Southern Battles Back to Remain Undefeated
CATAWISSA: The Heartland Athletic Conference cross-over match between the top Division II team, Central Columbia(7-1), and the top Division III team, Southern Columbia(8-0), had all the earmarks of a great game. Two strong, physical teams faced-off at Tiger Stadium in the battle for Columbia County. Central’s Blue Jays brought a very stingy and disciplined defense to test its mettle against the top-scoring offense of the Tigers.
Defense would rule the night as the two contenders slugged it out without either gaining a clear advantage until late in the game. Fortunately for Southern, their defense rose to the occasion, and forced the Jays out of their offensive game plan while the Tiger offense struggled to find any momentum.
Central got the opening possession, but were forced to punt after three plays and -2 yards. The Jays defense responded in kind forcing Southern to a three-and-out after a one yard gain.
Southern got its first break on their next offensive series when Adam Feudale found a seam and raced 77 yards to the Jays’ 8. But, Central’s defense came up with a huge stop, denying Southern the endzone after four more plays and only 7 yards.
For the rest of the game field position played a crucial factor. Central’s big stop earned them the ball back at their own 1/2 yard-line. They managed to advance it out 20 yards before being forced to punt. The punt was blocked by Southern’s Mitch Stanziale to give the Tigers great field position yet again at the Blue Jay 28. This time linebacker, Dylan Hine, posted two big sacks to stop the Tiger attack on downs at the 35.
From there the Jays intensified their aerial attack with an 11 yard strike from Jordan Thivierge to Adam Novak. Next Thivierge tried to go long as he was flushed out of the pocket. Southern’s Joe Kleman was in good position and looked to make a clean pick, but was called for interference. A 12 yard screen pass to Dain Kowalski was followed by a 19 yard flair to Jarrod Flick to the Tiger 14. Two plays later Aaron Johnson was hit in the backfield and had the ball knocked loose with Bryce Parry recovering for Southern.
Finding no running room, the Tigers were forced to the air on third-and-13. The pass sailed long when the receiver’s and defender’s feet got tangled in pursuit. The result was a surprising offensive interference call which forced Jake Becker to punt from near his own goal line.
On a third-and-10 play, Thivierge ran a bootleg left for 12 yards and a fresh set of downs. Following a time-out, the same play was run to the right and then cut back across the field for a 35 yard touchdown at 6:14 in the second quarter.
Things got a little wild shortly before the half as the defensive struggle continued to rage. A punt to Southern’s Parry was mishandled and recovered by the Jays. On the very next play, Thivierge threw a pass over the middle and was intercepted by Parry near mid-field. Three plays later Southern attempted to go long, and the ball was tipped high into the air and scooped-up by Flick. While the flurry of turn-overs provided some excitement, it did not produce any points and the teams entered the lockers with Central holding on to a 7 – 0 lead.
The second half opened with both teams trading three-and-out series. The field position battle leaned in favor of the Tigers after a Parry punt return to the Jays’ 34. Southern quarterback, Taylor Young, threw a strike to Luke Rarig in the corner for a first-and-goal at the one. Matt Lupold punched it in from there. When the defense got flagged before the PAT attempt, coach Jim Roth decided to go for two instead kicking for the tie. Young got the call on a sneak play, and put the Tiers up 8 – 7.
The teams continued to slug it out into the final period when a booming 52 yard punt by Becker pinned the Jays deep at their own 3. Two plays later a bobbled exchange between Thivierge and Johnson was lost and Tony Chiavaroli recovered for Southern at the 3. Feudale blasted in from there and Dylan Swank’s PAT made it 15 – 7 for the Tigers with 7:35 remaining.
Central threatened two more times as they completely abandoned the running game. The 6′-5″ wide-out, Dylan Hine became the target of choice, posting 5 receptions in the Jays’ final two series for 104 yards. Both drives ended similarly with Southern getting the ball back on downs after forcing four straight incompletions with heavy pressure on the quarterback and tight coverage by the secondary.
This game was one of those rare times when winning the battle in the trenches did not translate to a victory. The Jays’ big defensive front was unyielding against the vaunted Tiger running attack. It also proved menacing for the passing game as several of Young’s passes were tipped or batted down. The Southern defense deserves the credit as coach Roth pointed out afterward by simply stating, “The defense won the game.” It should be a good learning experience for both teams as they look toward post-season play. For Southern, they will need to execute and sustain their blocks much better. For Central, they should have no doubts that they are a team to be reconned with and only need to finish drives in order to reach the next level.
Central Columbia(7-2) travels down river a few miles next week to take on the surging Panthers of Bloomsburg(7-2) who up-ended Danville(7-2) 14-12. The HAC cross-over game will have playoff positioning implications for both teams as they close-out the regular season. It is good to see the quality teams that these rivals have been able to field and the tight races District IV football in class AA & A.
Southern Columbia(9-0) has survived the meat of their regular season with Central having been their toughest test yet. They travel to Turbotville next week o take on the Defenders of Warrior Run(2-7). They will need to dig deep within themselves as they look forward to a tough battle to get out of districts.
Thivierge 35yd. TD run + Shannon PAT kick @ 6:14(2nd) 7 – 0 Central
Lupold 1yd. TD run + Young 2pt. conversion run @ 6:34(3rd) 8 – 7 SCA
Feudale 3yd. TD run + Swank PAT kick @ 7:35(4th) 15 – 7 SCA
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