Throwback Thursday: Calamity to Championship in 2004 for Tigers
A look back at Southern Columbia’s undefeated season a decade ago
Written by: Dave Fegley (@dfegs9)
Friday nights from early September until sometimes as late as mid December mean one thing to me, Southern Columbia Tiger football. Even though I will only be turning 24 during this football season, I have had the privilege of being a player, fan, manager, announcer, and writer for the team. In fact, since the 1997 Eastern Final heartbreaking loss to Riverside, which I missed due to the flu, I have been at every single game since. That’s right, the past 229 games I have either watched from the press box, bleachers, or have been on the field. During that time I have witnessed some incredible games and players. A few memories that stick out to me are the 54-0 thrashing of Mount Carmel Area at Tiger Stadium, watching my brother Brad lead the Tigers to their most recent State Championship game as the starting quarterback and linebacker, witnessing Henry Hynoski making human pin balls out of defenders on the way to the end zone, observing the different sack celebrations, and listening to the band play their opening song as the team gets ready to run through the banner. However, I would have to say that the 2004 season rises above the rest as by far the most incredible season in the program’s history. That is saying a lot for a program that has won more State Championships, District Championships, and League Championships than any other school at any level in Pennsylvania high school football history. It also shows how quickly time passes, as this season will mark the ten year anniversary since that incredible run that started off in sadness.
On July 23, 2004 the team was at their annual summer team camp held on the campus of Bloomsburg University. During an afternoon break, some of the players decided to go to a nearby creek to relax and cool off before the night session started. Two of the players, junior Tarik Leghlid and freshman Colby Snyder, entered the water first. Then the unthinkable happened. The two players got caught in a current and struggled in the water. At this point, junior Eric Barnes and senior Bobby Admire jumped in to save their frightened teammates. “Well to be honest there wasn’t much thinking. I heard a scream for help and I saw Jeff Fleming, who was a sophomore at the time, yelling that they fell in. I remember looking at Eric, our eyes met, and without saying a word to one another we instantly started running toward the damn. I guess my thought process was just to help. I didn’t know or care who needed it, I just knew I was responsible to do everything in my power to help,” said Admire when reflecting back on that horrible day just over ten years ago. Bobby was able to grab Snyder’s lifeless body and bring him back to life by performing CPR on the bank.
Unfortunately, the rest of the players that were there lost sight of their other two teammates, Tarik and Eric. After calling for help and rescuers arriving, it was too late. Sadly, Leghlid and Barnes were pronounced dead later that day as a result of drowning. After getting a phone call, Southern Columbia’s future hall of fame head coach had to make a difficult decision. Jim Roth decided to load the buses and head to the school to make probably the toughest announcement he will ever have to make in his life. “There was a tremendous sadness and grief, but most players had some idea about what had happened,” said Roth. Not only did the team lose two projected starters for the upcoming season, but even more importantly they lost two of their best friends. “I think at that point and time, I didn’t realize how it would impact the rest of my life. It was one of the worst things that could happen, losing two friends and teammates, just before the season,” said Josh Marks when reflecting on the event ten years later. “The way everybody handled the situation: teammates, coaches, and the entire community, still makes me proud to this day.”
After taking time to mourn the loss of these two respected and well-liked teammates, the team got ready to defend their state title trophy that they won in both 2002 and 2003. The one colossal difference this year was that they wanted to win this title for their two fallen teammates, who they knew would be watching from Heaven. They also wanted to make sure to honor them along the way, and they did so by starting with two less men each game since the two players were going to be starters. “The idea presented itself when we were gathered on the football field after our team photo and discussed how we could honor our lost friends. Someone mentioned starting the first defensive play with nine guys each game, keeping the two positions open where Tarik and Eric would have been starting. Everyone was immediately for it,” said Kyle Connaghan. “The nine man defense meant so much to us, and I believe it was a genuine gesture to show how much Tarik and Eric meant to us. We had a lot of pride, and didn’t feel we were at a disadvantage at all. If I recall correctly, I don’t believe any teams were able to capitalize and those who attempted usually paid for it.” The Tigers also had patches embroidered on their jersey’s that said “55-17” which would have been Tarik and Eric’s numbers on the gridiron.
