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Southern Columbia tops Richland, 57-30

Written by: on Sunday, November 15th, 2020. Follow Matt Beltz on Twitter.


ALTOONA – It’s been nearly two full years since Southern Columbia was seriously challenged in a game. In the 2018 District 4 championship game, the Tigers led Mount Carmel by just five points at halftime, 13-8, before Gaige Garcia returned the second half kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, which greatly shifted the momentum of that game, which Southern would go on to win 39-14.

That game, just two days shy of exactly two years ago on Saturday – on Nov. 16, 2018, was the last time Southern didn’t win with the mercy rule being invoked, and also was the last time the Tigers had a single-digit lead at halftime until Saturday.

Taking on Richland in the PIAA playoffs for the second straight year, this time in the quarterfinals after last year’s record-setting Tiger squad beat the Rams in the semifinals, Southern led by just five points at the half, just like two years ago against Mount Carmel, after Richland scored three second quarter touchdowns to erase a 20-point lead that Southern had built after the first quarter.

But just like two years ago, it was a big play on special teams that shifted the momentum, and Gaige’s younger brother, Gavin, followed the big special teams play with a big defensive play less than a minute later, and those two plays provided Southern’s answer to the first bit of adversity it faced this year and the Tigers went on to top Richland 57-30 to advance to the state semifinals next week.

Southern head coach Jim Roth admitted he was as curious as anyone how his team would react to being in a close game, since it’s been so long since the Tigers were in one.

“I didn’t know how we were going to respond. My wish was to not even get in such a situation and just play these next three games without being challenged,” Roth joked. “But you’re going to play good football teams this time of year and we knew this team was capable of giving us a challenge with everything they have.”

But like they did back in the aforementioned game in 2018 and so many times before that, Roth’s team answered the bell, and by doing so recorded the Tigers’ 58th straight win dating back to 2017, now just eight shy of the state record of 66 held by Clairton from 2009-13. The win also brought Roth within one win of the state record of 455 career wins, held by George Curry.

Yet, those marks were the last thing on anyone’s mind at halftime, as Richland had an opportunity to potentially take the lead as the Rams received the second half kickoff trailing by just five, but Southern forced them into a three-and-out. Richland punted and Jake Davis returned it 51 yards to the Richland 9-yard line. Two Gavin Garcia rushes later, he had a one-yard touchdown to extend Southern’s lead to 35-22.

Just :31 and two plays from scrimmage later, Garcia came in for a rare appearance on defense and jumped a short sideline route to pick off the pass, shed a tackle and return it 20 yards for a touchdown, which, after a two-point conversion, gave the Tigers a 43-22 lead.

“Most of our players only play on one side of the ball for the most part, but there are times when we’ll do something like that,” said Roth. “We had a few players nicked up with injuries so we put Gavin and Wes (Barnes) in and they’re both outstanding defensive players so if we need to go to them, they’re available and they can go out and do a tremendous job on that side of the ball as well.”

Davis would make another big play on Richland’s next drive as he ended a nine-play drive by the Rams by picking off a pass at the Southern 26 and returning it to near midfield, where the Tigers took over and scored again on Braeden Wisloski’s 33-yard touchdown to go up 50-22.

“Because of how well our defense has played, that was my biggest concern at halftime was ‘how are we going to handle this?’” said Roth. “Are we going to lack confidence or are we going to go out and play inspired football, and that’s what we ended up doing and that speaks to the character of the team and it showed what they’re capable of doing if we do face another situation like this.”

Early on, it looked like it may be a repeat of so many of the Tigers’ previous 57 consecutive wins and within the mercy rule by halftime, as Barnes scored three first quarter touchdowns to put the Tigers up 20-0 after the first quarter.

The Tigers recovered an onside kick on the opening kickoff, although it wasn’t intended to be one but rather a squib that didn’t travel very far, and Barnes capped a six-play drive with a nine-yard touchdown run.

On Richland’s ensuing drive, the Rams went for it on fourth-and-2 from their own 40 and were stuffed by the Tigers, and Barnes then capitalized on just one play with a 40-yard dash for a touchdown.

“(Southern’s potent offense) plays into it (in deciding to go for it), but that’s who we are,” said Richland coach Brandon Bailey. “If it’s fourth-and-2 and we believe we can make it, we’re going to go for it, so it’s really not a change from we do throughout the season. Certainly their ability to score all the time and wanting to keep them off the field does impact that decision but we got for it a lot on fourth down.”

Richland went three-and-out on its next drive and punted, and Southern got backed up to their own 36 due to a penalty and negative play. On second-and-27, Barnes hauled in a screen behind the line of scrimmage and then proceeded to shed about a half dozen would-be tacklers on his way to a 64-yard touchdown.

But unlike most of Southern’s opponents over the last several years, the Rams answered the Tigers’ initial surge and fought back. They forced Southern to punt after a three-and-out on their next drive – another rarity for the Tigers – and proceeded to put together a 12-play, 73-yard drive capped by a 29-yard touchdown pass from Kellan Stahl to Griffin Larue.

