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Written by: Dave Fegley on Monday, August 26th, 2019
By: Dave Fegley (8-26-19)
Proving people wrong has been what the Southern Columbia mentality has been for quite some time now. In the late 1980’s, critics said the Tigers wouldn’t ever put together a string of playoff runs. They haven’t missed the playoffs since. Then, the haters said Southern would never be able to be a championship quality program. They have more state championships than any other school in the PIAA. The latest excuse, Jim Roth’s program only wins state championships because they are in the smallest division. They moved up a division and have won more than half of the titles since their move.
On Sunday the Tigers put one final exclamation point on what it’s like to silence the doubters. “The guys came out and proved that they are capable of playing on this big stage. Our seniors have done a great job of leading by example in the off-season and this was a satisfying start to the season,” said Roth. The Tigers traveled to South Carolina, were willing to put their regular season winning streak on the line, and completely destroyed the state’s top private school on national television in their home stadium.
The Hammond Skyhawks came into the season opener as the defending SCISA Class 3A State Champions which is the largest division for private schools in South Carolina. The Tigers left the field with a 36-0 Mercy Rule victory. Southern’s starting defense took Hammond’s spread offense out of rhythm from the onset by proving that they were prepared for the moment. “We were ready to take on the challenge that Hammond was going to throw the ball to beat us,” said safety Cade Linn who had a first quarter interception. “Our secondary wanted to make a point that we’re not just a run stopping defense, but we can shut down the pass to.”
From the onset, the boys from up north showed what smash-mouth football is all about. The Skyhawks simply couldn’t handle it. Whether it was Linn’s physicality, Jake Davis intercepting passes, Ian Huntington making an immediate impact, or the returning all-state linebacker duo of Max Tillett and Cal Haladay controlling the middle, the Tigers entire defense was in control all afternoon. “It felt accomplishing and it also shows how good of a program we have. Keeping a team like Hammond to a shut out was just icing on the cake and made this experience that much better,” said Cal Haladay.
Hammond’s Jackson Muschamp came into the season opener with a myriad of Division 1 scholarship offers after finishing his junior season as the state leader in touchdown passes and finished second in passing yards. The son of South Carolina’s head coach Will Muschamp got his helmet knocked off on the first offensive play of the game and probably wished that he never had to return. The Skyhawk coaching staff was classy after the game and made sure to congratulate their opponent from up north even after getting shutout. “We made a lot of mistakes and in a game like this you have to play near perfect football in order to even be in the game. They don’t hurt themselves with penalties and turnovers,” said Hammond coach Erik Kimrey. “You can see why they are champions and do so many good things in Pennsylvania. Southern Columbia has an outstanding program.”
The Tigers defense outscored the Skyhawks offense. In total SCA’s squad intercepted five passes, returned one for a touchdown, and recovered a fumble. “We were really motivated from the start. We had a lot of hard practices and I had to guard Julian Fleming during the week so that was obviously really good practice to get ready for the game,” said Davis who had two of the interceptions. The only thing that Hammond had to be thankful for was the fact that realistically there could have been eight passes that were picked off by different Tigers during the Sunday afternoon game on ESPN2.
Preston Zachman scored the game’s first touchdown on a 38-yard bootleg. “That first touchdown was big for us. Being on the road, you always want to come out strong to take the energy out of their crowd. Especially when you are playing in another state,” Roth said. From that point forward, the large number of Southern fans that made the trip had lots to cheer about. “They are well coached and I couldn’t have been more impressed with their team. The support in their community from their fans that made the trip was just unbelievable,” said Kimrey
The Tigers second touchdown was set up by their defense. Huntington forced a fumble and Davis pounced on it inside the red zone. “I thought our open field tackling was very good. We put the pressure on and had their quarterback feeling uncomfortable and I think we got to him mentally,” said SCA defensive coordinator Andy Mills. The offense took advantage of the turnover when Gaige Garcia scored two plays later from five yards out making the score 15-0. “All game the defense was shutting them down. They made big stops on fourth down and had interceptions during crucial parts of the game. The offense had good field position because of the play of our defense,” Garcia said.
