Southern Tops Old Forge in a Thriller
SHAMOKIN, PA: It was a mild night weather-wise at Kemp Memorial Stadium, but the opening round of PIAA State Playoff action was anything but mild. Six-time State Champion, Southern Columbia, was looking to find their way back to Hershey after a four year dry spell, while the visiting Blue Devils of Old Forge were looking to make some noise of their own. In the end, the physical intensity of the Tigers won the night, but it was that very aggressiveness which almost cost them the game. In all, the crowd witnessed nine lead changes, while their heads went from side to side as if watching a tennis match, en route to the 45-34 Southern victory.
The Tiger defense came up big on the first series when Matt Moore sacked quarterback, Colin Carey, for a loss of seven, then Tom Schetroma blocked the ensuing punt to give SoCo a short field, at the Old Forge 33. It took the offense six plays to find the back of the endzone on a terrific leaping catch by Moore, but the official called him out-of-bounds and the Tigers were forced into a rare field goal attempt. Dylan Swank’s 25-yard shot was on the mark, and SoCo was up 3 – 0.
The defense came down hard again on the Devils and forced a punt after three plays and a loss of a yard. This time the potent Tiger offense had 74 yards to travel to the goal-line, and were clipping it off in business-like fashion when, on second and goal from the six, Tyler Levan pounded his way to the endzone only to cough up the ball at the one-foot marker.
Five plays later, pinned deep with a third and 12 at their own nine, Carey went long as he was getting hit and found David Argust well beyond the defenders. The catch and run netted 91 yards and the first lead of the contest for Old Forge at 7 – 3.
Not one to be kept down, Levan got the call on the next play from scrimmage, after a solid kick return by Moore to the 48. Levan broke tackles up the middle and turned on the jets for a 52 yard score, and a 10-7 SoCo lead.
Unable to gain anything on the ground, the Devils found success with short and mid-range passes. First Carey hit Brian Tomasetti for 21 yards on third and ten, then he threw a 43-yard strike to Anthony Piccolni on third and seven for the touchdown.
Following the kick, Southern continued to shoot themselves in the foot. A fumbled exchange on a reverse between Moore and Casey Savitski cost them possession at the Tiger 31. Following the turn-over, Old Forge began utilizing the dump screen against the aggressive SoCo defense. On third and ten a toss to Tomasetti netted 21 yards and a first and goal at the three. Carey scrambled in from there and extended the Devil lead to 21 – 10.
Southern answered back in just over two minutes. Levan ripped off runs of seven and 28 yards, and Moore started to find his groove, banging his way for nine and seven yards before reaching the goal-line on a 22-yarder. The score narrowed the Devils’ lead to 21 – 17 before entering the locker rooms at the half – a half that featured 188 yards passing by Old Forge (most coming on one play), and negative two yards rushing. For their part, the Tigers had compiled 221 yards of rushing and 26 passing in the first two quarters, but the two drive-killing turnovers, that both led to Devil scores, left them in the hole.
If the first half seemed like a shoot-out, the second half was more like shock-and-awe: Shock when Southern fumbled the opening kick-off back to Old forge, and awe whenever Matt Moore got his hands on the ball.
The Tiger defense held strong after the initial turnover, with a sack by Jake Becker, a hurry by Brad Fegley, and an interception on fourth and 26 by Keith Day. The two squads battled for field position until late in the third period, when Levan pounded his way for a 22-yard touchdown and the 24 – 21 lead.
It was at this point when Southern’s aggressiveness on defense really started to burn them. Carey dumped another screen pass to Tomasetti which went for 43 yards. Then he threw an outside screen to Argust for a 12-yard touchdown. The lead changed again, but the PAT was blocked by Day leaving it 27 – 24.
In reply, Moore put on a rushing clinic. Getting the call at the Southern 32 yard-line, he swept right, broke tackles, spun free, got a great block from his QB (Fegley), and thundered for 68 yards and the go-ahead score.
Down 31 – 27, the Blue Devils stayed poised. Nearly abandoning the run, Carey threw short balls. The passes were notpretty, but always seemed to reach their target. Six plays into the series, he connected with Tomasetti on yet another middle-screen which was taken to the outside and the distance for a 39-yard TD… 34 – 31 Old Forge!
Southern’s next drive sputtered after a short pass to Savitski failed to convert on fourth and six at the Devil 16. It looked as though Southern might have let Old Forge hang around for too long, as they took over on downs at their own 13. However, two plays later Carey’s pass deflected high off a defender’s helmet, and Jammie Slotterback came up with the big pick. With a first and ten at the 19, it only took Moore one shot and he raced for his third touchdown at 8:33 in the final period.
Following a defensive stand the Tigers had the momentum and the ball at their own 18. Moore took a sweep to the right, juked two defenders and bolted 82 yards for the final score. Swank was a perfect six for six on PAT’s and this one was in the books at 45 – 34 at the end of an exciting game of high school playoff football.
OLD FORGE(10-3) pulled out all the stops to make this one a thriller. After dismantling Riverside 47 – 6 (a team they lost to 15-14 mid-season) in the District II final last week, they carried that confidence with them against a larger, stronger Southern Tiger squad. Despite only mustering 26 yards on 25 carries, the Blue Devils stayed in the game with 321 yards and four TD’s through the air. Congratulations on a fine season and the District II Class A crown.
SOUTHERN COLUMBIA(12-1) advances to the eastern semi-final against the winner of Saturday’s game between Pius X(11-1) and Calvary Christian(8-2). In this opening round of State Playoff action they overcame mental mistakes and critical turn-overs to take the win. The ground game was phenomenal, seeing two backs surpass 200 yards. Tyler Levan gained 214 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns (9.7yds/carry) and Matt Moore tallied an amazing 260 yards and four touchdowns on 15 touches (17.3 yds/carry). “The coaches called me in earlier this week and said they didn’t think I was playing up to my potential” commented Moore after the game, “I just agreed with them.” Now everyone can agree that there is a lot of potential there.
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