H.S. FOOTBALL: For Southern Columbia, it all starts with the offensive line
CATAWISSA R.R. - It always starts up front.
No matter how good the skill position players, and Southern has some good ones, an offense is only as good as the line in front of it.
So when you see the 3,196 rushing yards and 1,360 passing yards, think about the open holes and picked-up blitzes the Tigers' line is responsible for.
Think about four starters back from last year and each of them being hungry for more.
Think about Southern's expectations and that the five players up front average more than six-feet tall and 250 pounds. They are the meaty shoulders those dreams of Hershey rest upon.
You don't really have to think about how good Southern's line is, because the facts are looming large right in front of you.
The starters, from left tackle to right, Josh Tripp, Logan Reynolds, Trent Donlan, Josh Yoder and John Stanishefski, are a big reason the Tigers are undefeated through the regular season and looking forward to the start of the postseason this week.
The Tigers will play Bloomsburg at 7 p.m. Friday at Tiger Stadium in the first round of the District 4 Class A playoffs.
And the line is ready - ready to hit anyone who gets in the Tigers' path.
"We just like coming out and hitting people," said Tripp, who wants to play football in college and has narrowed his choices to Army, Temple, Lehigh, Shippensburg or becoming a run-on at Penn State. "We try to get better every week and that's all we can do."
There hasn't been much room for improvement this season. The Tigers have been blasting opponents out of the water and are on pace to match or eclipse the high-powered offense of 2006, which is coincidentally the last year Southern brought home state gold.
As strange as it sounds, it took a 45-7 win over Mount Carmel, when the Tigers gained 454 yards, compared to the first two games when they averaged 507 yards, to solidify the confidence of the line.
"Against Mount Carmel is when it really started to click," Tripp said. "We were driving the ball down the field and we didn't expect to do that. It was an eye opener that we could be really dominant this year. We could help guys like Adam (Feudale) get 1,000 yards easily."
Balance is the biggest word used when discussing Southern's offense. Feudale got his 1,000th yard in the last regular season game and is on pace to best last year's 1,179.
It's not surprising a Southern Columbia fullback has more than 1,000 yards, but this offense is different than the one in 2006.
Not only do seven different running backs have more than 200 yards (they've scored a combined 50 touchdowns), but the Tigers have already thrown for more yards than in 2006 (1,193 through 16 games).
And as much as the linemen relishe run blocking, they're more than willing to give quarterback Nick Becker time to chuck the ball downfield.
"It's relieving to know that Nick can drop back and sling the ball pretty far downfield and we have the playmakers out there to go get it," Tripp said. "It gives us a break instead of plowing into people we can sit back and protect Nick."
If there's one number that typifies that offensive production it's the 9.34 yards per play the Tigers average. That's nearly a first down per snap. The 2006 team averaged 8.94 yards per snap.
Not only is the offensive production dizzying, so is the pace. The Tigers' started using an up-tempo offense to get plays in and run faster to further exploit lagging defenses.
But it doesn't bother the Tigers' linemen.
In order to keep up with all the skill position players and the Tigers' version of the hurry-up offense, Reynolds, Donlan and Stanishefski shed weight in the offseason.
"It's not difficult," Donlan said. "We all know what the plays are supposed to be so we just get up on the ball and run it. There's nothing much different."
It also helps that the Tigers are so deep that the offensive linemen only have to play defense in special situations. Between Tripp, Donlan and Yoder, they have 16 tackles. That they can concentrate mostly on offense is appreciated by the guys.
"It helps a lot because we're fresh," Tripp said. "We can come onto the field and not get tired with the hurry-up offense. If they need us, we will play defense. We're conditioned enough to play both ways."
The line is also experienced in big games. Tripp and Donlan have each started for three years, including the Tigers' last trip to Hershey in 2011.
What they both learned that season has paid off this year.
"We both got to start that year," Tripp said. "That helped mold us into better leaders because we saw what the seniors did and what we need to do to get there. We had a lot of talent that year, but I think we're pretty close."
How close is only measured on way - not yards per play or per game - but what they do starting this week in the playoffs.