Tigers Send Saints Marching Home.
By: Dave Fegley | SCA Tiger Football | November 25, 2017
By: Dave Fegley | SCA Tiger Football | November 25, 2017
Southern Columbia might be the worst enemy of every other public school in the PIAA. The Tigers just keep taking down these all-star teams and that is why the team in Black & Gold is the leader in winning success across the state since the early 1990’s. Every year a new charter or prep school seems to emerge out of nowhere because of the ability to recruit from anywhere they please. Amazingly, every year the Tigers seem to be right in the thick of things despite the fact that like every other public school, the players on the field are the ones that live in your school district.
As for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, they have a major problem on their hands and it continuously gets worse. They say that their mission statement is to, “serve its member schools and registered officials by establishing policies and adopting contest rules that will emphasize the educational values of interscholastic athletics, promote safe and sportsmanlike competition, and provide uniform standards for all interscholastic levels of competition.” Clearly the PIAA isn’t living up to their uniform standards and their mission statement sounds more like an oxymoron than it does a reality. However, Jim Roth’s Tigers just keep defying the odds and knocking off the recruited teams that are created from the ability of non-boundary schools to go out and recruit whoever they want from wherever they want.
Neumann-Goretti is one of those schools that, unlike Southern, can go out and recruit players from wherever they desire. With that being said, don’t blame the Saints for this because they are doing nothing illegal in the way the PIAA is setup. This is not just a football problem, but rather a problem in all high school sports. Last season, Neumann-Goretti started the season 0-6 and finished 0-9 having to forfeit their final three games without having enough players to field an 11-man roster by the season’s end. At that point the program was ready to terminate.
If any public school in the state went out and recruited 23 players to come to play at their school, it would probably result in the equivalency of a life sentence in prison, but that is what the Saints did. Southern has had a handful of players move into the area over the past couple of school years due to job placement or the parents just wanting to get back to the area of where they grew up just like what happens at other public schools naturally across the state. Each of those moves, despite the beliefs of some jealous critics, turned out to be perfectly legitimate after the district hearings. You would have thought that the SCA School District committed a felony based on the outburst of complaints of some of the players families happening to move into a small town in Central PA over the last decade.
However, at the same time you have players going to other private schools from out of the state, moving four times in a high school career to four different schools, or even some star athletes basically vacationing at a coach’s house for that particular sports season. In those cases, the PIAA doesn’t even seem to bat an eye. Essentially what this is implying is that it is more frowned upon for a student-athlete to move from one public school district to another because of a parent’s job placement in comparison to another student-athlete commuting back and forth from New Jersey or New York for a three month span to play a sport. Just think about how stupid this next fictitious scenario sounds, although sadly it is one that could be applied in the current system…
“Okay board of directors we have two hearings today. First up is Jimmy from a public school.
Unfortunately Jimmy, you can’t play football for Southern Columbia, even though your family moved to Elysburg last Spring because of your mother’s job at Geisinger and your father’s job at Knoebels. Too many people will complain and it’s not worth our time to deal with it. You need to sit out this school year from sports unless you play soccer or cross country because we heard you were a good football player in junior high. Maybe we will change our mind next year. Have a nice day Jimmy.
Next up is Scotty from a private school. Hey Scotty, why don’t you go play your freshman year in Massachusetts to get a feel for Boston sports, then come back to Pennsylvania for your sophomore sporting seasons. In that sophomore year, you could play football for Erie Cathedral Prep, then basketball for Archbishop Wood, and baseball for Vincentian Academy. Heck, don’t even worry about learning the mascot names because you will only be in each school for three months and hopefully will come out with three state golden medals. Then in your junior year, go to Florida to get a scholarship offer from an SEC or ACC school and come back to Pennsylvania to hunt for championships your senior year at a prep school of your choice.
This meeting session has adjourned.”
