Southern Columbia Stays Undefeated.
By: Dave Fegley | SCA Tiger Football | October 28, 2017
By: Dave Fegley | SCA Tiger Football | October 28, 2017
Friday nights matchup between the Tigers and Seals at Harold L. Bolig Field in Selinsgrove was the definition of one helluva football game. Arguably the two best teams in the area, it was Southern Columbia proving once again that they are unquestionably the best team in the entire Heartland Conference. The Tigers, who started their unbelievable streak with their first victory on this same field back in 2011, won their 61st straight regular season game. This one however, was filled with just about everything possible that can take place on the gridiron.
SCA won the regular season finale 49-28, but the fat lady was cut off from singing until late in the fourth quarter and many events were the cause for her delay. During the battle, the two teams made some history. One school career record was set, three single-season school records were broken, four receivers went over 100 yards, two touchdowns went for over 95 yards, two star players went down with injuries, touchdowns were scored in all three phases of the game, nearly 20 penalties were committed, and plenty of other things happened. “This was a crazy game that included a little bit of everything. We are glad that we won, but it wasn’t easy. It’s a good test to actually play a full game to work on our in game conditioning,” said Tiger running back Gaige Garcia who had a career high 25 carries in the victory.
Southern won eight of their first nine games this year via the Mercy Rule, and this game was shaping up to be another blowout early on. The Tigers went up 24-0 with 7:58 left in the first half, and their offensive and defensive lines were dominating the line of scrimmage. “We knew coming in that this game was going to be important as to which line could win the battles up front. It was a fun game to be in,” Tiger lineman Connor Fulmer said. The Tigers defense held the Seals to just 17 total rushing yards, and Fulmer helped out with two sacks.
Garcia scored on a one yard run, and Elijah Hoffman kicked a 30-yard field goal to put SCA up 10-0 after the first quarter. “It is important to get points on the board any way that we can. We obviously get in the end zone a lot, but in tight games like tonight I am happy to help out by making those field goals,” said Hoffman. Garcia scored on a two yard run early in the 2nd quarter, and then quarterback Stone Hollenbach scored on a one yard sneak to make the score 24-0 with 7:58 left in the first half.
The Seals got on the board on their next drive, and it was a sight that excited everyone in the Selinsgrove stands. Ricky Cope, who had been out since week three with a broken collarbone, made an early return from injury. His first catch resulted in an 84-yard touchdown from District IV’s all-time leading passer Logan Leiby. “We are certainly glad to get Ricky back. He can make a big play any time he touches the ball and will be a big help heading into the playoffs,” said the Seals quarterback. “Southern’s the best team in the state, so even though we lost, we can take some positives out of this game heading into the playoffs next week.”
After forcing a 3-and-out, the Seals cut deeper into the Tigers lead to make it 24-14 when Leiby connected with Josh Nylund for a touchdown pass of 62 yards at the 3:19 mark of the 2nd quarter. With just twelve seconds left, Hoffman extended the Tigers lead to 27-14 at what appeared to be the halftime score after making a 32-yard FG. However, Nylund returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards as time expired in the first half to make the score 27-21 and provided Selinsgrove with the momentum heading into the break. “We got ourselves into a big hole in the first half. I’m proud of the kids for fighting back, but just to be in the game against Southern you need to play a perfect game and make big plays along the way,” said Seals coach Derek Hicks.
Surprisingly, no scoring took place in the third quarter. “This was just the second time that our starters played deep into the second half with the other one being early against Mount Carmel. We made some mistakes, but give Selinsgrove credit for capitalizing on some opportunities to stay in the game. They had a chance to take the lead to start the second half,” Southern coach Jim Roth said. The Tigers are the top ranked team in the state in Class AA.
