PIAA Class 2A: Southern Columbia State Championship Preview
PIAA Class AA State Championship: Tigers vs Quips
Record: 15-0 (District IV Champions)
Last Week: Defeated West Catholic 34-19
Head Coach: Jim Roth (380 career victories)
What if the Tigers win?
Southern Columbia will extend their state record total to 14 state championship game appearances. With a win, they will break a tie with Berwick and become the first school in PIAA history to win seven gold medals. The Tigers are currently 6-7 in state title contests.
Fact of the Championship:
Southern Columbia and Aliquippa are currently tied for the most playoff wins in PIAA history at 92. The winner of Saturday’s game will not only be labeled as the Class AA State Champions, but will also be the state’s all-time winningest playoff program.
Former four-time Southern Columbia state champion Henry Hynoski had a successful starting stint as the lead blocker for the New York Giants. He was also the starter on the G-Men’s Super Bowl XLVI victory over the New England Patriots at fullback. The Quips have had a longer line of notable players to have an impact at the professional level. NFL Hall of Fame player and former coach, Mike Ditka, was a Quip back in the day. Former Super Bowl winning defensive back Ty Law and arguably the top corner this millennium, Darrelle Revis, played for the Quips during their high school years. Another interesting fact is that NBA Hall-of-Famer “Pistol” Pete Maravich was born in Aliquippa.
Keys to Victory:
-The Tigers will need to contain running back, Kaezon Pugh who has nearly 2,000 more rushing yards then the second leading rusher on the Quips. Pugh is a University of Pittsburgh recruit, like Tyler Boyd, who the Tigers faced back in 2011 in the state final. Pugh is an exceptional player, but nowhere near the talent level of Boyd who will most likely be a first-round NFL draft pick in the upcoming draft after breaking all of Larry Fitzgerald’s Panther records at Pitt.
-Win the turnover differential. The Tigers only threw one interception last week in the Eastern Final, and the SCA defense forced seven turnovers on the opposition. Aliquippa has trailed in the fourth quarter of their last three games, so a turnover in favor of SCA could be the momentum shift that they need to propel them to victory.
-Control the field position battle. A lot of games featuring two explosive teams come down to who wins the battle of field position. Last week, Southern gave up an 87 kick return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff. After that, the Tigers special team unit had the upper-hand in all phases of the game.
Here’s a breakdown of Southern Columbia’s projected starters in the Class AA PIAA State Championship game.
Sr. Nick Becker
Becker is in his third year as a starter and has been adding a rushing attack to aide his arm over the past couple of weeks. In wins over West Catholic & Berks Catholic, the senior has rushed for five scores and thrown for over 300 yards. Another key for Becker has been the fact that he has remained healthy after being taken out in an ambulance in the first half of the first game this season against Mifflinburg. His confidence has been building and he has seemed to motivate the team more and more as the post-season has progressed.
Jr. Hunter Thomas, Sr. Blake Marks, Sr. Jared Torres
In the Tigers offensive system, it’s not a secret that the backs are the vocal point. This year’s crew has the potential to do something for the first time in school history. Southern has had two different runners go over the 1,000 yard plateau multiple times in school history, but never three. If Torres is able to pick up just 13 rushing yards in the final, the three-headed monster will achieve the feat. “It makes it hard for teams to just key on one back. When they start keying on someone, it opens up a lot of opportunities for the other two,” said Torres who is the fullback. Thomas leads the way with 1,536 rushing yards and Marks has 1,028. The trio has also combined to score 51 rushing touchdowns this season. Thomas is the team leader in receptions for the Tigers during the 2015 campaign as well.
