Mounties fall in title game
CATAWISSA — After South Williamsport punted on its first drive, the Mounties had some momentum. The offense just had a 13-play, 51-yard drive eat up over six minutes of clock. Long drives that take seconds and minutes off the clock are key to beating state power Southern Columbia. But those drives also need to produce points and South didn’t put points on the board until the 5:24 mark of the third quarter already down 42 points.
After that first drive, South struggled to move the ball until the game was out of hand and Southern Columbia’s fast-striking offense didn’t waste anytime in the Tigers 49-21 win Friday night at Jim Roth Field in the District 4 Class AA championship. It’s Southern’s 25th district title in the last 27 seasons. Southern will play the winner of the Schuylkill Haven/West Catholic game that will be played this afternoon.
Southern’s athletes were too much for South to stop. Though the offense had some success, the defense failed to limit big plays against a team with weapons everywhere.
“We knew coming in that (Julian) Fleming on the outside was a great athlete and two running backs in (Gaige) Garcia and (Hunter) Thomas and then their quarterback. They have a complete team,” said South Williamsport coach Chris Eiswerth. “We knew we were going to have to play virtually a perfect game just to stay in it. At halftime we went in and the kids settled down a little bit. Which hat’s off to them, they didn’t give up and just kept chopping away.”
Fleming caught two big touchdowns while Garcia (129 yards, three touchdowns) and Thomas (103 total yards, touchdown) combined for 232 total yards and four touchdowns, averaging over 16 yards per touch in a little over a half’s worth of work.
After South’s first drive, Southern completely took over. The Tigers needed just 12 plays to rack up 235 yards on its first five drives that produced touchdowns. While in the first half, South ran 35 plays but gained just 91 yards, 58 of which were on the first drive. Gideon Green had 12 carries for 58 yards on the drive but managed just nine yards on eight carries the rest of the half.
“All year we’ve run plays, burnt clock and kept the ball from teams. It was no different tonight, it was just tough. Then defensively you had a very explosive, very fast team that just kept putting points on the board,” said Eiswerth. “We had a couple turnovers there and we just weren’t firing on all cylinders.”
The lack of a passing game for the Mounties made it hard to run the ball consistently as on the first three dropbacks to pass, South was sacked twice for negative 13 yards, with a fumble and 0-1 through the air. This allowed Southern to put nine and 10 players within five yards of the line of scrimmage, which even for a dominant offensive line like South was tough sledding.
South was also dealt with a tough hand due to injuries to key players. Green was limited in practice all week with an ankle sprain, offensive lineman Connor Rutan had an MCL injury, though he played, and leading receiver Aaron Guerrisky was only in for a few passing plays and a couple of punts after spraining his ankle last week against Wellsboro.
Despite the injury and the loaded box, Green still managed to rush for 142 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 1,941 yards on the year. Ashton Martin, off a career game last week, ran for 80 yards and a touchdown, giving him 978 yards.
Despite the loss, a young team that returns most of its starters grew up a lot this season. It saw a dominant running game led by two dangerous backs and an emerging quarterback that should be much better with another offseason under his belt.
“AJ Flick to come out his sophomore year and to do the things he did and that offensive line,” said Eiswerth. “We have a few seniors that have just had great careers here. Playing in state playoff games and winning championships. I think some of those guys are going to go on and possibly play in college and we’ll get back to work here after the new year.”