Southern Columbia Beats Berks Catholic
Tigers are headed to PIAA AA Eastern Final
By: Dave Fegley (Twitter: @DFegs9)
Last week Southern Columbia’s defense gave up 50 points for only the second time in head coach Jim Roth and defensive coordinator Andy Mills’ 32 year tenure together with the Tigers. Eight days after winning the District IV AA title 56-50, the Tigers advanced to the PIAA AA Eastern Final by defeating Berks Catholic 34-21. “We knew coming in that they were going to score points and pick up yardage because they were a quality team,” Roth said. The Saints came in as the second highest scoring team in the state, but the Tigers are the top scoring team in the state and made the plays when they needed to.
With Southern Columbia leading 28-21, and less than eight minutes remaining and in possession of the football, Hunter Thomas fumbled giving Berks Catholic a great opportunity. The Saints had a chance to tie or take the lead with the ball at the Tiger 36. “We knew we needed to step up and make a play to get our offense back on the field,” said Southern defensive end Chase Tillett. On fourth and one, the defensive line for the Tigers came up with a crucial stop to give the offense the ball back with 6:49 left to play and erased the Saints opportunity to score. “It was important for us to hold our ground and stay in our gaps which we did for most of the game and on that play,” defensive tackle Nick Freeman said.
Two plays later, Thomas redeemed himself by taking a reverse handoff 74 yards down the SCA sideline for a score to put the nail in the coffin. “After fumbling the ball on the previous drive, I knew I had to come back out and make a play on our next possession once our defense made that huge stop on fourth down,” said Thomas. With the run, the junior became the first Tiger since Henry Hynoksi in the 2006 state championship game to have over 100 yards both rushing and receiving in the same game and it put his team in front 34-21. “Thankfully I was able to get great blocking from the line to allow me to get outside and get in the open to score,” he said after finishing the game with 155 yards rushing and six catches for 116 yards.
The game started with both team’s defenses combining to force three-and-outs on the opening five possessions of the day. Late in the first quarter, Southern’s Nick Becker found a wide open Cam Young for a 40 yard gain. “When we are effective with our passing game it sets up the running game. I thought we did a pretty good job of executing the game plan with both the run and pass,” said Becker. The quarterback finished off the drive with a six yard run to put the Tigers up 7-0 at the end of one quarter.
Berks Catholic got their offense in gear on the next possession, but a personal foul penalty squelched the drive forcing a punt. “When we were able to make stops on defense it certainly gave our offense a boost. We didn’t want to let them gash us with their running game,” said Southern defensive tackle Chris Grosch. Southern’s Blake Marks scored on the ensuing possession on a three yard run. A bad snap on the extra point resulted in the Tigers lead sitting at 13-0.
The Saints got on the board on the next possession with fullback Marcus Wilson leading the way. The junior had a 36 yard carry and capped off the drive with a three yard touchdown. “I don’t think we played our best half of football in the first half, but we were still within a touchdown of a very good team at the break,” said Berks Catholic coach Rick Keeley. The halftime score was 13-7.
Southern Columbia got the second half kickoff and drove down the field through the air. Becker, who threw for 222 yards on the day, connected with fellow senior Steve Toczylousky for a 42 yard completion. That set up a seven yard rushing score for Jared Torres to extend the Tiger lead to 21-7 after Becker’s two-point conversion pass to Torres. “Early on I think some of our guys were too tight. In the second half they seemed to get more into the flow of the game and started making plays,” Roth stated.
Needing a score to remain in the game, the Saints called upon reserve fullback Todd Reedy who didn’t have a single carry in the first half. The senior helped the Saints offense march down the field by picking up two first down runs to set the ball at the two yard line. Berks Catholic star running back Isaac Lutz got the call, but he fumbled the ball into the end zone. Luckily for Berks Catholic, tight end David Jones was able to fall on it for the score to cut the SCA lead in half at 21-14.
Marks fumbled the ensuing kickoff after trying to fight for extra yardage, and the Saints got the ball at the 40 yard line. After picking up three first downs, the Saints were faced with a 4th and two from the four. Freshman quarterback Terrance Derr threw a touchdown to John Reedy to tie the game at 21 which was the score after three quarters. “When we tied the game up I was pretty confident that we had a chance to win, but they had guys step up for them when they needed it,” Keeley said.