Southern answered right back on its ensuing drive as it recovered another onside kick and took just six plays to find the end zone again, this time on Wisloski’s first touchdown of the game, a one-yard plunge to go back up 27-7.

But from there, Richland countered with a 27-yard touchdown run by Grayden Lewis, which followed a 35-yard pickup earlier in the drive, and a 17-yard connection from Stahl to Larue.

The Tigers’ next drive then stalled on downs at the Richland 37. The Rams took over with just :40 remaining in the half, and on their first play, Stahl hit Larue down the right sideline on a jump ball that Larue was able to take away from Davis, who had him well defended. Richland then faked the PAT and instead, Stahl found Jordan Ford for the two-point conversion.

“We made some stops there in the second quarter and our kids played really hard. Offensively, we were able to settle down and let the speed of the game come to us,” said Bailey. “We’ve got a good offense and we were able to identify some weaknesses and what they were giving us and we were able to score three touchdowns in that second quarter.”

“They made some plays. Their scheme makes it tough sometimes to consistently shut down the offense because they’re doing a lot of different things and are giving you a lot of variety,” said Roth. “Some of those plays they broke and scored points on were some of the same plays we stopped effectively for most of the game so it was just a matter of a loss of consistency there in the second quarter with our execution and you have to give them some credit as well.

“But the most rewarding thing about this win is the way we responded. It was obviously the first time we were challenged all year. It was a tough game emotionally. It was very eventful, a lot of things going on.”

After Southern answered with its three straight touchdowns in the third quarter, on just the fourth play of the fourth quarter, following a Richland drive stalling at the Southern 6, Garcia burst loose for a 78-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers up 57-22 and invoke the mercy rule, much later in the game than usual for Southern.

Richland scored a late touchdown on Sam Penna’s 24-yard touchdown run with under a minute to play.

“We came here intending to win the football game. We knew they had a bunch of really good players and we felt we had a lot of good players,” said Bailey. “We knew we’d have to play a mistake-free game and we did for a while but that third quarter got away from us a bit. When we went back down by three scores that certainly made it difficult.”

Southern Columbia 57, Richland 30
Southern Columbia (10-0)   20 7 22 7 – 57
Richland (8-2)                      0 22  0  8 – 30

First quarter
9:57 – (SC) Wes Barnes 9-yard run (kick blocked), 6-53, 2:03
6:46 – (SC) Wes Barnes 40-yard run (Carter kick), 1-40, :11
3:27 – (SC) Wes Barnes 64-yard pass from Liam Klebon (Carter kick), 3-53, 1:45

Second quarter
7:55 – (R) Griffin Larue 29-yard pass from Kellan Stahl (Facci kick), 12-73, 4:16
4:23 – (SC) Braeden Wisloski 1-yard run (Carter kick), 6-57, 3:32
2:30 – (R) Grayden Lewis 27-yard run run (Facci kick), 6-74, 1:53
:30 – (R) Griffin Larue 63-yard pass from Kellan Stahl (Ford pass from Stahl), 1-63, :10

Third quarter
9:47 – (SC) Gavin Garcia 1-yard run (Sharrow pass from Klebon), 2-9, :36
9:06 – (SC) Gavin Garcia 20-yard interception return (Klebon run)
3:00 – (SC) Braeden Wisloski 33-yard run (Carter kick), 7-56, 3:00

Fourth quarter
10:57 – (SC) Gavin Garcia 78-yard run (Carter kick), 3-89, :56
:35 – (R ) Sam Penna 24-yard run (Jordan pass from Penna), 10-67, 4:40

                                                      SC                        R     
First downs                                   18                          20
Rushes-net yards                      41-347                  40-205
Passing yardage                           87                        186
Passing                                     3-5-1-0                14-30-2-2
Fumbles-lost                                1-0                        0-0
Penalties-yards                         10-109                    7-55

RUSHING: Southern Columbia: Gavin Garcia (17-196-2), Wes Barnes (14-120-2), Braden Wisloski (4-37-2), Matt Masala (2-7), Connor Gallagher (1-6), Trevor Yorks (1-1), Ian Yoder (1-0), Liam Klebon (1-(-20)); Richland: Kellan Stahl (20-60), Grayden Lewis (7-76-1), Sam Penna (4-45-1), Allen Mangus (3-11), Evan McCracken (3-4), Draveyn Plachy (1-6), Jordan Ford (1-5), Griffin Larue (1-(-2))

PASSING: Southern Columbia: Liam Klebon (3-5-87-1-0); Richland: Kellan Stahl (14-29-186-2-2), Sam Penna (0-1-0-0-0)

RECEIVING: Southern Columbia: Wes Barnes (1-64-1), Gavin Garcia (1-19), Jake Rose (1-4); Richland: Griffin Larue (9-141-2), Sam Penna (2-20), Grayden Lewis (1-12), Ryan McGowan (1-12), Evan McCracken (1-1)

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