2017 PIAA Class 2A Title Game Preview: Southern Columbia (4) 15-0
Southern Columbia Tigers: Class 2A Eastern Champions
District IV & Heartland Conference Division III
Jim Roth’s Tigers are headed back to Hershey for the 16th time and looking to win an 8th state championship for Southern Columbia. “We have had a successful run, and the guys have set the bar at the highest level. It’s nice to win league and district championships, but the players of the past and present know that winning a state championship is the final goal we set each year as a program,” said Roth. In fact, Southern Football doesn’t even give out their District IV gold medals until after the season. Other sports programs throw a celebration after winning districts, but when you win 25 of the last 27, it seems like just another day in the office for the football team. The job on Friday afternoon will primarily sit at the hands of the Tigers run defense based on Wilmington’s offensive style. “Right now we are really confident in our defense being able to stop them. We need to do what we have been doing all year in shutting down their running game,” defensive end Tyler Bendas stated. The Tigers will take on the Greyhounds out of District X at 1:00 on Friday.
The Road to Hershey
Southern Columbia has rolled through the regular season winning another PHAC Championship and extended their regular season winning streak to 61-straight since 2011. During the regular season, the Tigers only punted a total of 10 times, the starting defense only gave up six total touchdowns, and the offense averaged over 33 points per game in the first half alone. In the postseason, SCA has somehow made it look even easier. They have gone on to run through their opponents in the playoffs. They haven’t just won in the post-season, they have dominated every team in their path. “There have been plenty of different players that stepped up for us at different points this season. We are on a mission that won’t be complete unless we capture the gold,” Julian Fleming said.
The Tigers Mercy Ruled their way through the District IV Class AA field with wins over North Penn-Mansfield (63-26), Central Columbia (59-14), and Mount Carmel Area (49-14). Then, in their state quarterfinal matchup, many thought that Neumann-Goretti would give the Tigers all that they could handle with the amount of transfers that the Saints had come in from all around Pennsylvania as well as bordering states. “All week we compared that game to the 2015 West Catholic game and how fearless and resilient our team was then. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but as the game got going our confidence increased,” senior safety Blake Day said. Southern proved that all they needed to handle in that win was the cold weather and an unsportsmanlike player ejection from the opposition in a convincing 45-12 victory.
Last Friday, in the PIAA Class 2A Eastern Final, the Lackawanna League thought that the Dunmore Bucks had a defense capable of stopping the Tigers offense given the fact that they had only given up 91 points all season. That thought turned out to be about as bad as when Decca Records decided to decline signing The Beatles back in 1962. “Once we got things rolling, I felt like our whole team played with a ton of confidence. Dunmore had a lot of success this season, but our guys just executed against a quality team,” Roth said. Not only did the Tigers score, but they did it effortlessly. Southern scored more points in the first half than Dunmore gave up to its 10-regular season opponents combined, and the Tigers cruises to a 56-19 win.
Julian Fleming: This sophomore star has already shattered the records in the Southern Columbia receiving book. He holds the career and single-season records for receiving yards, touchdowns, and receptions. On the season, he has 63 receptions for 1,389 yards and 19 touchdowns. His stats would be even better if not for an injury causing him to miss time to start the playoffs. He is currently ranked as the No. 1 receiver in the country for the Class of 2020.
Gaige Garcia: At a school that has the most historic running back statistics of any school in Pennsylvania, this guy has a shot at breaking all of the records when it’s all said and done which include the likes of Henry Hynoski, Ricco Rosini, & Jerry Marks. The sophomore has rushed for 2,137 yards and 36 scores on the season and is averaging better than a first down each touch at 11.6 yards per carry. His best performance came last week when he needed just 14 carries to go 236 yards and score 4 TD’s.
Stone Hollenbach: The quarterback is at his glory with having the opportunity to throw the pigskin to a 5-Star recruit like Fleming and other weapons. The junior has thrown for 2,366 yards and 27 touchdowns to five interceptions resetting the yards and touchdown records that he established last season. He now has every record by passing Brad Fegley (2011 season) for the most completions in a single-season two weeks ago.
