Southern Columbia Advances to State Title Game
SELINSGROVE – Richland managed to do something against Southern Columbia that no team had previously done this season in the PIAA Class 2A semifinal on Friday.
The Rams scored in the first quarter on their first possession when Kellan Stahl hit Trevor Tustin for a 62-yard touchdown reception, tying the game 7-7. It marked the first time that Southern gave up a first quarter score this season, and just the fourth time an opponent scored in the first half and against the Tigers’ first team defense.
But Southern proceeded to answer that touchdown with six straight of its own, and the 7-7 tie soon turned into a 49-7 halftime lead. That was more than enough to withstand three fourth quarter Richland touchdowns against Southern’s second team defense and the Tigers advanced to their 18th state championship game with a 49-27 win over the previously unbeaten Rams. They will go for their 10th state title next Friday against Avonworth, which topped Wilmington in the Western final on Friday.
Richland’s first quarter touchdown followed Southern scoring on its opening drive on Gaige Garcia’s one-yard run, and it marked the first time that Southern has been tied this year at a score other than 0-0. The Rams tried to take it one step further and recovered an onside kick following their touchdown, marking the second time in the last three games that a Tiger opponent recovered a first quarter onside kick.
“We knew coming in that we had to take some shots and that the ball had to bounce the right way for us,” said Richland coach Brandon Bailey. “We did those things, got a big play to Tustin early and got the onside kick, but they play great defense. They’ve done it all year so hats off to them for making the plays and getting the momentum back. They’re tough to stop. They’re the best football team I’ve seen at the high school level.
“Their defense is stifling and they don’t allow you to run because they have seven or eight guys in the box, so we had one-on-one matchups out on the perimeter and we took our shots. I think the only way to beat them is to take those shots and get the big plays. You’re not going to run into that front with those linebackers.”
Just as they did two weeks ago in the District 4 championship game against Mount Carmel when the Red Tornadoes recovered an onside kick on the opening kickoff, the Tigers’ defense answered. Southern forced a three-and-out after the Rams recovered at the Southern 48, not allowing any yards on the drive, and the Tigers took over at their own 25 after a Richland punt.
“The defense had a little adversity early, which hasn’t been the norm for us but it’s an experienced group and a very talented group and if there’s any adversity, they seem to respond,” said Southern coach Jim Roth. “They just rise up. It’s nothing we change significantly scheme-wise. They just start playing a little more focused and a little bit harder and get the stops that we need.”
From that point, the Tiger offense went to work. Southern would accumulate 21 first downs in the game, all of which came in the first half, during which they racked up 464 yards of offense. They actually lost a net of three yards in the second half, giving them 461 for the game.
Gavin Garcia ripped off a 67-yard run on the first play of Southern’s ensuing drive, and then Preston Zachman capped it three plays later with a four-yard touchdown run.
After another three-and-out for the Tiger defense, Southern put together one of their longest scoring drives of the year with a 10-play drive capped with another highlight-reel play by Gavin Garcia, who hauled in a screen pass on the right side, broke a few tackles and then reserved field and went in for a 28-yard touchdown run around the left side.
The Rams managed to get a first down on their next drive on a nice 23-yard hookup from Stahl to Caleb Burke but were stalled around midfield, forcing another punt, which only went 13 yards. That gave Southern the ball at its own 41 and on the second play of the drive following an incomplete pass, Gaige Garcia broke loose for a 59-yard run, putting Southern up 28-7 early in the second quarter.
Richland managed a pair of first downs on its next drive, half of their four first downs in the first half, but the Rams’ drive stalled at the Southern 38, and a fake punt went nowhere, giving Southern the ball at its own 46. The Tigers put together an eight-play drive capped by Gavin Garcia’s second score of the night, this one a rushing touchdown from four yards out to go up 35-7.
A three-and-out by the Rams gave Southern the ball at its own 31 for its next drive, and the Tigers found the end zone on that one to go up 42-7 on a 51-yard touchdown pass from Julian Fleming on a slant route. Fleming hauled in six passes for 112 yards, and just narrowly missed a few more than would have increased those numbers significantly.
