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Southern Columbia: State Championship Preview

Tigers looking for record 9th title

By: Dave Fegley (12-6-18)

Southern Columbia comes in to Friday afternoon’s PIAA Class 2A State Championship matchup against Wilmington as the heavy favorite, but head coach Jim Roth knows that talk is cheap. “All that really matter is taking care of business on the field. What people say from the outside doesn’t mean anything. The only thing that matters is the game itself,” said the eight-time state champion coach. This is Southern Columbia’s record 17th trip to the state final with their first one coming in 1994. If the Tigers go back-to-back, and win their ninth overall, they will need to shut down the Greyhounds running game. Wilmington’s head coach Brandon Phillian is blessed with some experience up front during his first year at the helm. The Greyhounds offensive line consists of four seniors and a senior quarterback.

Cameron Marett, also a senior, leads the team with 1,728 yards and 19 touchdowns. Sophomore Ethan Susen has rushed for 897 yards and quarterback Robert Pontius has produced 14 rushing touchdowns to go along with 14 passing. “They have some of their key guys back that we played against in last year’s final, so they also have experience of playing on this stage. Their line has played very well from the film we have,” Roth said. Wilmington enters the contest with just one loss on the season which came back in the second week of the season against Class 1A finalist Farrell. The Tigers plan is to double that total.  “Our coaching staff is confident that the players will step up to the challenge. They want to win back to back state titles and have worked hard to get the opportunity to do so,” stated Roth. The Greyhounds, who are playing for the fourth time in the final, are looking for their second ever state championship with their first coming in 2008.

The Road to Hershey
During the regular season, Southern got contributions from all over the field on their way to a seventh-consecutive PHAC title and upping their regular season winning streak to 71-straight games. The Tiger defense only gave up more than 10 points in two games during the regular season. Equally as impressive, the offense scored over 50 points in more than half of the games including a three-game stretch of over 60 points. “The physicality of our line up front is extremely important,” senior lineman John Stabinski said. “The more you dominate, the more they realize that they don’t want to be there. Then they don’t play as well.”

In the District IV playoffs, SCA started off the first two games with Mercy Rule victories over Line Mountain and Troy. In the Saturday night District Championship game, the Tigers used a strong second half to break open a close game at the half against their rival Mount Carmel Area. Southern held a close 13-8 lead before cruising to a 39-14 victory over the Red Tornadoes a day later than the game was supposed to be played due to a snowstorm.

In the state quarterfinals, Mother Nature seemed to provide more of a challenge than Southern’s opponent. The Tigers beat York Catholic 56-23 in a game that the score was far from an indication of the Tigers real dominance. Last week, in the Easter Final, the result was the same minus the rainy weather. Southern Mercy Ruled their opponent West Catholic by a score of 42-6 to move the Tigers record to 15-0.

On offense, junior Gaige Garcia has rushed for 1,907 yards and 35 touchdowns. His brother, Gavin, has added 1,074 yards and 21 touchdowns in his freshman season. “The older guys have been great leaders for the younger players since the beginning. They have been in this position before and we’ve learned what it takes from them to win at the varsity level,” Gavin Garcia stated. One of those guys is senior quarterback Stone Hollenbach who missed half the regular season with a wrist injury. The Alabama-bound preferred walk-on has still thrown for 1,611 yards and 26 touchdowns. On the outside, Julian Fleming has caught 72 passes for 1,495 yards and 22 touchdowns.

The offense has been so prolific that kicker Ethan Dunkelberger is just two extra points shy of 100 on the season and hasn’t had to attempt a field goal. SCA has a veteran offensive line with two of those members making their fourth straight state championship game appearance. Troy Donlan and Oak Six have been to Hershey as contributors since they were freshmen. The explosive offense has averaged 54.1 points per game with 37 of them coming in the first half.

Defensively, Southern has five players with more than 60 tackles on the season. Cal Haladay leads the way with 120 and Max Tillett leads the team with six and a half sacks. The Tigers have intercepted 21 passes on the year, five of which they returned for touchdowns. Fleming has four interceptions and has taken three of them back to the end zone. “We have just played physical and have done it as a complete unit,” said Lear Quinton who leads the defensive line in tackles and sacks. In three games this season, the opposition didn’t complete a pass. In the first half of games this season, the Tigers held opponents to just 4.1 points per game.

Record Breakers
Julian Fleming: With 55 touchdown receptions, Fleming has moved in to second all-time in state history. The junior should shatter the record of 61 by the time his career is finished. He is also the District IV all-time leader in receiving yards. Next year, he will continue to climb up the national ladder.