The captains of the team were Admire, Dan Latorre and Kevin Beishline, so Coach Roth asked for their input as well. “I just remember after a preseason scrimmage, Coach Roth pulled me into his office and expressed the idea of having nine players on the field for the first defensive play of every game. He needed to make sure that it was acceptable according to PIAA rules and regulations, and I thought it was an amazing idea to commemorate the memory of Tarik and Eric,” said former star quarterback Dan Latorre.
Coach Roth was confident that he had enough talent to win a state championship for #55 and #17. The defensive line would consist of Marks, Justin Knoebel, Eric Spotts, and Khyle Berns. The linebacking corps included Admire, Dan Crowl, Victor Northern, and Nich Gallinot. The third line of defense, the secondary, would be Matt Koziol and Zach Allen at the corners and Connaghan at the safety position with some help from Brent Surak. On the other side of the ball, Latorre was the quarterback and his offensive line included Kevin Beishline, Dan Kreisher, Ian Fullmer, Marks, and Geoff Michalesko, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2010. Catching Latorre’s passes at the wide receiver positions would be Allen and Koziol, and Josh Fidler was slated in as the tight end. Joining Latorre in the backfield were running backs Hynoski, Connaghan, Ray Snarksi, and Derek Crowl, who has since passed away in an apartment fire in Boston during the spring of 2007.
The Tigers traveled to Loyalsock in week one to take on the Lancers, and it was only fitting that the defense started off the scoring. “If I remember right, without looking back, I think on the first or second series we forced a fumble that Bobby returned for a touchdown. At that point the nerves were gone and we were having fun again. We knew what we had to do for Tarik and Eric,” Marks said. Marks has a pretty good memory because Admire, who was the reason that a third teammate didn’t drown less than two months prior, recovered a fumble and took it in from six yards out on only the fourth play of the game to score the first TD of the 2004 season. “Honestly it didn’t even occur to me nor did I remember it. I remember in the ESPN interview when they were trying to get me to talk about it after the season, but honestly I didn’t really remember until they told me,” stated Admire. “My thinking was more long term, to win a championship, and however we got there it didn’t matter. Looking back at it now though there is a lot of symbolism to that touchdown for what happened the rest of the season after what had happened in the summer.” By the time the game ended, the Tiger defense held the Lancers to only 38 total yards of offense and zero points. What a way to start the season in honor of the two angels on the goalpost. “I don’t think we really knew what to expect going into that game. There were a lot of nerves and a lot of things we were unsure of going into the game,” Marks stated. Current NFL starter, Henry Hynoski rushed for three touchdowns in the game and Derek Crowl rushed for two additional touchdowns to give SCA a convincing 40-0 victory to open up the 2004 campaign.
Week two was a rematch of the 2003 District IV Class A final, and again the Tigers came out victorious. The defense was equally as impressive this week as they only gave up 60 yards of total offense. On the first play with only nine defenders on the field, cornerback Zach Allen picked off a pass to set up the game’s opening touchdown. Latorre lead the offense with three touchdown passes and an 85-yard touchdown run. Southern had its second consecutive shutout by defeating the Panthers 47-0.
Mother Nature took over the following week by pouring down enough rain to move the game to Sunday. With the Mount Carmel Area Red Tornadoes coming to Catawissa and Hurricane Ivan passing by, this matchup was more exciting than the NFL’s Sunday Night showcase game for that week because of the rivalry. Also, everyone knew that the Tigers were ranked No. 1 in Class A and the Tornadoes were ranked No. 1 in Class AA. The game was tied at 14-14 in the fourth quarter with Southern having possession at MCA’s 40-yard line after the Tiger defense came up with a huge stop on the previous possession. Latorre carried out one of his masterful ball fakes to sophomore fullback Henry Hynoski, which seemed to fake out the entire defense, and the senior quarterback carried it in for the winning touchdown. That game-winning score gave the Tigers their first ever home victory at Tiger Stadium against the Red Tornadoes by a score of 21-14. “It was great to score the game winning TD against MCA, especially since they beat us the year before and I was injured during the second quarter of that game. I was very fortunate to play with a great team and we were doing everything we could to accomplish our goal(s) that we set at the beginning of the season: (1) to commemorate the memory of our teammates, (2) go undefeated for the first time since the 1994 Championship team, (3) and to win another state title,” Latorre said. That win would be the foundation for Southern’s dominance over Mount Carmel over the past decade. The Tigers have currently gone on to win eight out of the past ten meetings against their arch rival.
