By: The Review | Towanda Daily Review | November 27, 2016
COAL TOWNSHIP — Chalk a big one up for Southern Columbia's defense.
Derided as maybe the only chink in the armor of the defending state champions, the Tigers' defensive unit flexed its muscles Saturday and bailed out the 50-points-per-game offense in a weird 20-5 PIAA Class AA state quarterfinal win over Schuylkill Haven at Kemp Memorial Stadium.
On a day when the offense was held 30 points under its average and scored just one touchdown, and none on the ground, the defense had three turnovers, scoring on one, three stops on downs, one a goal line stand, and forced five punts, to carry the Tigers (14-0) to a semifinal date next week against Ligonier Valley (14-0) at a site and time to be determined. Southern won its 30th consecutive game.
Schuylkill Haven (12-2) kicked a field goal on its first offensive possession but was unable to dent the Tigers' defense the rest of the game. Southern needed all of that defense, because Schuylkill Haven's against Southern's offense was just as good.
"This game was like the Twilight Zone," Southern head coach Jim Roth said. "It was chaos the whole time. It was the kind of game where you couldn't get a flow going because a lot of unexpected things happened. But I'm thrilled with the way our defense played. They stepped up time after time."
"We've done that (stopped the run) to a number of teams this season," said Schuylkill Haven coach Mike Farr. "I know they ripped off a couple of big ones but for most of the game, both teams were counterpunching. Southern took advantage of things when they need to take them."
"Our defensive line really stepped up tremendously," said senior captain Cam Young, who capped the win with his eighth interception of the season and a school career record 17th.
Hunter Thomas got the game off to a great start for the Tigers with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown but after that everything became a struggle. Schuylkill Haven had a goal line stand of its own after Thomas was caught from behind on a 73-yard run, and Southern had a touchdown pass and touchdown run called back.
"I hate to leave points on the field," Roth said. "I felt we did that a couple times in the first half and that's the kind of stuff that gives momentum to the other team. I was concerned at halftime. I thought our offense felt the pressure today more than our defensive guys."
Dawson Evitts kicked a 25-yard field goal to cap Haven's first drive but the Tigers answered with a 65-yard touchdown pass on a slant pattern to Julian Fleming, and it looked like a typical Southern offensive show was about to begin.
It never happened.
A 48-yard punt by Haven put the Tigers in tough field position and the Hurricanes got the ball back at Southern's 45. They drove to the 16 but Southern eventually held on downs. Thomas then broke off a 73-yard run but was caught from behind at the 10 by Preston Gehring, and the Hurricanes eventually stuffed Hollenbach at the one-yard line on fourth down.
Haven quick-kicked, dodged big trouble when a Gaige Garcia 13-yard TD run was called back and later when a touchdown pass to Young was called back because Thomas was flagged for not lining up properly behind the line of scrimmage.
Andrew Bell recovered a fumble for Southern on the Hurricanes' first drive of the second half but the Tigers gave the ball right back when Kobe Brish intercepted a pass and returned it into Southern territory.
The Tigers got pinned deep in their territory again and gave up their other points when hit with a holding call in their own end zone for a safety. A 21-yard return of the free kick by Gehring gave Haven the ball at Southern's 47 but freshman Teagan Wilk took care of that threat, returning backup quarterback Josh Kalyan's pass 55 yards for a touchdown.
"That play came from watching film," Wilk said. "We recognized it as a passing formation and I broke after my guy, saw it coming and took it all the way."
Southern was in trouble again after a negative-two-yard punt into the wind gave Haven the ball at Southern's eight. The Tigers stopped Brish on fourth-and-goal at the one but failed to move the ball again because of penalties.
Haven threatened again when starting quarterback Danny Lozada completed a 58-yard pass to Gehring to Southern's 25 but only gained five more yards before giving up the ball on downs.
Garcia took off on a 40-yard run to Haven's 40 but Haven had another stop but Young's interception with less than three minutes to play effectively clinched the game.