Class AA football: South Williamsport at Southern
No. 2 South Williamsport (11-1) at No. 1 Southern Columbia (12-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
South PPG–31.2, PPA–14.3; YPG–311.8, YPA–224.5
Southern PPG–50.8, PPA–16.4; YPG–489.8, YPA–262
South facts: The Mounties are seeking their second district championship in three seasons and are playing in their fourth district final in the last five years. South has won 10 straight games with its only loss coming against Class AAA district finalist Danville. The Mounties won a 28-24 semifinal thriller against previously undefeated Wellsboro last week, ending a perfect Hornets season for the second time in four years. South trailed in the final four minutes, but mounted a game-winning 12-play drive with sophomore quarterback A.J. Flick running in from a yard out for the winning score with just 3.7 seconds remaining. It was an impressive and gutty win for a team that was playing without leading rusher Gideon Green and leading receiver Aaron Guerrisky in the second half. Green and Guerrisky also are outstanding on defense and both are expected to play after suffering ankle injuries against Wellsboro. Green is second in District 4 with 1,799 yards and 21 touchdowns. Ashton Martin shined in Green’s absence last week. The fullback moved to tailback and ran for a career-high 159 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. Martin ran 10 times on the game-winning drive and also returned a fumble for a touchdown. All five members of the offensive line (Connor Rutan, Reilly Barnes, Ben Johnson, Michael McDermott and Griffyn Metzger) as well as tight end recently were selected as Heartland Conference all-stars. The defense has been one of the district’s best this season and will be tested like never before against Southern’s explosive offense. The defensive line has done a nice job against the run, the linebackers have played well despite losing standout Jacob Yoas to injury and the secondary has limited big plays. Sophomore safety Hunter Finn intercepted his third pass last week and South has returned three fumbles for touchdowns.
South player to watch–A.J. Flick: Southern is outstanding against the run and likely will be loading the box to try and negate South’s running strength. Flick, a first-time starter, has made a series of key plays, none bigger than his game-winning touchdown last week. Flick has totaled 14 touchdowns and is gaining confidence every week, a good sign entering tonight.
Southern facts: The defending state champions have won 28 straight games and are trying to win their 25th district title in 27 seasons. Southern has mercy-ruled nine opponents and blanked Line Mountain, 49-0 in last week’s semifinals. Despite losing the majority of their starters from last season, the Tigers have simply reloaded and their dynamic freshman class is a big reason they are here again. Freshman running back Gaige Garcia has run for 1,600 yards and 26 touchdowns and averages 12.8 yards per carry. Fellow freshman Julian Fleming is a threat to score whenever he has the ball, catching 10 touchdowns, averaging 26.1 yards per catch and returning a kickoff and interception for touchdowns. Senior running back Hunter Thomas has topped 1,000 yards for a second straight season despite missing two games with injury and has reached 20 touchdowns for a second straight season. Sophomore quarterback Stone Hollenbach, a Lewisburg transfer, is second in District 4 in passer rating and has thrown six postseason touchdowns. The defense has been up and down at times, but when it is on, it is dominant. Southern has recorded three shutouts and held Line Mountain to 129 yards while forcing four turnovers. Freshman linebacker Cal Haladay leads the team in tackles, averaging 9.5 per game and has 10 tackles for loss. This is the third time in five years Southern is hosting South in the district final. The Tigers won the first two games.
Southern player to watch–Cameron Young: An all-state cornerback last year, Young seems a lock to earn that honor again. A lockdown defender, Young has six interceptions and has returned two for touchdowns. He also is a good wide receiver and is second on the team with 22 catches.
Winner plays: Either District 11 champion Schuylkill Haven or District 12 champion West Catholic
Outlook: Southern has been a machine all season but Montoursville limited it to three offensive touchdowns in Week 7 so it is not invincible. Turnovers dicated that outcome so South obviously cannot afford costly mistakes. Let’s face, it, though. South must play its best game of the season by far if it hopes to pull a huge upset.