Southern continued to roll the next two weeks by picking up a win at Bucknell University against Lewisburg 55-18 and then at home over Warrior Run 47-20. In week six the team traveled to Hughesville to take on the Spartans. On the first offensive play of the game, the Spartans sent out only nine men on offense to match the nine that the Tigers sent out. “Their coach informed me before the game. I wasn’t surprised, he was a friend and always a class individual, Rick Reichner is his name,” Roth said. Southern went on to win 33-0 giving the defense three shutouts in the first six games and more importantly moving their record to 6-0.
Week seven was looked at as a possible preview for the District IV title game later on in the year. Southern jumped out to an early 20-0 lead before South Williamsport scored a touchdown with 49 seconds left in the half to make the score a little more interesting. Unfortunately for the Mounties, there were still 49 seconds left which was enough time for Latorre to lead the offense down the field through the air. On the final play of the half, Hynoski caught a screen pass and kept his balance along the sidelines after following his blockers and breaking a couple tackles, to score as the time expired. The defense was stout in the second half on the way to a 32-13 victory. The Mounties rushed the ball 23 times in the game for a total of 19 yards as the SoCo defensive line just overpowered the South Williamsport offensive line in the final 24 minutes.
Fountain Springs was the next stop for the Tigers as they took on the North Schuylkill Spartans. Southern wide-out Matt Koziol caught two touchdown passes in the opening quarter which was more than enough to help the team move to 8-0 on the year. The defense didn’t allow much at all for the third week in a row. In fact, the Spartans didn’t complete a single pass on the night and only garnered 15 yards on the ground giving the Tigers yet another shutout in a 40-0 mauling. “Anybody that has ever played defense knows that’s what you strive for every game and what made those teams so special. The second and third string guys weren’t just satisfied with getting on the field. They wanted to keep the shutout just as bad as anybody on that team, and that attitude is what made us so hard to beat,” Marks said. I’m sure Andy Mills, who has been the defensive coordinator on Roth’s staff for many years, strives to set this type of mentality for everyone on defense.
The Tigers closed out the regular season with two home wins against local rivals Central Columbia and Danville giving the Tigers their first undefeated regular season since the 2001 season and a ton of confidence heading into the playoffs. In those final two games, senior linebackers Admire and Dan Crowl along with junior linebacker Victor Northern were in the backfield causing the quarterback to run for dear life. “Every play, every down, you just want to beat the person on the other side of the ball. You want to win every battle and that’s what we did,” Admire said. The trio combined for six sacks in the two games and also forced the opposing quarterbacks to rush other passing attempts. Northern would go on to lead the team with 11 sacks for the season and the two seniors each added eight which was good enough for the second most. Connaghan, Marks, and Kyhle Berns would combine for 16 more as well. Admire, Marks, and Berns forced four fumbles a piece on the season to lead SoCo in that category.
With so much success through ten weeks and mopping up their conference foes, the Tigers were well represented on the Central Susuquehanna Conference All-Star team. In all, 12 members were selected to the first team including seniors Latorre, Admire, Koziol, Allen, Dan Crowl, Derek Crowl, Kreisher, Fidler, and Beishline. The underclassmen chosen were Hynoski, Marks, and Fullmer. Not a bad showing, considering there were only about 30 members chosen on the first team for the entire eight team conference.
As rewarding as it was to have a perfect regular season, the Tigers knew that the postseason was what they were focused on making perfect and Admire made sure of that. “When you play for Southern it is always about week 15 (now week 16). There is no failing and there is no let down. There was added pressure for sure to win for the boys, but the focus on the entire season was to get to the championship and I think the loss of Tarik and Eric helped us really focus,” said the senior linebacker. Lourdes Regional traveled to Tiger Stadium to try and challenge the Tigers who were going after their 14th straight District IV crown. The most challenging part of the game for Southern was probably deciding how to split the workload between all of the running backs. Derek Crowl led the charge by rushing for 120 yards on just four carries. He ran two touchdowns in and also caught another. Fellow senior backfield mate, Ray Snarski, tacked on two touchdowns as well and the defense put an exclamation point on the victory by intercepting two passes and holding the Red Raiders to minimal yardage at best on every single play. The final score was 61-0, giving the Tigers their fifth shutout of the season.
