Southern Columbia Claims Conference Championship
Tigers were too much for Ironmen
Coming off of last year’s state championship, many of the media outlets and fans didn’t give Southern Columbia much thought entering this season. It was Montoursville and Danville garnering much of the publicity around the conference, and the Tigers were out of the spotlight. Most people thought that the young cats would be too inexperienced from the graduation effect that hit them harder than any other team arguably in the state. Eight weeks into the season, the Tigers now have the full spotlight all to themselves. They are officially the 2016 Heartland Conference Division II champions after sweeping through their five divisional matchups with relative ease. Southern Columbia is also the only team left in any of the three divisions still undefeated at this point in the season.
Danville is Southern’s latest victim after the Tigers stormed into Ironmen Stadium to ruin their Homecoming by winning 47-7 via the Mercy Rule. In the process, freshman halfback Gaige Garcia went over 1,000 yards rushing and sophomore quarterback Stone Hollenbach hit the 1,000 yard passing plateau. It was Julian Fleming’s performance however that, for the second week in a row, stole the show. “We thought as a staff that we needed to get the ball in Fleming’s hands more often, and the easiest way to do that is to just hand it to him,” said Southern coach Jim Roth. “Back in 2002, we moved Matt Murdock from wide receiver to a halfback position at times during the year we finally got over the hump and won a state title after finishing in second for that long stretch. Other than that, Fleming is only the second guy we have ever done this with.”
The latest wrinkle is another way for the Tigers to use their speed and athleticism to burn opposing defenses. “I was nervous when they first told me about playing some halfback. Obviously receiver is still my main position, but now I will get a few chances to carry the ball as well,” Fleming said. He only officially carried the football one time for 16 yards, but he torched the Danville defense at his primary position out wide. The freshman had three catches on the night for 119 yards and two of them went for scores. Garcia rushed for 128 yards and Hunter Thomas gained 127 yards with both of them reaching the end zone twice.
Thomas started the scoring on the first drive with a 40-yard dash. The Ironmen came close to evening the score on their first possession, but a third down sack by Thomas Manley forced Danville into trying a 31-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide-right. “It’s important for our defense to make opposing offenses feel uncomfortable. We try to get as much pressure on the quarterback as we can,” said Manley who got to Danville’s Peyton Riley three times on the night. Two plays later Fleming caught a pass from Hollenbach, having to reach low and behind him on a crossing route, and he stayed in motion through the process to outrace the Ironmen secondary down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown to put SCA up 14-0 after the first quarter.
Danville got their leading rusher Trent Hilkert, who won the Homecoming King at halftime, back onto the field after a two-week hiatus due to a leg injury. He scored the Ironmen’s lone touchdown on the night on a 71-yard carry to cut the Tigers lead in half. Garcia scored on the next drive with a run of 21 yards. Then, with less than a minute remaining in the half, Fleming made a SportsCenter Top Ten worthy one-handed catch on a fourth-and-goal from the nine to put Southern in control 27-7 at the break. “I didn’t run the best route, but Stone Hollenbach threw it up nicely to give me a chance at the ball. I was able to get enough of my one hand on it while falling back to luckily pull it in over the defender. The guy covering had good coverage, but I thought he may have fell,” Fleming said of the play.
Southern’s defense was able to get pressure on Riley for most of the second half to limit any chance at a comeback bid. “We don’t have the biggest set of linebackers, but we have a lot of athleticism that allows us to use speed to get to the quarterback. Our inside linebackers are quick off the snap and that helps the outside linebackers get to the quarterback when he has to scramble outside,” said linebacker Drew Michaels who was in on two of the sacks. The one bright spot for Danville in the second half was the pass-catching ability of tight end Shane Kozick who caught nine passes in the game. “The defense played pretty well overall, but we were in a couple of situations over the course of the game where they had success moving the ball in the air. We kept them out of the end zone on those drives which is a positive sign at this point in the season,” Roth said.
Garcia scored the only touchdown of the third quarter on a one-play drive that went for a 72-yard rushing score. Thomas added a rushing touchdown of two yards early in the fourth quarter and reserve fullback Ty Roadarmel finished off the night’s scoring with a five yard run. The Tigers head home next week, after a three game road trip, to take on Central Columbia. The Ironmen head to Shamokin to try and end their three game losing skid.
SCA: 14-13-7-13 = 47
DAN: 0-7-0-0 = 7
SOUTHERN COLUMBIA (8-0)
Gaige Garcia 7-128, 2 TDs; Hunter Thomas 12-127, 2 TDs; Nic Fetterman 8-18; Stone Hollenbach 2-16; Julian Fleming 1-16; Ty Roadarmel 3-28, TD; Nate Crowl 4-36; Cole Potter 1-3
Stone Hollenbach 5-9-0, 155 yds, 2 TDs
Julian Fleming 3-119, 2 TDs; Garrett Henry 1-20; Hunter Thomas 1-16
1st DOWNS: 18
Trent Hilkert 16-113, TD; Gannon Feldmann 6-50; Joey Harris 6-37; Zach Zerbe 3-18
Peyton Riley 10-14-0, 105 yds
Shane Kozick 9-97; Peyton Persing 1-8
1st DOWNS: 16
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