Fetterman was the only other to play both ways as a quarterback/linebacker when he did so in the early 1990’s.
Games to Watch:
Week 1: Hammond (SC) – It’s on ESPN 2 which should say enough in itself. It’s against a Skyhawks team that has won 16 State Championships in South Carolina including four of the past five. The Skyhawks team includes two linemen in Jordan Burch, who is the fifth ranked recruit in the country, and Alex Huntley who committed to South Carolina. Hammond’s quarterback, Jackson Muschamp, is the son of the Gamecocks’ head coach Will Muschamp and has received scholarship offers including one from Boston College. “I am very impressed in watching their film with their passing game. They will spread you out and throw all over the place. We are going to need to stay disciplined in pass coverage,” Roth said.
Week 2: Mount Carmel – Although the teams don’t haven’t played since the beginning, over the past three decades this annual rivalry has been deemed as “The Game” for both schools. Due to the history of what both programs have accomplished over the years, this game is usually standing room only for the fans. The Tigers ended the Red Tornadoes year the past two seasons in the District IV AA Championship game. “As a player, you get pumped up to play against a rival in front of a big crowd and that usually brings out the best in everyone,” said Cal Haladay. This year’s regular season matchup will be on a Saturday night during Labor Day weekend on Jim Roth Field. This is the largest senior class that head coach John Darrah has had at MCA and the Tornadoes want revenge.
Week 4: Shamokin – If the Tigers can win their first three games, Southern Columbia will have a chance to make history against Tiger alum Henry Hynoski. By defeating his Indians to go 4-0, the Tigers would own a 75-game regular season winning streak which would break Strath Haven’s state record. Last season, the Tigers dominated in all phases of the game and simply outworked the Indians on essentially every play. Shamokin’s coaching staff will most certainly use that as motivation coming into this clash at Kemp Memorial Stadium.
State Championship number 10 will come home to Southern Columbia in mid-December. The Tigers will open up the season in front of a world-wide audience in a true road test nearly 700 miles from home and defeat the Skyhawks in a shootout. After running through the regular season undefeated, the Tigers will host their biggest rival, Mount Carmel Area, and defeat them for a third straight year in the District IV Class 2A Championship game. Expect a rematch with an athletic West Catholic squad or a veteran Ligonier Valley team as the toughest state playoff game leading up to Hershey. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers see Wilmington at Hershey Park Stadium for a third straight year or a rematch with Steel Valley who gave Southern their last loss in the 2016 final. However, the bet is SCA will battle it out with the Washington Prexies in the 2019 PIAA Class 2A title which will be their final step in their “Trek To Ten”. You heard it here first, Southern Columbia, aka Title Town, will add a 10th golden football to the trophy as a pre-Christmas present for the towns of Catawissa, Elysburg, and Numidia.
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