Now, nine months later the Saints marched in to the state quarterfinals, with basically a completely remodeled team, undefeated with Division I commits headed to Oregon, West Virginia, Temple, & Maine and also players drawing interest from SEC powerhouses like Alabama, LSU, & Georgia. In fact, their program was rebuilt to the point that nearly 70% of the players were new, and some of them were playing for their third different high school as well as a nationally recruited player that moved in from Delaware just before the season began. Again, Neumann-Goretti didn’t do anything to cheat, they just simply took advantage of the lunacy that is allowed by the PIAA to basically bring in free agents. If you think football is unfair with the private schools, take a look at basketball. It is just absurd and unimaginable that year in and year out nothing is done to change this issue.
Other states in the country separate what is called the boundary schools (public) and the non-boundary schools (private) into two separate playoff systems. Then they have their public school state champions and their private school state champions. Then, maybe a system could go in place to have an overall tournament of state champions by putting the state champs of each division into a bracket. When the PIAA switched to six classifications two years ago, the educated sports fan thought it was to make four public classes and two private classes, but in reality it has given more private schools state championships with all six classes. Another idea if the PIAA is set on not separating the mess, then why not force these non-boundary schools to include in their enrollment each school that they have a student recruited from. In most cases, this would make your non-boundary schools have a huge enrollment and they would mostly make up your 5A and 6A schools in the current system. Just a thought, and at this point, a thought is better than the current system that is in place. Maybe it is time to have Donald Trump start a Twitter campaign over this as he is starting to slack in his controversial posts…
Southern Columbia, winners of seven state titles and 15 eastern crowns, is the school that everyone uses as their litmus test for success. No matter what the roster looks like, each and every year the Tigers seem to be Hershey-contenders, which is why the school has just about every Pennsylvania championship record possible. Now the boys from the small communities of Elysburg, Catawissa, & Numidia are one win away from playing in their 16th state title appearance since 1994 after beating Neumann-Goretti convincingly 45-12.
Just like in the state quarter-finals a year ago, the Tigers returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Gaige Garcia returned the kick 82 yards to put SCA up 7-0 just 10 seconds into the game. “It was huge. The team got pumped up and it punched them in the mouth right away. That was something our coaches were stressing to us,” Garcia said. The Tigers then forced a 3-and-out on the Saints opening possession thanks to a Max Tillett sack.
SCA got great field position after a bad punt and a nice return by Garcia to the 24. Four plays later, quarterback Stone Hollenbach kept it himself from a yard out to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. Just two plays before the score, the quarterback took a hard hit from a linebacker, but he was expecting it to be a physical matchup on the gridiron coming in. “We knew it was going to be a physical battle. They had some hard hitters and we have hard hitters as well. That is what football is all about,” said Hollenbach.
After the teams traded possessions with defensive stops, Neumann-Goretti had their best field position to score and went for it on 4th and 18 from the Tigers 26-yard line. They completed a pass, but came up a yard short for the first down with less than a minute left in the opening quarter. “I give our defense a ton of credit for making big plays at different times throughout the game. Obviously on paper they have some big time players, but our guys didn’t seem to shy away one bit,” Southern coach Jim Roth said. The Saints didn’t even attempt an extra point all season, so a field goal attempt was certainly out of the question on that drive.
At the start of the second quarter, Hollenbach found Julian Fleming open on a streak pattern down the sideline for a 58-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 21-0. “We knew coming in that we had to play physical and win the line of scrimmage. Executing our blocks would set up some scoring chances for us, and their guys seemed to get tired. They definitely had some big guys on the line,” said Tiger center Troy Donlan. It was the mix of the pass and run that kept the Saints guessing and frustrated them as the game wore on.
Then on the Saints opening play of the next drive, their quarterback Charles Britt fumbled on a sneak and Blake Day recovered it for the Tigers. Five plays later, Neumann-Goretti got the ball back when Garcia coughed it up to Kharon Lloyd on a hard hit from behind by Jalen Hollerway. Unfortunately for Neumann-Goretti, that drive ended quickly on a punt forced by the SoCo defense. “They definitely had some playmakers, but I think there were times that they became frustrated especially when they didn’t convert in the first half,” Roth said. The Tigers defense caused havoc in the backfield all night and tallied seven sacks and an additional seven hurries.
