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Written by: Dave Fegley on Saturday, December 7th, 2019
In Friday afternoon’s PIAA Class 2A State Championship game, Southern Columbia found itself in a new situation early on. Avonworth took a 7-0 lead on the game’s first drive. The Antelopes took advantage of a miscommunication between two Tiger defenders just over two minutes into the game. How did Southern respond to trailing for the first time all season? How’s 74-consecutive points for an answer as the Tigers put an exclamation point on their third consecutive, and tenth overall, state title .
For the final 46 minutes of game action, Southern Columbia finished off the greatest individual season of any team that has ever been assembled in the history of PIAA football. “These guys finished off the season with a statement. It is nearly impossible to sum up everything that these players have accomplished this year for our program,” said SCA head coach Jim Roth. “The way these guys went out and took care of business every week, it’s probably never going to happen again when you total everything up.”
There are a few items that can be summed up rather quickly. The first one comes from their head coach who picked up his 444th win which ties him for second in state history. “This is without question the most successful season we have ever had. There have been some great teams that we had in the past. Some went undefeated, and there were obviously the nine that won titles and we had a lot of runner-up finishes as well,” said Roth. “What this team did from the first game to how they played throughout in this one, you can’t do much more.” This year’s Tiger team scored 894 points which broke the record of any Pennsylvania champion. The 74 points were the most points ever scored in a PIAA final as well.
On defense, the Tigers dominated from the start of the season in South Carolina, to the final game at Hersheypark Stadium. For the season, SCA’s swarming unit gave up a total of just 82 points all season which was only one touchdown more than they scored in Friday’s final alone. “All season long both our offense and defense have played great each time we stepped onto the field. In this final game though for as well as the offense executed, our defense contributed the most to this win,” said Julian Fleming who was named Pennsylvania’s Gatorade Player of the Year for a second time just hours before kickoff.
The Tigers forced nine turnovers which was a PIAA title game record. The six interceptions that Andy Mills’ defense had was another record. “As an overall unit, this was definitely the best one we have ever had. There were probably some better players in the past at certain positions, but the way these 11 guys worked together was the best. They were just relentless,” said the long-time defensive coordinator. Three pick sixes broke another record, and the four total non-offensive touchdowns that Southern scored set another PIAA Mark. Additionally, the special teams unit returned both of Avonwort’s kickoffs in the game for scores, but both were called back.
Since the first year of the PIAA championships in 1988, only one team had ever scored 60 points in a game. That was in 2012, when North Allegheny scored 63 in their title win. The Tigers nearly topped that in the first half when they dropped 55 on the Antelopes. “It’s just truly been a blessing to play for this team. To win one state championship is awesome, then to win a second is incredible, but to finish off with a third in a row there aren’t any words to describe the feeling,” Gaige Garcia said. The 67-point margin of victory was the largest in the PIAA Championship-era.
If you want to get even more technical, the Tigers had to break another state record of breaking the most state records in a state championship. “This was the icing on the cake. I think it was only fitting that our senior class got to finish this way. There isn’t a better feeling than knowing how we performed,” said Preston Zachman. “Some of those records that we set are going to be very tough to beat in the future.”
It was only fitting that the Tigers ended their perfect season the same way that they ended every single game of the 2019 season, in Mercy Rule fashion. It’s also fitting that the most talented senior class in Southern’s storied history was able to finish the last chapter of their legacy by becoming Pennsylvania’s first ever 10-time PIAA Champions.
The state’s best ever one-two punch, Fleming and Gaige Garcia, certainly left their mark one final time in Chocolate Town. The two magicians were far from the only two contributors during the show though. “We have been friends for a long time. We have played together since we were young kids, and to finish it off with this group is fitting. We have had so many players that have contributed this year,” Fleming said.
Jake Davis led the defense by playing the best game of his career. The junior, who came in as the team leader in interceptions, capped off his season with three first half interceptions for the victors including one that he returned for a touchdown. Zachman started off the game with two overthrown passes to open receivers, but he wound up tossing four touchdown passes and added an interception from his linebacker position in his final game.
Senior fullback Ty Roadarmel caught a touchdown pass and rushed for another one. Cal Haladay and Cade Linn each scored defensive touchdowns in their final game. Senior linebackers Max Tillett and Nate Crowl helped to set up scores with a fumble recovery and hit on the quarterback leading to an interception respectively. Gavin Garcia continued to electrify the crowd with another one of his trademark cross-field runs during his sophomore season.
Up front, the offensive and defensive line took care of business as usual. Ethan Haupt tacked on eight more extra points to his newly established state record season for the most ever. “Everyone is happy for each other. There aren’t any guys that just worry about themselves. We know it takes a full team effort to accomplish what we just did,” Gaige Garcia said.