Elijah Hoffman: If this senior kicker isn’t named to the all-state team, then there won’t ever be one at the position for the school. Playing both soccer and football, Hoffman has broken the state record for the most points ever in a season by a kicker. He has been near perfect by making 98/100 extra points and converting 11/13 field goals.
Cal Haladay: Sometimes the Tigers defense gets overlooked because of the offensive statistics. However, this defense is as dangerous as any against the run. The statistical leader is Cal Haladay who became the first Tiger ever to have 250+ combined tackles in his first two seasons. The sophomore currently leads the team with 100 tackles so far in 2017 after breaking the school record with 151 last season. He also has seven sacks and three interceptions, two of which have been returned for touchdowns.
Who to watch on Offense
In order for the Tigers to keep rolling on offense, it will be important for the tackles to take away the pressure off the edge. Offensive tackles Connor Fulmer and Oak Six will go up against a Greyhounds defense that has forced 28 turnovers on the season. If Fulmer and Six are able to hold off the pressure, the Tigers receivers could have a field day. “It’s been real fun especially when you have a passing and running game like we have. They both balance each other out really well and we haven’t really had an offensive letdown yet this season,” said Hollenbach.
Who to watch on Defense
Coach Roth was quick to say in the preseason that his linebackers may be the fastest that the Tigers have ever had as a unit. Three of those guys are sophomores, and the other is a senior captain. Anthony Scicchitano, one of four two-way starters, will be playing in his final high school football game on Friday afternoon and will play a crucial role in stopping the Greyhounds offense. Defensive Coordinator Andy Mills will call a variety of formations, and Scicchitano will find himself in the middle of them all.
Key on Offense
Balance will be important, and a variety of Tigers have stepped up to help out in the passing game. Assuming that Fleming will be double or triple covered, other players will need to get open in the passing game for Hollenbach. Preston Zachman, Garcia, and Scicchitano have each had receiving touchdowns during the playoff run. If Southern Columbia is able to spread the ball around early to eliminate defensive shifts, the Tigers will be able to use play-action to get receivers open down field.
Key on Defense
Right now, Southern is on pace to break a school record for rushing yards allowed per game. The Greyhounds have proven all season long that they can score points at a high level. That showed more than ever last Friday in their 49-42 Western Final victory over Washington. “We’re just going to go out there and keep doing what we have been doing. We need to keep contain and our zones. The main thing is to not let their runners get outside,” said Haladay. Wilmington has rushed for 4,170 yards at 7.8 yards per carry as a team. The Greyhounds have scored 42.1 points per game and have two 1,000 yard rushers.
Meet the Tigers
QB: Stone Hollenbach (Jr)
RB: Gaige Garcia (So)
RB: Tristan Heim (Sr)
FB: Jeffrey Cox (Sr)
WR: Julian Fleming (So)
WR: Preston Zachman (So)
TE: Anthony Scicchitano (Sr)
TE: AJ Goodlunas (Sr)
OL: Connor Fulmer (Sr)
OL: Andrew Bell (Sr)
OL: Troy Donlan (Jr)
OL: John Stabinski (Jr)
OL: Oak Six (Jr)
K: Elijah Hoffman (Sr)
DE: Tyler Bendas (Sr)
DE: Lear Quinton (So)
DT: Andrew Bell (Sr)
DT: Cavern Gosciminski (Sr)
OLB: Max Tillett (So)
MLB: Anthony Scicchitano (Sr)
MLB: Cal Haladay (So)
OLB: Preston Zachman (So)
CB: Julian Fleming (So)
CB: Brett Szuler (Sr)
S: Blake Day (Sr)
S: Cade Linn (So)
P: Elijah Hoffman (Sr)
If not for a late touchdown run in the 2015 State Championship game by Hunter Thomas, I would have had the Southern Columbia over Aliquippa score correct to the exact point. Last year, I didn’t like the Tigers chances with the depth and speed of Steel Valley, but I was dead wrong in thinking it would be closer than a blowout loss. This year I already have some t-shirt ideas in mind to help pay for the Tigers rings. Number 8 is coming to Southern Columbia, final score: Southern Columbia 45-21.
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