Tackles: Sr. Gabe Delbo & Sr. Aaron Kroh
Guards: Sr. Josh Yoder & So. Andrew Bell
Center: Sr. Dale Houser
Tight End: Jr. Garrett Henry
The offensive line has been the Tigers most surprising success this season. Coming into 2015, the Tigers only had two returning starters coming back (Yoder & Kroh). “I’ve been very pleased with the way our line has played. They were our biggest question mark coming in, but they have done what we needed them to do for the most part this season,” said Jim Roth after his team’s district championship win in week 13. This unit has been able to wear down and overpower opponents in helping to pave the way for their 15-0 record. Freshman Oak Six has been converted over to tight end to provide more meat on the outside when the Tigers are in double tight end sets.
Sr. Steve Toczylousky & Jr. Cameron Young
Toczylousky has set a new single-season Southern record for touchdown receptions in a season with 12. He has also caused fits for opposing secondaries by averaging 25.6 yards per catch. “Our ability to throw the ball helps to keep the defense honest. We are more known as a running team obviously, but we like to have some balance,” said Roth. Young comes in with 20 grabs and three scores on the season.
Defensive Ends: Sr. Chase Tillett & Sr. Gabe Delbo
Defensive Tackles: Sr. Nick Freeman & Sr. Chris Grosch
The Tigers defensive line provided plenty of pressure last week in the Easter Final. West Catholic quarterback Josh Evans was forced to throw outside the pocket the majority of the time thanks to the quickness from the outside of Southern’s defensive line. Southern will need that same type of pressure this week against Quip QB Sheldon Jeter who comes in as one of the top WPIAL passers this season. Tillett is the Tigers leader with nine sacks on the year. Freshman Troy Donlan will see some time at defensive tackle and Josh Yoder comes in for run-stopping situational plays.
Inside Linebackers: Sr. Matt Bell & Sr. Austin Knepp
Outside Linebackers: Sr. Blake Marks, Sr. Jake Potter, & Sr. Ross Crowl
Both Bell and Knepp will come in to the state final with over 100 tackles on the season. Bell was the leader coming into last week with 109 and Knepp had 102. “It has been the defensive line playing quick and aggressive reacting off of blocks. The linebackers are playing fast and we have good run support from the secondary,” Bell said. Potter and Crowl have done a solid job of rotating at the one outside backer position. Marks, who plays on the other side, has four interceptions including two in the fourth quarter last week. All five of these guys have been catalysts in stopping the other team’s ground game in the postseason.
Cornerbacks: Sr. Billy Marzeski & Jr. Cameron Young
Safety: Sr. Steve Toczylousky
This trio has done a fine job of forcing turnovers and limiting running backs from breaking free. Young leads the way with eight interceptions and Toczylouksy has six. Both of them have returned one for a touchdown. Marzeski has added two interceptions and leads the secondary with over 80 tackles on the season. “It’s very important to keep them from completing big pass plays. They are mostly a run team, but when they do pass they have had success. Breaking up big pass plays will kill their drives and momentum,” said Marzeski. They will be faced with the tough task in the final of stopping Jassir Jordan who has 42 catches for 934 yards and came up with some clutch receptions in Aliquippa’s come from behind victories.
Nick Becker, a lefty with his foot, handles the punting duties for the Tigers. Senior soccer player Tyler Keiser has been kicking for the Tigers over the past two seasons. This year he has been virtually automatic on PAT’s by converting on nearly 95% of them. “Our special teams are a key for us. When they play good, it seems to get the rest of us fired up and motivated to go out and control the game,” stated Becker. The Tigers use their play-makers and speed in the return game and have returned three kickoffs for scores.
This Tiger senior class has gotten over their playoff slump. They had never been a part of a state playoff victory prior to this season and have defeated two talented Catholic teams over the past two weeks. West Catholic was a more balanced team than Aliquippa has been this season. The Quips have leaned on their running attack for the majority of the season which plays into Southern’s strength. Assuming the Tigers rush defense doesn’t fall apart at Hershey Park Stadium on Saturday and the offense is able to sustain drives, Southern Columbia wins their seventh golden football for their display case by a final of 35-21.
Aliquippa’s Preview click here
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