After Park Pernod hit tight end Trevor Faulkner with a 43-yard touchdown pass early in the first quarter, the Antelopes had every right to be confident. A school located 11 miles north of Pittsburgh, making their first appearance ever into a title game, became the only team to hold a lead on the Tigers all season. “I was very pleased with the way we started the game with that touchdown,” Avonworth coach Duke Jancour said. “Then after that Southern proved to everyone why they are the best team in the state. I have never with my own eyes witnessed a more dominant program in any sport than what I saw from that Tiger football team.”
After giving up a rare score, the Tigers weren’t feeling the least bit generous. From that point forward the show belonged to Southern. “We didn’t make any adjustments after they scored. It was more of a communication error. We weren’t worried at all because we have confidence from the way we have played together all season,” said Linn.
With 5:22 remaining in the first quarter, the Tigers tied up the score at 7-7. It wasn’t your typical Southern drive that you couldn’t afford to take a bathroom break without missing. The Tigers used an 11-play drive to find the end zone on a 12-yard pass from Zachman to Fleming. “That was important I think to show them early on that we aren’t just a big-play type of team. It proved that we can sustain a long drive and get it done with running and passing. That helped set the tone,” Zachman said.
From that point forward, Southern’s defense directed the matinee. “These players have been tenacious since the start of the year. They are focused all the time and rarely out of position,” said Mills. “This was just a special group of players and it was rewarding for them to end the season in this fashion.”
Tillett recovered a fumble on the next drive, and the very next play Gaige Garcia put the Tigers in front for good on en eight-yard run with 4:28 remaining in the opening quarter. Southern would add another score less than a minute later after the defense forced a quick three-and-out. Gaige Garcia caught a Zachman pass and ran it in from 32 yards out to make the score 21-7.
The Tigers defense knew at that point that the game was over. They just wanted to make the coronation as memorable as possible. Three consecutive pick sixes extended Southern’s lead to 41-7 with 10:20 still remaining in the half. Cal Haladay returned the first one 40 yards, Davis traveled 42 yards, and Linn’s was from 46 yards.
Another interception, on the fourth drive in a row, helped the Tigers tack on another score. Davis, who caught more passes from Penrod than any of his own receivers, snagged another pigskin out of the air and three plays later Roadarmel caught an 8-yard pass making it 48-7. “I had the mindset coming in that I wanted to play my best game in this one. It was emotional knowing that I would only have this one final chance to play with these seniors that I grew up playing with since I was eight years old,” Davis said.
The final touchdown of the half was the final reception of Fleming’s outstanding career in front of a packed house that game from different parts of the United States to see SCA first-hand. “I told the guys right after the game that I was so happy about the way they handled themselves all season. We had a lot of media attention since the first day of camp, but they didn’t let the hype get to them. Julian had the most publicity with being ranked as the nation’s top recruit, but we have other Division 1 scholarship athletes that gained a lot of attention as well,” Roth said. With 2:49 remaining, Fleming caught a crossing pattern from Zachman and outraced the entire herd of Antelope defenders into the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown giving the Tigers a 55-7 halftime lead.
Gavin Garcia returned the second half kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown, but a questionable penalty called the score back. No problem for the Tigers though as Roadarmel took a handoff up the gut two plays later 42 yards to pay dirt. After Haupt, who set the state record last week for the most PAT’s in a season, converted on the extra point it was 62-7.
Zachman made the final interception of the afternoon on the next drive. Then in the final offensive drive of the season for the record-breaking starters, Gavin Garcia was the final man to reach the end zone. After returning both kickoffs for scores that were called back, he took a handoff in from 11 yards out. As he has done numerous times this season, he covered nearly the entire width of the field to get across the goal-line. No extra point was attempted keeping the blowout at 68-7.
After a fumbled kickoff, the Tigers offense came right back onto the field. Coach Roth sent the starting unit in for one final play. On first down, Zachman took the snap and kneeled to the turf. Then, as the backups came onto the field, the Tiger faithful got to their feet as the starters walked off the field to a well-deserved curtain call. “We wanted to give them a proper send off, especially the seniors,” Roth said.
On the next drive, it was the starting defense’s turn to get their moment. After stopping a run on first down, Coach Mills called in his second team unit to relieve the starters one final time. In what was the best defensive performance ever carried out in a PIAA Championship, the players got a standing ovation as they walked across the turf to their sideline. “That was a great feeling. It was bittersweet though since we knew it was for the last time,” Tillett said.