“Offensively, we showed good determination in the first half and I say that because we had some big play opportunities with Julian early but we didn’t hit on them but the offense didn’t get down, it didn’t affect us,” said Roth. “We didn’t lose momentum and we kept moving the ball and scoring points.”
Stahl was picked off on Richland’s next two drives and threw three interceptions in the game, nearly equaling his season total of four coming into the game.
“He was a savvy enough quarterback that he wasn’t going to get sacked and was going to get the ball out,” said Roth. “But, he was getting hit and didn’t have as much time to throw as he wanted, so the rush was having an effect on him and sometimes that’s the nature of it. You don’t always get sacks but the pass rush can definitely have an effect on the passing game and that’s what ended up happening once we started to get pressure on him.”
His second pick gave Southern the ball at the Richland 42 with :48 left in the first half. Southern seemed to be content to just run a pair of running plays and go into the half with a 35-point lead to invoke the mercy rule to begin the second half. But Gaige Garcia broke loose for a 39-yard touchdown run on the final play of the half, his third of the night to give Southern a 49-7 halftime lead.
“It didn’t go as smoothly for us as it has a lot of times this year but with the group we have, there’s so many explosive people there and I thought it was a real good effort to go in with 49 points at halftime, especially after missing some big plays,” said Roth.
Richland would score three times in the fourth quarter to account for the final score, with the New Hampshire-bound Burke going for a 14-yard run and hauling in an eight-yard touchdown pass from Stahl. Tustin also added a second touchdown with an 87-yard reception from Stahl, giving him a nice line of two touchdown catches for 149 yards in his final game.
Southern Columbia 49, Richland 27
Richland (13-1) 7 0 0 20 – 27
Southern Columbia (15-0) 21 28 0 0 – 49
9:51 – (SC) Gaige Garcia 1-yard run (Haupt kick), 8-62, 2:09
8:45 – (R) Trevor Tustin 62-yard pass from Kellan Stahl (Facci kick), 4-70, 1:06
6:16 – (SC) Preston Zachman 4-yard run (Haupt kick), 4-75, 1:29
1:45 – (SC) Gavin Garcia 28-yard pass from Preston Zachman (Haupt kick), 10-75, 3:27
11:31 – (SC) Gaige Garcia 59-yard run (Haupt kick), 2-59, :18
6:31 – (SC) Gavin Garcia 4-yard run (Haupt kick), 8-54, 2:48
4:06 – (SC) Julian Fleming 51-yard pass from Preston Zachman (Haupt kick), 3-69, 1:22
:00 – (SC) Gaige Garcia 39-yard run (Haupt kick), 2-42, :48
11:19 – (R) Caleb Burke 14-yard run (pass failed), 5-52, 2:22
7:32 – (R) Trevor Tustin 87-yard pass from Kellan Stahl (pass failed), 1-87, :30
2:11 – (R) Caleb Burke 8-yard pass from Kellan Stahl (Burke pass from Stahl), 5-52, 2:37
First downs 12 21
Rushes-net yards 14-61 42-321
Passing yardage 266 140
Passing 12-35-3-3 7-14-2-2
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 1-5 8-65
RUSHING: Richland: Allen Mangus (3-18), Kellan Stahl (3-14), Caleb Burke (2-6-1), Jacob Sabol (2-5), Trevor Tustin (2-(-1)), Tyler Reed (1-17), Jordan Ford (1-2); Southern Columbia: Gaige Garcia (13-156-3), Gavin Garcia (9-122-1), Wes Barnes (5-(-5)), Preston Zachman (4-31-1), Ty Roadarmel (3-15), Jayden McCormick (3-4), Matt Masala (3-0), Greyson Shaud (1-(-1)), TEAM (1-(-1))
PASSING: Richland: Kellan Stahl (12-35-266-3-3); Southern Columbia: Preston Zachman (7-13-140-2-1), Ron Zsido (0-1-0-0-1)
RECEIVING: Richland: Caleb Burke (7-86-1), Trevor Tustin (2-149-2), Koby Bailey (2-11), Allen Mangus (1-20); Southern Columbia: Julian Fleming (6-112-1), Gavin Garcia (1-28-1)
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