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PIAA “A” state championship preview – Southern Columbia (14-1)

Written by: on Tuesday, December 13th, 2011
When the state last saw Southern Columbia in Hershey, the Tigers were flying past District 10 champion West Middlesex to their PIAA-record fifth consecutive state championship, supplanting Berwick’s previous state standard of four straight titles from 1994-1997.
At that point in time, the Tigers had the stranglehold on the state’s smallest classification; Steelton-Highspire hadn’t yet played in a state championship game, Farrell hadn’t played in a PIAA semifinal in a decade and Clairton, which was in the beginning stages of what has become an unparralleled string of dominance, had yet to win a PIAA semifinal.

Since Southern last won a state title, five different programs have reached Chocolatetown in the state’s smallest classification. But the Tigers are back.

Southern Columbia (14-1) is making its PIAA-record 13th appearance in the championship game, all in Class A, against the state’s hottest team, four-time defending WPIAL champion Clairton (15-0), Friday. Kickoff from Hersheypark Stadium is slated for 1 p.m.

If the Tigers win the 2011 PIAA title, it would mark a state first. No program has won more than six PIAA championships, regardless of classification. Southern is presently tied with Berwick with six state championship victories, claiming state gold in 1994 and 2002-06. Berwick claimed its six state crowns in 1988, 1992 and 1994-97. But to win that seventh crown, the Tigers will have to overcome a Clairton team which has won 46 consecutive games in a row, which has tied the WPIAL record for longest winning streak.

During the 2009 season, head coach Jim Roth joined Pennsylvania’s exclusive 300-win club, an accomplishment reached by only 10 total coaches (Roth included) in state history. The Tigers’ leader, who is now up to 330 career Ws against 58 losses and a pair of ties, ranks fifth among active coaches and sixth overall. Under Roth’s guidance since 1984, Southern Columbia has had only three teams which have failed to reach 10 victories in a season (1986, 2007 and 2009). The 2007 and 2009 teams each reached nine wins and the 1986 team won only six times.

The rest of the time, 10-win seasons (or more) have been the norm. Almost football-factory-esque. Consider that, since 1990, Southern Columbia has posted an overall record of 299-45-1 (.869) and won 20 District 4 football championships. That works out to an average season of 13.5 wins against 2.04 losses per year.

But there was a time, however, when Southern Columbia nearly dropped its football program altogether. Success on the gridiron wasn’t always synonymous with the Catawissa-based program. In fact, the Roth era has accounted for 79.9 percent of the program’s 413 all-time victories. Prior to 1984, Southern’s football program was a mere 83-127-6 overall (.395).

Southern Columbia counts itself as one of only five total District 4 programs to have played for a PIAA football championship, joining Mount Carmel Area, Selinsgrove, South Williamsport and Montoursville. Up until Selinsgrove’s 2009 victory over Manheim Central in the AAA state final, only Mount Carmel and Southern had won PIAA titles for the district, numbering 10 in all, and D4 teams not named either Southern or Mount Carmel were 0-3 in PIAA finals.

It is interesting to note that Southern Columbia is the 19th PIAA finalist since 2001 with at least a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in its backfield – Tyler Levan and Matt Moore. It’s the fifth time Southern Columbia has produced a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season since 2004. The last two times the Tigers reached the PIAA finals with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers (2004 and 2005), they walked away with state gold. But state titles aren’t guaranteed for such teams. The previous 18 such finalists with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers are just 10-8 in state title games; however, at least one PIAA champion in six of the last seven seasons has produced a pair of 1,000-yard backs.

The Tigers’ offensive arsenal has done the predominant amount of its damage on the ground this season. The aforementioned Levan and Moore have wreaked havoc on opposing defenses, but so too has Casey Savitski and quarterback Brad Fegley. Levan, Moore, Savitski and Fegley are all seniors, and they’re protected by an offensive line which averages 239 pounds per man – seniors Bill Reigle (5’11, 205), Bryan Gedman (6’1, 250) and Tom Schetroma (6’0, 260), junior Ryan Cherwinski (6’1, 245) and sophomore Josh Trip (6’3, 235) have helped to pave the way for a team which has scored 638 points – an average of 42.5 points per game and the third-highest single-season scoring output in school history.

Levan (200 rush, 1,856 yards, 28 TD), Moore (121 rush, 1,197 yards, 19 TD) and Savitski (109 rush, 631 yards, 13 TD) pace the Tigers’ ground attack which has chewed up a whopping 4,794 yards on the ground (319.6 yards per game). Even the Tigers’ No. 5 back, Adam Fuedale, has scored six rushing touchdowns and run for more than 350 yards.

But don’t think for a minute that all the Tigers do is run the football. Fegley has been lethally accurate when called upon to pass. The Tiger field general has gone 114-of-167 (68.2 percent) for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns without throwing an interception all season long. He has also added 57 rushes for 422 yards and six touchdowns. Over the Tigers’ last two victories (Pius X and Penns Manor), Fegley has gone a cool 15-of-20 for 311 yards and a touchdown. Keith Day (44 rec., 694 yards, 6 TD) and Moore (25 rec., 509 yards, 3 TD) are Fegley’s primary targets in the passing game. Tight end Jake Becker (6’1, 215, Jr.) has only four receptions, but they’ve gone for 138 yards. He’s also a pretty good blocker for the Tigers’ ground attack.

Defensively, including the first string and reserves, Southern Columbia has allowed an average of 15.5 points per game. Seven of 15 opponents have scored 14 points or less, and the black and gold have pitched a trio of shutouts. Fegley, Moore, Cody Pavlick, Jamie Slotterback and Day each have more than 50 tackles this season. Through their first 13 games, the Tigers forced 25 sacks, 16 interceptions, nine fumble recoveries and 44 deflected passes.

Can the Tigers notch program win No. 413 against a tough Clairton team? Or will the Bears have their way and push their win streak to 47 games?

Find out Friday afternoon.

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