Hollenbach scored on another one yard keeper early in the fourth quarter, and his helmet fell off in the process. Having to sit out a play, the Tigers had receiver Preston Zachman play quarterback on the two point conversion attempt and he kept it himself to extend the Tigers lead to 35-21. The Tigers went up 42-21 on their next drive when Garcia scored his third rushing touchdown of the game from 21 yards out. “It was a physical game, and it was the type of game that you want to be a part of,” Garcia said.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, their superstar sophomore receiver and corner Julian Fleming went out on that Garcia touchdown drive with an undisclosed injury. “I’m hoping that he will be fine. He’s a competitor and a huge part of our success, but we have other guys that can produce for us as well on both sides of the ball. This was a good measuring stick for both teams before heading into the playoffs,” said Hollenbach who finished with 238 yards passing. The junior quarterback also competed a career high 15 passes. Selinsgrove also lost a key player of their own when leading tackler Clayton Sheesley left earlier in the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury.
Selinsgrove made the score 42-28 when Leiby threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Inch with 3:57 remaining. The Seals then recovered an onside kick on the next kickoff after the ball bounced off of a Tiger player’s chest, and they drove down to the Tigers 14 yard-line trying to make it a one score game with over two minutes remaining. The Seals were having their way of passing all over the Tigers secondary during Fleming’s absence. “It definitely shows when Fleming is out of the game for them. That was when we started to have a lot of our passing success,” said Hicks. Then, the play of the game took place to finally secure the Tigers victory.
Southern sophomore linebacker Cal Haladay intercepted a pass and returned it for the second longest defensive touchdown in school history. The returning all-state performer from last year had an interception earlier in the game, but fumbled that one giving it back to the Seals. “I wanted to make another play because I was mad I fumbled my first interception. I read the quarterback and made a break on the ball. Once I caught it I just ran straight forward until I knew I scored,” Haladay said about his 97-yard interception return to make the final score 49-28. “I was in man coverage on the play, so I knew where I needed to be once the ball was thrown. I was happy to intercept it, but then I just ran for my life.”
As far as the individual statistical performances, both teams filled the stat lines. Selinsgrove’s trio of Cope (6 for 124 yards), Inch (10 for 104 yards), and Nylund (4 for 101 yards) all went over the century mark in the receiving category. Leiby, who broke the school record for touchdown passes in a season that was held by Corey Briggs at 30 back in 2009, threw his 31st on his strike to Inch. “We knew that we would have our hands full with their passing game. Leiby has had a tremendous career for them and he hurt us even more once Julian went out of the game early in the fourth quarter,” Roth said. The senior added 377 yards to his career passing total to pile on to his already District IV career record. He topped the 3,000 yard mark for the year, now unofficially sitting at 3,003 yards in 2017.
On the Tigers side, Fleming set the school career record for receptions. Colby Snyder had the record at 78 which he set in 2007. The heavily sought after Division 1 recruit now has 87 catches in less than two years of work. This milestone now gives Fleming every notable career receiving record possible. The scary part is he did it all without even reaching the halfway point of his illisutrious high school career. The sophomore also set the school record for most receptions in a game by catching 11 passes for 152 yards. “I knew it was the most catches that I had in a game, but I didn’t know it was the record. I also didn’t know that I was near breaking the school record for the most catches in a career. The main record is the win and loss column for our team. If we win that is all that matters and our goal is to win every game,” said Fleming. He also went over the 1,000 yard receiving mark on the season, and over 2,000 yards for his career to add on to his records. In the special teams department, Hoffman, who now has 7 field goals on the season, set the record for the most single-season field goals in SCA history. He has converted on 7 of 9 attempts, and he also has made all but two of his extra points.
The Seals, who finished the regular season 8-2, will play host to Jersey Shore next week to start the District IV Class AAAA Playoffs. “The guys are motivated to win the district after getting knocked off last year in the final. We have a lot of seniors that will lead the guys to give their best effort,” said Hicks. The Tigers will be the top seed in the District IV Class AA Playoffs thanks to another perfect regular season. They will host North Penn-Mansfield. “Our guys know what the ultimate goal is and it starts next week,” said Roth. If you are a Southern fan, you know that the Tigers have a goal of winning districts, but that ultimate goal is set to take place in mid-December,. It is that goal, that has been reach seven times and came one win away eight others, that makes SCA the most successful program in the history of PIAA State Championship football.