The following week the Tigers took on Lackawanna Trail in a rematch of the 2003 Eastern Final that the black and gold won by five touchdowns. The Tigers won this game, held at Scranton Memorial Stadium, just as convincingly by a score of 40-14. Latorre rushed for a pair of touchdowns and Derek Crowl scored by recovering a fumble in the end zone and also another on the ground. Hynoski rushed for 215 yards on the day which was the first time a Tiger back had rushed for over 200 yards in a game all year. If only anyone knew what would take place the following week…
The final Friday in November was looked upon as almost a state final based on the matchup. Southern came into the game, held at Selinsgrove High School, ranked No. 1 in the state and Pius X was ranked just below them at No. 2. The Tigers were only giving up on average 8.8 points per game and the Royals just over 15 per contest. Based on those stats it looked like points were going to be at a minimum, and it would ultimately come down to Southern’s powerful rushing attack or Pius X’s efficient passing game. To try and defend the pass, Roth moved Connaghan to safety to complement corners Koziol and Allen. “I was fine with it. I was used to being moved around; playing on both sides of the ball. During that season everyone was very selfless and was willing to do pretty much anything for the team. Finishing the perfect season was our ultimate goal and everyone was on board,” stated Connaghan. “Pius had some height in their wide receiving corps; with two of their star receivers over 6’3”, so we had to match that. Our two corners, Zach Allen and Matt Koziol, were also both over 6 foot so with my addition, we had the height to match.”
Just to let anyone know who wasn’t at this game or hasn’t heard about it, putting up the offensive statistics that were produced that night would be extremely difficult even on a video game. If a defensive player like Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, or Joe Greene were in attendance, they would have probably left the stadium cursing by the middle of the second quarter. On the other hand, guys like Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Steve Largent, Dan Marino, and Emmitt Smith would have had tears of joy in their eyes by game’s end. Jim Roth has coached in and won a lot of games in his career at Southern Columbia, but this was one that will certainly stick out forever. “Other than the state championship games, it was the most memorable one. Just the nature of the game with an unbelievable amount of scoring in front of a huge crowd,” said the Tigers head coach.
Pius scored the game’s opening touchdown on a two yard pass, but Southern answered right back on a 9-yard TD run by Connaghan. The Royals answered right back to go up 14-7 before Connaghan scored his second rushing touchdown of the quarter to tie the game. “The execution and discipline our line exhibited was truly remarkable; they were a well-oiled machine that could not be stopped. It also didn’t hurt that the opposing defense was using a 3-5 defense; not having enough players on the line to engage our line and playing further off the ball is probably not the best thing you could do when trying to defend the wing-T offense,” said Connaghan. Then, one of the only highlights on the defensive side of the ball for either team happened on the next possession. Zach Allen intercepted Royals quarterback Cole Hildabrant, which gave SoCo their first chance to take the lead. Behind the dominant effort of the Tigers offensive line, Hynoski scored from three yards out to give his team a 21-14 lead that they would not give up again. “If there was a running back in the end zone you knew you were getting your job done. Our line always had a great relationship with the backs, and if they were getting the publicity we were soon to remind them it was because of us,” said Marks. Guys like Anthony Munoz, Bruce Matthews, Mike Webster, and Jonathan Ogden, all of which are NFL Hall of Fame lineman, would smile at that statement.
Southern’s defensive came up with their second big stop of the game on the ensuing possession, forcing Pius to punt. “There weren’t that many adjustments. Our defense sucked that game, but it was more about just knowing your job and doing it,” stated an honest Admire. “There were 11 guys out there and we needed all 11 to just do their 1/11th and at the end of the game our defense was better than theirs. It also helped that their best player was injured during the game.” The punt was a good one, rolling all the way to the Tigers nine. Unfortunately for the Royals, Hynoski took the first handoff of the drive all 91 yards to pay dirt extending SCA’s lead to 27-14.