After an interception thrown from Hollenbach to freshman Tysheem Johnson with 3:52 left in the first half, the Saints couldn’t get anything going again on offense with the pressure of the Tigers defense. “The game plan coming in was to beat them down for all four quarters and I think we did that for the most part,” two-way lineman Andrew Bell stated. The Tigers ran their two minute drill and set up a 33-yard field goal attempt by their all-state caliber kicker Elijah Hoffman. The senior converted and the Tigers went into the half with a 24-0 halftime lead and their crowd applauding them with loud cheers.
In the third quarter, the Saints started to mount a comeback. They drove down the field behind their massive offensive line that averaged out to be 6’4” and 295 pounds. Their first score of the game came on an eight yard keeper from Britt behind his left guard, Justin Johnson, who will be heading way out west to play for the Ducks next fall in Eugene, OR. After a failed two point conversion, the Tigers still maintained a three score lead. Hollenbach fumbled on Southern’s opening possession of the second half on a designed run, and the Saints drove right down the field again. Tre’Sean Bouie caught a three yard touchdown pass, and after another failed two point conversion attempt, the Tigers lead was cut in half to 24-12 heading into the final quarter.
The teams traded punts and fumbles on the next four possessions and the next score came with 6:14 left in the game. That score was a play that symbolized the entire night. Garcia scored on an eight yard run. The sophomore, who hasn’t officially received any Division I offers yet, now officially will finish the season with more rushing yards and rushing touchdowns than the Saints duo of Lennie Brown (headed to West Virginia) and Chris Wells (offers from Boston College & Virginia) combined to total in 2017. He also more than doubled them in production on Friday night. “Give those guys on the other side credit. We just simply ran into a better football team,” said Neumann-Goretti coach Al Crosby.
On the TD run, that essentially put the game out of reach at 31-12, senior captain Anthony Scicchitano delivered a textbook block to drive the Saints top recruit, Christian Barmore, into the ground. The 6’6” and 305 pound defensive end that has been offered a scholarship from Nick Saban’s top-ranked Crimson Tide, wasn’t happy that a much smaller blocker pancaked him. “I didn’t say a single word to that kid. All that happened was as I drove him down the line and when he was about to fall, he grabbed me and then eventually came after me. He just kind of got up and just went Saint-shit crazy after me,” said Scicchitano. Then from there, Barmore just couldn’t control his emotions. He ran after Scicchitano, cursed out another player, made contact with an official, chucked his helmet, and the Alabama recruit was ejected from the game.
Garcia made his mark on defense on the next possession as well. Filling in for an injured Preston Zachman, Garcia sacked Britt on fourth down to give his offense the ball back deep in the Saints territory. He would score his third touchdown of the game on the next drive from four yards out to make the score 38-12. Then, the Tigers defense that played lights out with the exception of two long pass plays, got a touchdown from cornerback Brett Szuler. “You just have to be disciplined in the secondary. They are going to make some big plays throughout the course of the game. They seemed to be picking on me since their receivers had a big height advantage, but I was able to jump that one route and take it all the way back,” said Szuler. The pick six went 58 yards and made the final score 45-12 in favor of the public school located in Columbia County which ended the Philadelphia All-Stars season.
Neumann-Goretti graduates nine offensive starters and eight defensive starters. However, coach Crosby, who won a state title at Imhotep Charter back in 2014, thinks the program has made a turn. “Before our staff got here last Spring, there was a chance that it was going to be shut down with the lack of interest. Now we have built something to hopefully continue to improve on,” said the first year coach of the Saints. Also, the Neumann-Goretti coaching staff deserves credit for being respectful despite a frustrating loss.
The victors will await the winner of Saturday afternoon’s game between Dunmore and Ligonier Valley which is being played at Hershey Park Stadium. “No matter which team we play, we need to make sure to take better care of the ball and limit our penalties next week,” said Roth. Without an official announcement, there is a buzz going around that the Tigers will take on the winner next Saturday at the same venue in Chocolate Town. An official announcement will be made after the game’s conclusion.