Thomas caught a swing pass for 49 yards to set up an 18 yards touchdown run by Becker to put the Tigers in front 28-21. After Southern’s defense forced a punt on the next drive, Thomas fumbled giving the Saints life until they were stuffed on 4th down. After the Thomas 74 yard touchdown, Southern’s advantage ballooned to 34-21. With the way Thomas has played in the playoffs, his name will certainly be in the all-state discussion come season end after he only got a second team PHAC all-conference nod in the regular season which seemed ludicrous to many football fans around the area.
Toczylousky intercepted a pass on the Saints final drive to cap the victory for the Tigers and eliminated any potential Berks Catholic comeback opportunity. “We went into man coverage and they seemed to run the same routes the whole game. I made a play on the ball when it left their quarterback’s hands,” Toczylousky said. Southern pressured Berks Catholic all afternoon on their pass attempts forcing quick throws on the run. Derr was sacked four times and knocked down on three other occasions. “They had been a really good running team that didn’t pass a lot at any point this season. We just wanted to get pressure on their young quarterback and force him to make some tough throws,” said Tillett who had two of the sacks.
Berks Catholic’s season comes to an end at 12-2 while earning a District III gold medal in the process. Isaac Lutz, who was held without a touchdown for only the second time all season, finishes his career as the Saints all-time leading rusher and 1,489 yards on the season. His brother, Cooper Lutz, needed eight yards to go over 1,000 on the season and he finished with nine. The duo became the first brother combination to both go over 1,000 yards in the same season in Berks League history.
Southern Columbia moves on to the Eastern Final next Saturday against West Catholic. The win was the first state playoff victory in the careers of these Southern Columbia seniors. “It’s a great feeling for the our senior class because we never won a state playoff game in our careers before this. We’ve been playing with or against each other since we were real little, and that’s an advantage with the bond that has formed. Most of these Catholic and private schools have players that don’t have the brotherhood we have because they just transfer to a school to play football and other sports,” Becker said. These Tigers aren’t content with just the victory though. They want to keep the momentum rolling into next week and get their first taste of playing in Hershey for a state championship.
“We aren’t going to go down without a fight and we will battle until the end. Our senior class has never experienced playing in a state championship and that is motivation for us as we are only a game away. We want to keep the Southern tradition going,” stated Toczylousky. If the Tigers are able to capture the Eastern Championship and advance to the State Championship by knocking off the Burrs of West Catholic, it would keep one of the most impressive high school runs in United States history intact outside of one year. Every senior class to graduate from Southern Columbia dating back to 1991 has had at least one player on a state championship game roster with the exception of the class of 2011 (those seniors last played in 2010). If history is any indication of Southern Columbia’s success in Eastern Finals, the black and gold should have a great opportunity against the Burrs. Roth is 13-1 in his coaching career in Eastern Final appearances with his last win coming in 2011 and lone loss back in 1997. The winner will take on the winner of the Western Final between Aliquippa and Central Martinsburg the following Saturday at Hershey Park Stadium in the PIAA State Championship.
SCA: 7-6-8-13 = 34
BC: 0-7-14-0 = 21
SOUTHERN COLUMBIA (14-0)
Hunter Thomas 15-155, TD; Jared Torres 14-42, TD; Nick Becker 4-34, 2 TDs Blake Marks 10-35, TD; Nic Fetterman 1-6
Nick Becker 11-17-0, 222 yds
Hunter Thomas 6-116; Steve Toczylousky 2-49; Cam Young 1-40; Jared Torres 1-10; Blake Marks 1-7
1st DOWNS: 18
BERKS CATHOLIC (12-2)
Isaac Lutz 21-114; Marcus Wilson 7-65, TD; Todd Reedy 7-37; Cooper Lutz 5-9; Terrance Derr 3-(-10)
Terrance Derr 6-9-1, 42 yds, TD
Tanner Pajakinas 2-23; Isaac Lutz 2-8; Eric Le 1-7; John Reedy 1-4, TD
1st DOWNS: 12
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