Southern Columbia Advances to Class “AA” State Championship
“Again, the line did a nice job against a big, physical front, and the backs just really running hard and turning what could be an average gain into big runs,” Southern coach Jim Roth said. “They really made it look easy early on. We were consistently hitting big runs, all three backs, and it was as good as I can recall our offense playing this year, in terms of the running game.”
It certainly did come easy for Southern all throughout a dominant opening half. Short drives set up by good returns on special teams and defensive stops were a recurring theme, as the Tigers piled up 307 yards of total offense by halftime. The running back trio of Garrett Garcia, Louden Murphy, and Carter Madden was responsible for almost all the damage inflicted on an overmatched Dunmore defense. Murphy got things started by capping off an efficient, five-play drive that saw him cross the goal line from six yards out just over two minutes into play. Murphy finished with 81 yards on 10 carries behind a stellar offensive line, and he scored again on a 13-yard run early in the second quarter that made the score 32-0.
“They stepped up against a very, very good defensive line,” Murphy said. “We’re outsized almost every game I feel like, but our guys have the aggressiveness that you can’t teach. That really separates us. You can’t key on anybody. You can lineup in one formation and run seven different plays. It’s a three-headed dragon in the backfield.”
Garcia made his presence felt early as well. Of his 11 carries, seven of them went for 19 yards or longer. On his way to a 188-yard, three-touchdown night, Garcia set the tone by ripping off a 22-yard run the first time he touched the ball. He scored on a 2-yard run to complete another short march, and perhaps his best run came on a 48-yard sprint to pay dirt late in the first quarter, where he shed multiple tackles with ease on his way to the end zone. Madden did his best to make solid contributions as well. He rushed nine times for 79 yards and found his way into the scoring column with a 21-yard dash in the first quarter.
“The line was getting off the ball, and the backs were running extremely hard,” Roth said. “We felt the last couple weeks at times, we weren’t as aggressive running the ball like they were almost a little bit tentative. They certainly weren’t tonight. They just took off with the football, and everything was just kind of a natural feel — get it and go.”
Dunmore (12-3) finished the first half with minus-3 yards of offense on 24 plays. The run-heavy attack was forced out of its comfort zone by a defense that was physical and swarmed to the ball. Even when Domenick DeSando set up the Bucks in the red zone thanks to a long kickoff return, Southern had an answer by forcing a turnover on downs. The defense was responsible for ten rushing plays that went for no gain or negative yardage in the half.
“Can’t say enough about the defense,” Roth said. “We felt coming in that we matched up well, because for a team to line up and run the ball at us and not have much of a passing game, we felt we were really going to match up. When you watched them on film the last couple of weeks, their line was really coming off the ball and their backs were running hard, including the quarterback. But again, our defensive front — they’ve been that way all year, and barring injury, one more time.”
Westinghouse and Southern met last year in the state championship, where the Tigers emerged with a 37-22 victory. Roth will be in search of his 496th career win, and yet again has his team peaking at the right time. Southern has now come up big against four consecutive quality opponents, which appears to be one of the trademarks of this group.
“The way they’ve been able to rise up in some big games, they’re an emotional bunch,” Roth said. “When they decide they want to play, the best example of that is Mount Carmel. I know in the first Mount Carmel game, we didn’t take the field with the proper attitude. In the second game, to go out and reverse the outcome so dramatically like that, it was all attitude. When they get cranked for a game, they’re just so much tougher.”
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