In the fourth quarter, the starters began to soak it all in. The reserves kept the starting unit of Antelopes off the scoreboard, and Southern sophomore Matt Masala returned a fumble for a touchdown on special teams making the final 74-6. “It was just an awesome day. We had so much fun and it was surreal to realize what all we had done,” Davis said.
The starting unit, with the seniors taking the lead, enjoyed every second of it. They were able to douse some of their coaches with Gatorade showers. They chased each other on the sidelines with water bottles being used as squirt guns. For the SCA cheerleaders’ famous dance routine, a lot of the players grabbed pom-poms and joined in on the fun in front of their loyal supporters.
The Antelopes, who capped off the greatest season in Avonworth history, had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. They earned the right to hoist the Class 2A runner-up trophy after having a tremendous season that started off 15-0. The coaching staff and players all were respectful in defeat. “I am so proud of this team. It was such a memorable season,” Jancour said. The WPIAL champions just simply ran into the greatest Pennsylvania high school football team ever assembled from a statistical standpoint. Sure the Mercy Rule loss wasn’t fun, but the Antelopes fell into the same category that every single opponent the Tigers took on fell into in 2019.
As the Tigers accepted their record 10th PIAA Championship trophy, there were plenty of smiles, laughs, hugs, and handshakes to go around. There were also a lot of tears as the reality set in that the best senior class to ever come through the Tiger Dynasty would be taking their pads off one final time. “It has been a blessing. There is no better program that you want to be a part of. You learn that from a young age in elementary school when you watch those games on Friday night at Southern,” Fleming said.
From former SCA assistant coach Don Traugh, who passed away suddenly over the summer, who had the best seat in the house from Heaven, to every fan that traveled to Columbia in August, to every media member and opposition that witnessed the Tigers in the season, to those in attendance in Hershey for the championship, one thing was for sure. The first football program in the state to reach 10 PIAA Championships did it during their display of most dominant gridiron season in the the history of the Keystone State.
As Coach Traugh was famous for saying, “It’s Expected,” the 2019 Tigers have finished off those expectations. This year’s Southern team has also reset the bar in so many different ways that even numbers can’t summarize. From offense, to defense, to special teams, and all the accomplishments in between, a season like Southern Columbia just finished off with perfection can never be expected again. “We know that Coach Traugh was with us all season. We couldn’t have ended the season on a more perfect note. We know he is looking down and is very proud of this team,” Haladay said.
Perfection is now complete. The seniors will go their separate ways from Ohio State, to Michigan and Michigan State, to Wisconsin, New Hamsphire, Brown, and other colleges in between. Some will become members of the military, and others will join the workforce, but their legacy will live on.
For more pics, click HERE
A — Trevor Faulkner 43 pass from Park Penrod (Tyler Bryan kick), 9:42
SC — Julian Fleming 12 pass from Preston Zachman (Ethan Haupt kick), 5:22
SC — Gaige Garcia 8 run (Haupt kick), 4:28
SC — Gaige Garcia 32 pass from Zachman (Haupt kick), 3:36
SC — Cal Haladay 40 interception return (kick missed), 2:09
SC — Jake Davis 42 interception return (Haupt kick), 0:26
SC — Cade Linn 46 interception return (Haupt kick), 10:20
SC — Ty Roadarmel 8 pass from Zachman (Haupt kick), 7:26
SC — Fleming 63 pass from Zachman (Haupt kick), 2:49
SC — Roadarmel 42 run (Haupt kick), 10:51
SC — Gavin Garcia 11 run (no attempt), 4:07
SC — Matt Masala 46 fumble return (no attempt), 1:01
SCA: 34-21-13-6 = 74
AVO: 7-0-0-0 = 7
SOUTHERN COLUMBIA (16-0)
Gavin Garcia 8-84, TD; Ty Roadarmel 4-64, TD; Gaige Garcia 10-60, TD; Matt Masala 5-20; Wes Barnes 2-12; Preston Zachman 2-9; Trevor Yorks 2-6; Jayden McCormick 1-2; Logan Potter 1-(-2)
Preston Zachman 7-11-0, 181 yds, 4 TD’s
Julian Fleming 4-124, 2 TD’s; Gaige Garcia 2-49, TD; Ty Roadarmel 1-8, TD
First Downs: 20
Park Penrod 7-27; Jax Miller 15-25; Alex Ifft 2-(-4)
Park Penrod 8-26-6, 143 yds, TD
Theo Newhouse 2-52; Trevor Faulkner 1-43, TD; Jordan Rapp 1-22; Jake Horigan 2-9; Grant Jenkins 1-9; Jax Miller 1-8
First Downs: 9
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