Tigers Take Title.
By: Dave Fegley | SCA Tiger Football | November 18, 2017
By: Dave Fegley | SCA Tiger Football | November 18, 2017
It’s not too often that the two most historic teams in a state match up at any point during a sports season. Not only did fans get to watch the Southern Columbia Tigers take on the Mount Carmel Red Tornadoes, but they got to see it with a lot on the line. The winner would go home with a District IV Gold medal, and the loser would go home in disappointment. The Tigers celebrated the victory, and the Tornadoes saw their season come to and end, but not without a fight.
Southern Columbia beat Mount Carmel Area in Mercy Rule fashion by a score of 49-14, and it was a second half knockout that gave the Tigers their 25th district gold in the last 27 years. The state’s top ranked Tigers trailed 7-3 after the first quarter, and led just 14-7 at the half. “You have to give Mount Carmel credit for the way they came out. They controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the first half,” said Southern coach Jim Roth.
After the the Tigers defense forced a three-and-out on the game’s opening possession, Southern Columbia’s all-state caliber kicker, Elijah Hoffman, started off the game’s scoring with a 21-yard field goal on a drive that ate up over seven minutes of clock. Mount Carmel answered right back with a touchdown to give them a 7-3 lead after John Ayres ran it in from 12 yards out. The score was set up by a 58-yard screen pass to Shane Weidner. “I think we played with a lot of heart in the first half,” Mount Carmel coach John Darrah said.
Trailing entering the second quarter, the Tigers relied on the right foot of Hoffman again to add points to the scoreboard. The senior kicked a career-long 41-yard field goal to make the score 7-6. “He is certainly a nice weapon to have and he has had an outstanding season,” said Roth. After five straight possessions of trading punts, the Tigers took their first lead of the game with 1:28 left in the first half.
Gaige Garcia, who was bottled up for most of the first half, scored on a 28-yard run to make the score 12-7. The Tigers elected to go for two and it paid off when Anthony Scicchitano caught the conversion pass from Stone Hollenbach giving SCA a 14-7 lead. “It is really good to have Anthony as a weapon for us from his tight-end position. He does a good job at getting open and he’s also a tremendous blocker,” said Hollenbach. That touchdown-two point conversion combination gave the Tigers momentum that they would ultimately hold onto for the rest of the game.
The Tigers got the ball back with 19 seconds to go in the half inside their own 20 yard-line. Instead of electing to take a knee, Roth took a gamble of trying to add points on the board, and it was almost a disaster. Hollenbach was intercepted on the final play of the half by Weidner, but luckily for the Tigers, he was knocked out of bounds inside the 10 before he could reach the goal-line. From that point forward, things got a little chippy, and Garcia took the game over.
Heading up to the locker room, the Red Tornadoes were given a personal foul penalty when one of their players shoved Southern’s star receiver Julian Fleming. That gave the Tigers great field position to start the third quarter and Garcia scored on a 36-yard run on the second play to extend the lead to 21-7. “A little bit of everything started to work in the second half. I knew the game was close so I had to do the best I could when I got the ball,” Garcia said. His linemen also started to get better positions in opening holes for the backs.
The Tigers got the ball back on the next play when Weidner fumbled the ensuing kickoff. However, the sophomore made up for it when he intercepted Hollenbach for the second time just three plays later. “The third quarter went pretty quickly especially with the turnovers. I thought we still had a chance, but then we needed to start throwing the ball and that got us in trouble,” Darrah said. Fleming gave the Tigers the ball back again when he intercepted Tom Reisinger and returned it near midfield.
Garcia scored on the next play on a 49-yard pass from Hollenbach while shaking off four Mount Carmel tackle attempts to give the Tigers a bigger 28-7 advantage. Around that time, some Mount Carmel fans started to chant some things that the Tiger players used as motivation and took personally. Two chants in particular were directed at the Tigers top two-offensive weapons, Garcia and Fleming. They chanted, “He’s on steroids” directed at Garcia and “Where’s your daddy” directed at Fleming.
Although Garcia thought that the response was a motivator for his team, he wasn’t shy in sticking up for one of his best friends. “That definitely did help motivate us, but the stuff said about Julian and his dad isn’t right and my heart goes out to him for that,” Garcia said. On the next drive, Fleming made a miraculous one-handed interception, his second of the quarter. The interception was probably the most incredible interception in the program’s history. However, he fumbled it on the return giving the ball right back to the Red Tornadoes.
Toward the end of the quarter Preston Zachman intercepted Reisinger giving the Tigers a chance to add to their lead. “The plan was to stop the run first and force them into 3rd and long or passing situations. Once they came out in some more spread formations we knew we had to establish pressure and try to force some turnovers,” SCA’s Tyler Bendas stated. In total, the third quarter had six turnovers.
The Tigers put together another long drive, and with 7:51 remaining in the game, Tristan Heim scored from a yard out making the score 35-7. Then SCA forced a three-and-out on MCA’s next drive. The Tigers had a chance to officially bury the Red Tornadoes, and they did just that. Garcia picked up 68 yards on a run and then scored from three yards out to put the District IV Championship game into the Mercy Rule at 42-7.
Each team would add a score in the final five minutes. Weidner scored on a long 71-yard carry and Nate Crowl scored on a 42-yard scamper making the final score 49-14 giving the Tigers their 25th district gold in the last 27 years. However, if you know anything about the success of Southern Football, you know that the Tigers aren’t satisfied with just that. “It is nice to win a district title, but there’s no reward in moving forward unless you win your last game,” Southern coach Jim Roth said and no man would know that any better. His program has won more state titles than any other in PA history.
Although he struggled to complete passes throughout the game, Hollenbach set a school record for the most completions in a season. The previous record was set in 2011 by Brad Fegley. Hollenbach also broke his own record of touchdown passes in a season on his one to Garcia. Hoffman tied the school record held by BJ Snyder in career field goals made. Mount Carmel linebacker Manus McCracken finished his career in the top 10 of their all-time tackles list and Rosalino Mangiapane is near the top of every kicking category.
As far as stats go, Garcia who has had an outstanding career throughout the two years he has worn the black and gold, may have had his best game ever against the Tornadoes by totaling over 300 yards of offense. “That was the strongest I have ever seen him,” said his head coach. The runs didn’t come easy as Garcia was hit in the backfield for most of the opening half. “We started to wear them down in the second half, but we weren’t happy without execution blocking in the first half,” said SCA lineman Andrew Bell.
The Red Tornadoes finish their season as the district silver medalists and the Tigers will await the winner of today’s Neumann Goretti vs Schuylkill Haven meeting. The date and location of that game will be determined later on this weekend.