Gaige Garcia: By going over 100 rushing touchdowns last month, Garcia is now one of less than twenty players in the state’s history to reach this career milestone. He will have a great shot at breaking the overall record next season. His rushing yardage will continue to climb as he is also high on that list with over 6,000 yards.

Cal Haladay: The Southern Columbia tackle record had held up since 1997. That was until Haladay broke it late in the regular season. He passed former SCA star Ricco Rosini with a first quarter tackle against Shikellamy. The junior has the potential to finish with over 500 for his illustrious career.

Key on Offense: Offensive Line
It is hard to find a key for a Tiger offense that is the highest scoring team in the state. The main concern, although maybe not as evident to fans, for the Southern coaching staff earlier in the year was getting more consistency from the offensive line in run blocking. They have answered the call as the team is now averaging 313 rushing yards per game. “We’ve done a lot of working together at practice. We go over the fundamentals and make adjustments with our coaches to help put the team in a position to succeed and win,” said offensive lineman Seth Pletcher. If they can handle the Greyhounds defensive front, expect to continue seeing the gaudy number of points and yards that the Tigers have put up each week on the ground and in the air.

Who to watch on Offense: Preston Zachman
Two weeks ago, Preston Zachman had his first career 100-yard receiving game. The junior, who played QB for half of the regular season, has caught touchdown passes in each of the past three games. Obviously junior Julian Fleming, the top recruit in the country for the class of 2020, garners most of the attention. However, Zachman will look to continue to make things happen on the other side. “Whenever you get your opportunity, you need to take advantage of it. I just try to make plays when I am out there,” Zachman said. “We have a lot of guys that can score in different ways to make it hard on our opponent.”

Key on Defense: Secondary
With the opposition mainly focusing on stopping the Tigers offensive stars, the defense has been dominant all season in stopping the run. With the starters being done almost every week by halftime, the team has still only given up an average of 66 rushing yards per contest. Although Wilmington favors the run, it will be the Tigers secondary that will have to answer the call assuming that the Greyhounds will have to air it out more often than they’d like. “We just have to stay awake in the secondary. They’re going to run often and then might go play action to try and sneak receivers past us. We have to stick with the man we are covering,” said defensive back Shane Miller. Coming in to Friday, the Greyhounds throw on average just over eight times per game and SCA has elevated their play in that area.

Who to watch on Defense: Max Tillett
Max Tillett hasn’t gotten the attention around the state that he has worked to deserve. Most of that is probably due to his inside-linebacker partner, Cal Haladay, who has been an all-state selection the past two seasons. Part of the rise in Tillett’s success has been the move from outside to inside this season “It allows me to make more plays on the field and helps me with the leverage to both sides,” Tillett said. “Elevating my game in the playoffs is key as the games get more intense.” The junior is leading the team during the playoff run in tackles and will try to make his case to be an all-state selection in Hershey as he has compiled 112 tackles on the season.

Meet the Tigers
OFFENSE:
QB – Stone Hollenbach (Sr)
RB – Gaige Garcia (Jr)
RB – Gavin Garcia (Fr)
FB – Ty Roadarmel (Jr)
WR – Julian Fleming (Jr)
WR – Preston Zachman (Jr)
TE – Cam Haladay (Jr)
TE – Wade Kerstetter (So)
OL – Oak Six (Sr)
OL – John Stabinski (Sr)
OL – Troy Donlan (Sr)
OL – Seth Pletcher (Sr)
OL – Ross Wertman (Sr)
OL – Jacob Herr (Jr)
K – Ethan Dunkelberger (Sr)
DEFENSE:
DL – Lear Quinton (Jr)
DL – Cole Schankweiler (Jr)
DL – Robert Williams (Sr)
DL – Payton Pursel (Sr)
LB – Cal Haladay (Jr)
LB – Max Tillett (Jr)
LB – Preston Zachman (Jr)
LB – Nate Crowl (Jr)
DB – Julian Fleming (Jr)
DB – Shane Miller (Sr)
DB – Jake Davis (So)
DB – Cade Linn (Jr)
P – Julian Fleming (Jr)

Prediction
The Class 2A District Championship game between Southern Columbia and Mount Carmel Area was a clash that had many thinking the winner would roll to state gold. So far that has proven to be the case as the Tigers have outscored their opponents, since beating the Red Tornadoes two weeks ago, by a combined total of 98-29. The Tigers are also 51 points shy of breaking the record for the most points ever scored by a team in PIAA history. Expect them to get that, as my final prediction has Southern Columbia defeating Wilmington in Mercy Rule fashion, for the second straight year, by a score of 55-14. That win will bring an unprecedented ninth PIAA championship back to the grounds of Southern Columbia.

 

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