Tigers aim for D-4 title
CATAWISSA R.R. - Southern Columbia is playing for its fifth straight District 4 Class A title tonight.
Unlike the past four years, the opponent isn't Line Mountain, who the Tigers dispatched from these playoffs in the semifinals with a come-from-behind 28-21 win.
This year, upstart South Williamsport will challenge the Tigers for the crown. Based on a week four drubbing, the Mounties should probably temper their hopes.
Southern, as part of its undefeated regular season, sent the game with South Williamsport into a mercy rule situation and ended up winning 42-21.
Tigers' head coach Jim Roth doesn't expect as easy a time tonight.
"I was not that surprised because at that point in the season, there's more speculation about how a team will perform," Roth said.
Southern wracked up 334 yards and four touchdowns rushing, and quarterback Taylor Young was an efficient 6-for-9 for 105 yards passing with a touchdown. Add in a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown by Luke Rarig and it was a rout.
The Mounties have won every game since that week four debacle, including a 32-16 win over Bloomsburg last week in order to play in their first district championship game since 1997.
In that win last week, South Williamsport allowed just 180 total yards.
"If we do the same things (tonight) I'll be more impressed," Roth said. "I think they've improved on defense and in watching the film against Bloomsburg you can see how much better they are."
The Mounties are led by hard-charging fullback Brandon Stonge. The 5-foot, 9-inch, 230-pound senior has rushed for 3,220 yards in his career, including 1,430 this year. Stonge also has 17 touchdowns, but don't think he's a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust runner. He can break the long run, too, as evidenced by a 50-yard run against the Panthers last week.
"He's a good player and plays with a lot of desire," Roth said. "He's listed at 5-9, 230 pounds and he's built strong, but he has enough speed to run away from people."
While Stonge is featured in the dive-first attack, he's not the only option.
Sophomore Dominick Bragalone has rushed for 684 yards, while senior Matthew Bartholomew has chipped in with 578 yards. They have nine and eight touchdowns, respectively.
The passing game, headed by quarterback Tyler House, has gained 774 yards and accounted for 16 touchdowns. That part of the Mounties' offense is effective enough to be dangerous.
"I think they do a smart thing and not just solely feed him the ball," Roth said. "The tailback will get his carries and they throw enough to benefit from it. The quarterback can throw and they have kids who can run and catch the ball. They have enough balance to take advantage of all their weapons."
As much as the Mounties don't want to allow the Tigers to jump out to a big lead, the Tigers don't want to find themselves down 14-0 like last week against Line Mountain.
To their credit, the Tigers battled back and put together one of the most solid second-half performances of the year.
"We felt good about the second half of the Line Mountain game," Roth said. "It was the first time in weeks I saw us move the football and run with authority. Our better teams have always elevated their play once they hit the playoffs and put their best effort forth.
"We talk about it, but that's a character check for a football team. We responded well in the second half and have to respond well in how we prepare for this game. We can stress it but the players have to make sure they're focused."