Southern pulls away in second half to top Mount Carmel for fourth straight District 4 Class 2A title
ELYSBURG – From the beginning of the 2018 season, it had been anticipated by many that Mount Carmel and Southern Columbia would meet in Week 13 for the District 4 Class 2A championship, as both teams distinguished themselves above the rest of the field during the season.
Furthermore, no team has played the juggernaut that is Southern Columbia tougher over the last two seasons than Mount Carmel, who could arguably win any class in District 4, but has unfortunately resides in the same class as Southern.
The Red Tornadoes did once again give Southern all it could handle for nearly the entire game but Southern gained the momentum on Gaige Garcia’s 89-yard kickoff return for touchdown to open the second half and the Tigers pulled away late to capture the District 4 Class 2A championship for the fourth straight year with a 39-14 win over Mount Carmel.
“It was a struggle and we expected it to be but I would expect we’re better for it now moving on to the next round,” said Southern coach Jim Roth. “I told our guys that this win means something and we could play 16 games and not see a better defensive front than what we saw tonight. They’re a quality team and we weren’t taking anything for granted. Our defense played outstanding.”
“We came in here with a mindset to win the game and I’m proud of the way they played but we’re never satisfied,” said Mount Carmel coach John Darrah. “But I am proud of the way they carried themselves and they way they played all year.”
Garcia not only made the play of the game with his kickoff return, but he also scored two additional second half touchdowns to put the game away, and finished with 123 yards on 18 carries. Younger brother Gavin Garcia also had another solid game, racking up 74 yards on 11 carries for the Tigers, who scored three of their touchdowns on fourth down plays.
It was a close game in the first half as Southern scored on its first two possessions but then Mount Carmel gained a pair of turnovers and forced the Tigers to punt on their next three drives as the Red Tornadoes picked up the pressure coming from the defensive line and forced Southern quarterback Stone Hollenbach into some hurried throws. For the game, Hollenbach completed 8-of-16 passes for 121 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
“We had some more issues pass blocking than we did the first time around,” said Roth, whose team defeated Mount Carmel 41-7 back in Week 2. “But we also did a much better job run blocking against their defense.”
Two of those touchdown passes came on Southern’s first two possessions of the contest. After a 44-yard kickoff return by Avery Demoko set up Mount Carmel in Southern territory on the opening kickoff, the Tigers only allowed the Red Tornadoes to gain a net of one yard and forced a punt. Southern then converted on a 4th-and-14 from the Mount Carmel 28 to cap a 12-play, 80-yard drive on Julian Fleming’s first touchdown grab of the night as he hauled in a nicely-thrown ball by Hollenbach in the front right corner of the end zone on a 4th-and-14 play.
Southern’s Jake Davis then picked off Mount Carmel quarterback Tom Reisinger on the Red Tornadoes’ first play from scrimmage on its ensuing drive to set up the Tigers on the MCA 37, and nine plays later, on a 4th-and-9, Hollenbach again found a Southern receiver in the right corner of the end zone, this time Preston Zachman, to give the Tigers a two-score lead, 13-0, on the final play of the first quarter.
Later in the first half, Hollenbach was picked off by Noah Berkoski deep in Mount Carmel territory, giving the Red Tornadoes the ball at their own 15. Five pass plays and a pass interference penalty later, Reisinger found Avery Demko down the left sideline for a 45-yard touchdown pass after Demko slipped behind the Southern cornerback, and after a roughing the kicker penalty, Mount Carmel went for two and converted on as John Ayres punched it in to make the score 13-8 with just over two minutes to play in the half.
But Garcia’s kickoff return for touchdown on the opening kick of the second half pushed Southern’s lead back to two possessions, and after the teams exchanged a total of five punts in the third quarter, Southern was able to tack on another score as Fleming hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Hollenbach while in double coverage on a 4th-and-10.
Fleming’s two touchdowns were two of just three catches on the night for 55 yards, as the nation’s top receiver in the class of 2020 was held below his usual output by Mount Carmel, yet still had an impact on the game as in addition to his two scores, he had a solid game defensively, including a touchdown-saving tackle later in the game, and he also averaged over 41 yards on three punts, including a 58-yarder.
“When we started having problems against the pass rush we got away from the pass more and they doubled covered Julian the whole game and so we didn’t try to go to him a whole lot after a certain point but he was there to make the big plays when we needed him and was big on defense,” said Roth.
“We did a good job on him. It was a good team effort, we got a good pass rush but on those fourth downs that could have really changed things (if Mount Carmel had stopped Southern),” said Darrah. “
Gaige Garcia then added a pair of touchdown runs late to ice it, going in from 12 yards out with 6:40 remaining and then again from three yards with 1:44 left.
Ayres, who wrapped up his career as one of the best running backs in Mount Carmel history, had an 11-yard touchdown run on the final carry of his high school career and finished with 80 yards on 13 carries.
“I’ve never coached a game without this senior class,” said Darrah, who completed his fourth year at Mount Carmel. “A lot of them started as freshmen. It’s going to be weird next year without them and it’s tough to see them go but they definitely left the program better off than they found it.”
The Red Tornadoes end their season at 10-3, with two of their three losses coming to Southern, which is probably considered the prohibitive favorite to repeat as Class 2A champions. Their other loss came to District 11 Class 3A champion North Schuylkill.
Southern, meanwhile, moves into next week’s state quarterfinals, where they will meet District 3 champion York Catholic.
Southern Columbia 39, Mount Carmel 14
Mount Carmel (10-3) 0 8 0 6 – 14
Southern Columbia (13-0) 13 0 12 14 – 39
3:42 – (SC) Julian Fleming 28-yard pass from Stone Hollenbach (Ethan Dunkelberger kick), 12-80, 5:06
:00 – (SC) Preston Zachman 10-yard pass from Stone Hollenbach (kick failed), 9-37, 3:27
2:34 – (MC) Avery Demko 45-yard pass from Tom Reisinger (John Ayres run), 5-85, 1:17
11:35 – (SC) Gaige Garcia 89-yard kickoff return (run failed)
:56 – (SC) Julian Fleming 18-yard pass from Stone Hollenbach (run failed), 7-62, 2:20
6:40 – (SC) Gaige Garcia 12-yard run (Dunkelberger kick), 7-58, 3:19
1:44 – (SC) Gaige Garcia 3-yard run (Dunkelberger kick), 8-55, 3:44
:59 – (MC) John Ayres 11-yard run (pass failed), 3-57, :45
First downs 13 20
Rushes-net yards 25-78 45-218
Passing yardage 161 121
Passing 15-27-1-1 8-16-3-1
Fumbles-lost 3-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 4-30 4-41
RUSHING: Mount Carmel: John Ayres (13-80-1), Tom Reisinger (6-(-20)), Shane Weidner (5-16), Noah Berkoski (1-2); Southern Columbia: Gaige Garcia (18-123-2), Gavin Garcia (11-74), Ty Roadarmel (7-22), Stone Hollenbach (7-1), TEAM (2-(-2))
PASSING: Mount Carmel: Tom Reisinger (15-27-161-1-1); Southern Columbia: Stone Hollenbach (8-16-121-3-1)
RECEIVING: Mount Carmel: Avery Demko (7-88-1), Shane Weidner (4-50), Jack Chapman (2-27), Logan Wills (2-(-4)); Southern Columbia: Julian Fleming (3-55-2), Preston Zachman (3-29-1), Gavin Garcia (1-32), Gaige Garcia (1-5)
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