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Written by: Dave Fegley on Saturday, September 19th, 2020
Southern Columbia’s Jim Roth enters his fifth decade as the head coach of the PIAA’s most accomplished program of all-time. After winning 10 state championships, 27 District IV titles, and High School Football America National Championships the past two years, this year is is unique in multiple ways.
Last season the Tigers broke all kinds of team and individual state records. It is time now however to put all of that success in the rearview mirror. Replacing nearly every starter from a year ago, and having less time to prepare due to the unfortunate Covid-19 pandemic, Roth and company keep leading the program the only way they know how to. “We just try do the best that we can to prepare the kids heading into the season. This year has been unique due to the lack of summer events, but we can only handle what we are faced with,” said the 37-year Tiger leader.
The coaching icon, with the help of his veteran coaching staff, is entering a year where they had to replace 17 of 22 starters from last years squad that Mercy Ruled all 16 opponents that they encountered including two other state champions. “It is going to take some time for these new starters to get settled in, but the confidence should continue to grow each week,” said Roth who moved into second place all-time in the state’s coaching wins list.
The three-time defending undefeated PIAA 2A Champions, posted a shutout over Bloomsburg 41-0 to kick off the new season. “You take away some of those penalties we had early on, and I thought we played close to a flawless football game for an opener,” said returning all-state running back Gavin Garcia. “The defense posted another shutout. Let’s set a goal and see how many teams we can hold scoreless to start this year as well.” Last season, the Tigers blanked each of their first five opponents and 10 of the 16 overall that they faced.
Jake Davis caught touchdown passes from junior Liam Klebon and sophomore Greyson Shaud in the first half on receptions of 17 and 36 yards respectively. “Getting the opportunity to start on the offensive side of the ball this year feels rewarding. I have learned a lot from Julian (Fleming) over the years and now it is my turn to step in,” said Davis who returns as the team leader in interceptions on the other side of the ball. The senior’s first career receiving touchdown came from Klebon with 5:27 left in the first quarter to make the score 7-0 and the Tigers would add two additional first quarter touchdowns.
Garcia, who has made enough plays already in his career to host his own ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 plays show, added two more to his highlight reel against the Panthers. “He is such a great player. He made some tremendous plays against us by breaking tackles and putting on moves,” said Bloomsburg head coach Mike Kogut. The junior scored three first half touchdowns to help put the game into the Mercy Rule 35-0 at halftime.
His first two came in the first quarter with a 26-yard run and a 75-yard punt return. The punt return was as exciting of a play as he has ever made. The younger brother of the state’s all-time leader in touchdowns Gaige Garcia seemed like he was content with letting the punt roll to a stop and be downed. At the last second he scooped it up and took off down the SCA sidelines. After breaking three tackles, adding a 360-degree spin to avoid a fourth, and crossing field to the visitor’s sidelines, he eventually found pay dirt.
On the final play of the first half, Garcia was not content with just settling for the clock to run out. He took a handoff up the middle and dashed 65 yards into the end zone giving the limited capacity home crowd, due to the pandemic restrictions, another reason to cheer. “He has put on more muscle and added some weight to his frame. He’s always been a great runner around the ends, and now we are excited to see how he can run up the middle more,” Roth said. “He just continues to improve and gets better and better.”
The only score of the second half came in the middle of the third quarter when starting running back Braeden Wisloski scored the first touchdown of his career. The sophomore outran the Bloomsburg defense for a 46-yard score. Freshman Isaac Carter, who converted all five of his extra point attempts, didn’t attempt one on the final touchdown. From that point forward, the Tigers starters got to watch the rest of the game from the sidelines. In total, SCA’s offense averaged exactly 10 yards per carry in their home opener.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers defense held the Panthers offense to negative-11 yards rushing on the night and made it difficult through the air. Linebacker Jake Rose intercepted two passes to help put a stamp on the defensive display. “Forcing turnovers can really make an impact in a game. Last year I only played when the game’s were decided already. Now getting the chance to be a starter, you get to see how big plays can lead to momentum early on,” the Tiger junior said.
The win marked the 445th for Roth in his hall of fame career. That breaks a tie with Jack Henzes, who coached at Dunmore, for second place all-time. “It isn’t something I think about. In a year like this after replacing so many great players, our focus is on keeping the success that we have had. To keep it going for this long, years like this are crucial to make sure we stay at the top and keep the momentum for the future,” Roth said. Roth, who’s program became PA’s first ever 10-time state champion last December, is now just 11 wins away from passing the late George Curry for the most victories in the Keystone State’s history.
Although Bloomsburg didn’t keep the game competitive against SCA, Kogut knows that the experience benefitted his players. “Getting an opportunity like this really can benefit you. We aren’t happy with the result, but we will continue to improve moving forward,” said Kogut who is starting his second stint as the head coach of the Panthers. “We had some breakdowns with some missed tackles on defense and our offensive line struggled against their pass rush.”
Bloomsburg (1-1) will take on Mount Carmel Area next Saturday. MCA doesn’t kick their season off until Tuesday when they host Williams Valley after having to postpone their first two games because of a coronavirus outbreak. That gives the Panthers a few additional days to rest compared to the Red Tornadoes. Southern (1-0) who was supposed to open with the Red Tornadoes last week, will travel to Warrior Run next Friday.
BLOOMSBURG (1-1): 0-0-0-0: 0
SOUTHERN (1-0): 21-14-6-0: 41
BLM – SCA
First downs 7 – 14
Rushes-yards 19-(-11) – 33-330
Passing yards 107 – 65
Total yards 96 – 395
Passing (C-A-I) 11-27-2 – 4-10-1
Penalties 2-29 – 6-66
Fumbles/lost 0-0 – 0-0
S — Jake Davis, 17-yard pass from Liam Klebon (Isaac Carter kick)
S — Gavin Garcia, 26-yard run (Isaac Carter kick)
S — Gavin Garcia, 75-yard punt return (Isaac Carter kick)
S — Jake Davis, 36-yard pass from Greyon Shaud (Isaac Carter kick)
S — Gavin Garcia, 65-yard run (Isaac Carter kick)
S — Braeden Wisloski, 46-yard run (no attempt)
RUSHING: BLOOMSBURG — Luke Patora 5-17; Brody Hock 1-1; Nasir Heard 1-(-2); Jack Howell 12-(-27). SOUTHERN — Gavin Garcia 9-149, 2 TD’s; Braeden Wisloski 7-82, TD; Braeden Heim 7-28; Trevor Yorks 3-43; Matt Masala 3-19; Connor Gallagher 2-7; Tyler Arnold 1-5; Liam Klebon 1-(-3).
PASSING: BLOOMSBURG — Jack Howell 11-27-2, 107 yds. SOUTHERN — Greyson Shaud 2-6-0, 37 yds, TD; Liam Klebon 2-4-1, 28 yds, TD.
RECEIVING: BLOOMSBURG — Brody Hock 5-52; Daniel Guzevich 3-33; Madden Locke 1-9; Aaron Williams 1-9; Michael Widom 1-4. SOUTHERN — Jake Davis 2-53 2 TD’s; Braeden Wisloski 1-11; Gavin Garcia 1-1.
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