Tigers set for improved Royals' squad
CATAWISSA RR - Southern Columbia opened its season last year with a Saturday date at Pius X.
The two schools were coming off a battle in the 2011 state playoffs and expectations at both schools were high.
Only Southern was able to meet those expectations, going 10-0 in the regular season, including a season-opening 61-0 drubbing on that Saturday in Bangor.
The Royals went on to lose the next three but rebounded to finish the season 6-5.
Expect Pius to look more like the team that finished the season with four straight wins, instead of the one that opened the year with four straight losses.
"A lot of those kids last season were underclassmen," Southern Columbia head coach Jim Roth said. "I think they're more experienced now."
The Royals return two quarterbacks who saw time last year.
Sophomore Tre Jordan and junior Nick Brotzman saw time behind starter Aaron Savelli last year. Brotzman played in just nine games but had much better statistics, completing 46 of 72 passes for 544 yards with six touchdowns to one interception. Jordan went 12-for-16 for 98 yards.
But Jordan, who is listed at 6-foot, 1-inch and 180 pounds, ran for 97 yards. That athleticism will be important if the Royals hope to have the same success as 2011 when quarterback A.J. Long, who transfered to a high school in Tennessee and committed to Syracuse back in March, ran for more than 900 yards and threw for 3,700.
Junior Eric Marbury (5-11, 175) was the top receiving target on the team last year with 39 catches for 487 yards and six touchdowns.
Running back Dashon Russell (5-8, 180) ran for 334 yards and caught 30 passes for 348 yards. He scored nine touchdowns and is a home-run threat.
"They're still running the spread offense," Roth said. "They don't throw the ball a lot downfield, but they were completing a lot of short passes in the scrimmages."
The Pius line is not as big as the behemoths that wore down in that 2011 game, but newcomer Garrett Irizarry is a big body on the line at 6-4, 270.
"We're most impressed with their skill players, who are athletic and run well," Roth said. "They're not really big up front and we'd like to control things."
The Tigers will have no problem neutralizing any size they come across.
Senior Josh Tripp, listed at 6-5, 270, is a big body who is expected to be the anchor of the offensive line and give the defense some inside push when called upon.
When Tripp and fellow tackle Josh Yoder were in on defense in the Tigers' scrimmage with Montoursville, the Warriors had their hands full.
The Tigers secondary will need the defensive line to get to the quarterback as it breaks in several new starters and key reserves.
Zach Tillett, who missed the preseason with an injury, was cleared to play this week, giving the secondary a bump, and Roth expects continued improvement from first-year safety Mason Peters.
The Royals' defense, after giving up 61 in the opener, settled in and allowed just slightly more than two touchdowns per game at 15.1.
That defense, led by T.J. Belle, a 5-8, 180-pound linebacker who racked up 119 tackles, and Marbury, who had seven interceptions, will be a stout test for Tigers' first-year starting quarterback Nick Becker.
Roth has been impressed with Becker's ability, especially coming off shoulder surgery, and can see the sophomore's confidence go hand-in-hand with the Tigers' success.
"He's had success in the two scrimmages and with that questions about his arm start to fade," Roth said.
Just like the Tigers did last season when breaking in new starter Taylor Young, expect plenty of action for the talented group of running backs.
A word of caution for defenses stacking against the run though. Junior Luke Rarig, a state-qualifying sprinter, hurdler and long-jumper, has been dynamic in the preseason, catching several long passes from Becker.
"Luke has an opportunity this year and he's become the go-to guy," Roth said. "He's showed a heck of a lot of ability to make plays, run good routes and makes the catch in traffic."