Southern extended its lead with 4:52 left in the first half right after the defense forced a turnover on downs. On the third play of the drive, Garcia broke off two tackles and raced 31 yards for a touchdown. With just over a minute to go in the half, Huntington tried knocking down one of Muschamp’s passes. The senior not only knocked it down, but he corralled it and took it back 41 yards making the score 29-0 at halftime. “It was surreal. The quarterback was feeling the pressure and he threw it my way, but it could have been in my boy Tyler Waltman’s direction. It just happened to be me this time and I just ran it back,” Huntington said.
Shockingly enough Southern put the game into the Mercy Rule, nearly 700 miles from home, when Ty Roadarmel scored another Tiger touchdown. The fullback’s reward came on a 25-yard run up the middle with 3:18 left in the third quarter making the score 36-0. “We felt like we had a lot to prove especially with a lot of new players up front,” said offensive lineman Jake Herr. The Tigers offensive line, which had to replace four senior starters, held their own against a Hammond front three that included two of the nation’s top prospects. Jordan Burch, who has scholarship offers from Clemson and Alabama, didn’t make a huge impact nor did Alex Huntley who is a South Carolina commit.
For the remainder of the game, Hammond’s starters weren’t able to reach pay dirt. The Southern reserves came in and did their job of keeping a goose egg on the home side of the scoreboard. Skyhawk sophomore running back Capers Stokes, who already has an offer from Virginia Tech and others, was shut down all afternoon until breaking off a long run late. Unfortunately for him and all of Hammond, that scamper was well after the fat lady finished singing for the weekend. “The play of our secondary was what I was impressed with the most. I though Jake Davis and Cade Linn both played very well. Teams don’t really throw Julian’s way so they both made plays when they had to. We expected that our defense was going to be good against the run with all the guys we return,” Mills said. On Hammond’s final drive, driving into Southern territory, Ian Yoder made the game’s final interception to put the cherry on top of the cake.
The only thing that didn’t go as planned for the Tigers was the passing game, but in the end it didn’t make a difference. Zachman finished the season opener just 5 of 15 passing with an interception. Julian Fleming caught four of those passes, but the nation’s top rank receiver was frustrated that he wasn’t able to make more of an impact than the 19 yards on those receptions while being covered by multiple defenders each play. “The whole scenario is helping the running game. Teams have to double cover Julian which takes another guy away from the run. I thought at times today Preston wasn’t comfortable and relaxed like he needed to be in the passing game, but that will come with more reps. Preston helped our offense out in the running game especially with that first run that he had,” Roth said.
The Tigers, who host Mount Carmel Area this upcoming Saturday night, will be the overwhelming favorites in the remainder of their games no matter who the opponent is. Based on the way Southern looked in the ESPN2 opener, the Tigers have the potential to Mercy Rule most of their opponents from here on out. “This win is a rewarding one for sure, but now we have to focus our attention to the rest of the season. I think our players have the mindset that this win won’t mean near as much if they aren’t able to reach their team goals,” said Roth. “Our guys passed their first test, but now we just have to take things one game at a time when we return home. No matter the opponent, we need to take care of business and get better each week.”
SCA: 15-14-7-0 = 36
HAM: 0-0-0-0 = 0
SOUTHERN COLUMBIA (1-0)
Gaige Garcia 12-78, 2 TDs; Gavin Garcia 11-74; Preston Zachman 4-61, TD; Ty Roadarmel 5-50, TD; Braden Heim 1-5; Julian Fleming 2-5; Ron Zsido 1-(-1); Brandon Gedman 1-(-3); Wes Barnes 2-(-5)
Preston Zachman 5-15-1, 15 yds
Julian Fleming 4-19; Gavin Garcia 1-(-4)
First Downs: 15
Capers Stokes 10-69; Jackson Muschamp 6-20; Andre Wilson 3-11; Jordan Burch 5-10
Jackson Muschamp 11-25-5, 99 yds
Cam Scott 5-62; Andre Wilson 4-32; Capers Stokes 2-5
First Downs: 11
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