Hildabrant hit his favorite target, Quinton Lopez, on the next possession for a 55-yard strike to bring the Royals within one score again. Connaghan answered right back with his third touchdown of the night from 38 yards out to give the Tigers a little breathing room again at 35-21. “Our line was able to neutralize their down lineman and move on to the next level blocks springing numerous big plays,” Connaghan said. Lopez answered the call with a highlight reel catch that he took to the house from 70 yards out. With just under three minutes left in the first half, Connaghan scored his fourth rushing touchdown of the half and then intercepted a pass on the Royals next possession. SoCo went into the locker room leading 41-28. “Unfortunately, I can’t remember what was discussed at halftime of the Pius game, but I’m sure it was business as usual as Coach Roth would put it,” said Latorre. The Tiger quarterback was all business as well. He rushed for 120 yards and a score on the night and only had to complete one pass, a 35 yarder to Josh Fidler, with how dominant the rushing attack was.
Thanks to a pair of rushing touchdowns of two yards and 46-yards by Latorre and Hynoski respectively, the Tiger lead grew to 55-28 just over halfway through the third quarter. Mel Stewart scored his second rushing TD of the game for the Royals on the next possession, but Hynoski ran behind his overpowering offensive line for an 8-yard touchdown on the next possession to answer. “We had an outstanding rushing attack that year and we played to our potential in that game. We knew they would score points. They were very explosive on offense especially in the passing game,” stated Roth. The score after three was 63-35 in favor of the feisty cats from Catawissa.
With 9:38 left in the game, Hynoski put the nail in the coffin from two yards out to make the score 70-35 which put the game into the mercy rule. Yes that’s right, the team from the town of Roseta was getting mercy ruled while scoring an impressive 35 points on the night themselves. “In the beginning phases of the game it was like a track meet and the scoring was just out of control. I don’t think I had run so much in my entire life; between playing running back and then playing safety trying to defend a team that throws over 30 times a game. It became evident that their attack began to decelerate in the second half, and luckily for us we were still going full speed with no signs of stopping. It’s during this kind of scenario when you are thankful for all the off-season conditioning and preparation that we put in,” said Connaghan who finished with 183 yards on that night.
Hildabrant gave his fans something to cheer about again by throwing another touchdown pass. Then guess who? You got it, Hynoski scored a final time from nine yards out to give him six touchdowns on this historic night. Hildabrant connected with Joe DeBerardinis from 33 yards out for the game’s final touchdown. When the fat lady finally got around to singing, the scoreboard read: Southern Columbia: 76 – Pius X: 47. With a college basketball type score like that, it was almost a certainty that records would be broken once the final stats were calculated.
The most remarkable statistic was the 772 team rushing yards the Tigers backfield was able to pile up. That was a mark that no other high school team in the entire country had ever reached. Warren Central out of Indianapolis, Indiana held the record at 755 yards that they set in 2002, but now that record belonged to a small school in central PA. “It was an unbelievable game to be a part of and we were amazed with our offensive production, but we didn’t have too much time to reflect on it as we needed to prepare for the next state playoff game,” Roth said. Hynoski also set a couple of individual records with his 419 yard and six touchdown performance for the ages. He broke the school rushing record that was held by Ricco Rosini since 1997 when he rushed for 338 yards against Hughesville. He also broke the state-playoff record of 334 yards that was set by Susquehanna Community’s Jason Reed in 1994.
On top of Hynoski’s eye-popping numbers, Connaghan’s four touchdowns and Latorre’s touchdown helped the Tigers set a state playoff record for most points scored at 76. The 76 points also tied the school record for most points scored in a game. The Tigers demolished Crestwood 76-0 in week seven of the 1969 season. “The Pius game was by far the most memorable game I have ever played in my entire life. To be honest, I really didn’t care much about the records, I just wanted to win and continue on to play and win a state championship in honor of my friends. I am so thankful to have been part of such a special team under very difficult circumstances. I miss my friends and wish they were still here; they were two incredible individuals. I would trade it all for them to be here with us,” said Connaghan a little over a decade since the tragedy. Obviously, with the Royals scoring 47 points of their own, you knew there would be combined records broken. The 123 points and 1,265 yards set state playoff records for the most point and yards in a single game for two teams combined. Individually for the Royals, Lopez set a playoff record with 281 yards receiving and Hildabrant’s 353 passing yards were good enough for the second most in a state playoff game. “We all knew how important it was to play together and how much our defense needed to improve in order to get the outcome we wanted. It was a reality check, and it just made us focus as a team harder than ever,” said Admire.
After a game with so many emotions and excitement, the following week was looked at as a potential trap game for the Tigers against Camp Hill. “There is always a concern after a physical and emotional game like Pius was, but at that time in our program we were very consistent in the way we performed in the state playoffs,” said Roth. It wasn’t until the beginning of the fourth quarter, when SCA got a touchdown from an unlikely defensive hero, that the Tiger team and fans could finally smell a return trip back to Hershey. With Southern leading Camp Hill 28-17, defensive lineman Eric Spotts picked off a screen pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. “It’s one of those plays you will remember forever. He battled in the trenches all year long next to me, and to see him rewarded like that was really awesome,” said Marks. That score put Southern up 35-17 on their way to a 42-30 victory. Latorre, Koziol, Hynoski, and Snarski all found the end zone at least once to help Spotts out in the scoring column.
When asked about the importance of all the offensive weapons the Tigers had, Latorre was sure to give credit to everyone involved. “This helped us dramatically from an offensive standpoint because it didn’t allow defenses to make the necessary adjustments to key on one particular player. We had four or five excellent running backs who knew their roles very well in addition to the receiving/tight end core who were extremely talented. Lastly, the guys up front who paved the way for the running and passing game made it extremely difficult for defenses to go up against. With all this being said, I felt the reason we had a great team was that the coaching staff did an excellent job selling the program to the players. We (as players) bought into the program – weight and speed training, attending 7-on-7 passing camps, lineman camps, etc. All of the hard work paid off and it was clearly evident on both sides of the ball,” said the signal-caller. Roth’s Wing-T offense was able to methodically pick up 27 first downs on the night against the Camp Hill Lions defense, which was enough to break another playoff record. Now the Tigers had only one more obstacle to overcome before winning another state championship for the school and their two fallen teammates.
For the fifth time in seven years, it was the Southern Columbia Tigers meeting the Rochester Rams on a Friday afternoon in Hershey in the PIAA Class A State Championship. It was also the final game for an outstanding group of seniors lead by Latorre on offense and Admire on defense. “That didn’t come across my mind until I want to say a couple weeks after the season. I knew I was going to be playing college ball so I had that, but it was fitting for me to play Rochester my last game,” Admire said. “I played against them when I was a sophomore and had one of the best games of my career. That game was what got me noticed with Division 1 scouts so it was nice to end it with them, and it was especially nice how we ended it,” said the former Maine Black Bear.
If anyone ever wanted to debate the saying “Defense Wins Championships”, they would have certainly lost that debate on that day after watching the entire Tiger defense completely shut down the Rams high powered offense that was lead by some talented skill players. The Rams had all-state specialist Brent Whiteleather and Derek Moye, who went on to have an exceptional career at Penn State University, but that didn’t faze Southern one bit. In fact, SoCo set two more records in that game. The defense only gave up 81 total yards and five first downs, both of which are Class A State Championship game records still in place today. It was a storybook finish as a way that the team could honor their two lost teammates from the previous summer’s tragic event. “To me it wasn’t about doing it for the boys. Of course that was the icing on the cake, but when you are in the heat of the game, you don’t think about that stuff,” said Admire. “We stopped them early with their running attack and they knew that they couldn’t run the ball on us, so they were forced to do something they weren’t accustomed to do, throwing the ball. Whenever you get a team off of their game plan it’s so much easier to control the game. Looking back at it, it was simply amazing.” Admire was one of five Tigers selected to the all-state team. Joining him were Latorre, Marks, and Beishline on the first team. Somehow Hynoski only made the second team squad even with how dominant he was in the postseason run.
Latorre, the Class A Player of the Year, would wrap up his high school career by maybe playing his best game ever in his final one. “I was extremely motivated, along with my teammates, in making sure that my best football was going to be played on the final stage against Rochester. I wanted to make sure that I was physically and mentally prepared for my final high school game and to leave everything I could out on that field. All of the hard work that my teammates and I put forth in the weight room, watching film, studying defensive schemes and fronts, etc. was going to be displayed on that final stage. Lastly, I wanted to make sure that we completed our mission that our team set forth at the beginning of the season,” said Latorre on his career high 150 yard rushing performance, which gave him enough yards to go over 1,000 on the year. He is the only quarterback to ever reach that milestone in school history by finishing with 1,044 yards and 20 touchdowns in total on the ground. That was good enough for second on the team, only trailing Hynoski who had 1,800 yards and 23 of Southern’s remarkable 75 rushing scores on the year. Latorre also passed for 1,732 yards and 18 touchdowns, and most importantly only threw two interceptions.
The quarterback scored two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter on runs of two and 19 yards to give SCA a 14-0 lead after the opening quarter. The key play leading to Latorre’s first score was when he completed a pass to Connaghan for a gain of 35 yards. On Rochester’s next drive, Koziol picked off Cory Schleyer and returned it to the Tigers 34 yard-line. Southern used an 11 play drive before the QB kept it himself to put his team up by two scores from just inside the red-zone.
Latorre also added the only touchdown of the second quarter with a one yard plunge to give his team a 21-0 lead heading to the break behind his powerful offensive line. “They were the back-bone of our offense and I felt there were a lot of times that they didn’t get enough credit for what they did offensively. They were such a talented group and I was always confident in their ability to perform. Lastly, I was very fortunate and blessed to play with those guys and I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” said Latorre who would later go on to have an outstanding career at Bloomsburg University. His best play came in the first minute of the second half. Roth called a waggle keep, and Latorre executed it to perfection. He faked the handoff up the middle, showed patience waiting for blocks, and then used his blazing speed heading up the field for a 69 yard touchdown run which gave him the first four touchdowns of the game. Snarski scored the game’s final touchdown midway through the third quarter and the defense kept the shutout until the clock hit zero in the fourth giving the Tigers a mercy rule win with the final score being 35-0.
Leghlid and Barnes were certainly with the SoCo defense on the opening play of the game when the Tigers sent out their nine man defense for the first play just like every other game during that season. On the play, Rams coach Gene Matsook handed it off to Moye, but the Tigers defense stopped him at the line for a short gain. That play set the tone for the rest of the game, and it was at that point that both #55 and #17 were probably looking down from Heaven with smiles on their faces knowing that their team would once again bring home state gold.
Hynoksi also gained enough yardage to give him over 1,000 yards in the playoffs alone. To put that into perspective, the Tiger defense only gave up 1,048 yards rushing throughout the entire 15 game season. The Tigers offense scored 220 point in the first quarter alone throughout the season, and the stingy defense only gave up a total of 183 points for the entire season. Admire would go on to lead the team with 122 tackles which 10 years later is still top three in school history for a single season. Victor Northern finished second on the team with 93 tackles. To round off the top five, Dan Crowl had 88, Connaghan 79, and Marks 78. Connaghan also tied Zach Allen for the team lead with five interceptions. Allen would also lead the team in receptions with 25, and his four touchdown grabs were second amongst the receivers, trailing only Matt Koziol who finished with six touchdown catches. “It was at a time in our program after winning three consecutive state titles that we expected to win, but more importantly we performed with a tremendous amount of desire,” Roth said. “That team experienced a great deal of pressure to win for Tarik and Eric, but as I told them throughout the playoffs, you are honoring them by giving great effort and performing with great intensity and if you continue to do that the wins will come.”
The wins certainly did continue to come for Roth and his Tiger teams. The 2004 title matched them with Berwick and Central Bucks West as the only schools to accomplish the feat of winning three in a row. It also came exactly ten years to the day from their last undefeated season when they beat Western Beaver in the 1994 final. As we now know, the Southern Columbia Tigers would go on to add gold to their trophy case in 2005 and 2006 as well, becoming the only school in PA history to win five in a row and six overall at any level. From 2007 to 2010, the Tigers added three more district championship plaques to their shining trophy display, but failed to reach Hershey in that time frame. In 2011, Southern Columbia, lead by a dominant group of seniors, made it back to the state championship and brought home a silver trophy after falling to an outstanding Clairton team that had the nation’s longest winning streak at the time. Over the past two seasons, the team has added two more league and district crowns, but has failed to win a state playoff game. Will this year’s team be able to add some more hardware to a school that has been the most successful school in the state since the early 90’s? Tomorrow the Tigers, who have moved up to Class AA for the first time ever this season, will travel to Mifflinburg to open the 2014 campaign and hope to get a good start to a season that they want to make memorable, just as so many past Tigers have done for a school full of a winning tradition.
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