Dec. 4—LEHIGHTON — Three different styles of offense in three games seemed primed to give Southern Columbia all kinds of problems for different reasons.
Mount Carmel used its size upfront and running game to amass a school record for rushing yardage this season. Richland had tempo and its passing game.
The Tigers' opponent Friday night — Northern Lehigh — boasted a combination of both.
However, the final result was the same: The Southern Columbia defense shut down another high-powered offense on its way to another state playoff victory.
Derek Berlitz had two sacks and blocked a punt, while Gavin Garcia returned an interception 102 yards as the Tigers rocked Northern Lehigh, 56-14, in a Class 2A semifinal at Lehighton High School.
"I think our front eight looked quick all night, getting off blocks and getting pressure on the quarterback," Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth said. "At some point in the first quarter, the pressure we were getting on them, they stopped throwing as much as they would normally throw. We did a great job with the run game on first and second down, then we got plenty of pressure on third downs.
"I thought it was one of our best games defensively."
Berlitz added: "I think it just comes down to the preparation that we do. We worked hard all week to be ready for what the other offense can throw at us."
While the defense did its job, the Tigers' offense was just as unstoppable as it's been since the second half of the Selinsgrove game on Oct. 22.
All three Southern Columbia running backs topped 100 rushing yards, led by Braeden Wisloski's 131 yards. The line blocked so well, the Tigers averaged 13 yards per carry on their way to 364 yards on the ground. Wisloski and fullback Wes Barnes each scored three touchdowns for the Tigers in the victory.
"We've been very fortunate to not have a lot of injuries in our offensive line — our tackles missed a little time early in the year — and you just see that are coming together," Roth said. "We open up holes and get any of our three running backs to the second level. They are all tough to bring down in the open field."
Southern Columbia (14-1) advances to its 20th state championship game where it will face Serra Catholic, a 27-18 winner over Farrell in the other semifinal, at 1 p.m. Friday at HersheyPark Stadium. Northern Lehigh finished its season at 11-4.
The Tigers got the ball first to open the game and wasted little time taking the lead. Wisloski's 13-yard TD run with 10:04 left in the opening quarter gave Southern a 7-0 lead. Garcia ripped off a 34-yard run on the second play of the game as the key play on the drive.
Southern's defense forced a quick three-and-out, just the second time in 15 games the Bulldogs didn't score on their opening drive.
Garcia had a 65-yard punt return TD called back due to a penalty, but Barnes broke a 21-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Garcia then ran 45 yards to the Bulldogs' 7, before Barnes finished off the drive for a 14-0 lead just 4:49 into the game.
Northern Lehigh answered with an 80-yard scoring series, keyed by a 44-yard Dylan Schmoyer-to-Nick Frame pass. That set up Matt Frame's 1-yard plunge to cut the Southern lead to 14-7.
The Bulldogs never did figure things out defensively, though. Wisloski showed off his speed with a 53-yard scamper two plays later, and the Tigers led 21-7 with 2:06 left in the first quarter.
"I just think the line and us — the running backs — have a lot of confidence right now," Wisloski said. "Wes and I are healthy, and the line is just playing really well."
The Tigers turned over the ball on their next possession, but the defense forced two punts as Barnes had two key plays on defense. He blew up a reverse for a 7-yard loss, and stopped a screen pass on third down for a 4-yard loss on the next drive.
Barnes added a 6-yard TD run, and Garcia followed with his first TD of the game with 1:24 left in the first half, a 13-yard run that gave the Tigers a 35-7 lead at the half.
Barnes added a 45-yard TD run with 7:48 left in the third quarter to send the game into the mercy rule, but the Tigers weren't done scoring.
Northern Lehigh drove to the Southern Columbia 17, but on a third-and-4, pressure from Berlitz off the edge and Garrett Garcia up the middle forced Schmoyer to throw the ball up for grabs in the middle of the field. Garcia caught it 2 yards deep in the end zone and returned it for a touchdown and a 49-7 lead to end the third.
The Bulldogs then fumbled a reverse on the ensuing kickoff, giving Southern ball at the Northern Lehigh 18. Wisloski scored on the next play for a 56-7 lead with 11:38 left in the game.
PIAA CLASS 2A SEMIFINAL
at Lehighton H.S.
SOUTHERN COLUMBIA 56,
NORTHERN LEHIGH 14
Southern Columbia (14-1);21;14;14;7 — 56
Northern Lehigh (11-4);7;0;0;7 — 14
SCA-Braeden Wisloski 13 run (Isaac Carter kick)
SCA-Wes Barnes 7 run (Carter kick)
NL-Matt Frame 1 run (Brett Misera kick)
SCA-Wisloski 53 run (Carter kick)
SCA-Barnes 6 run (Carter kick)
SCA-Gavin Garcia 13 run (Carter kick)
SCA-Barnes 45 run (Carter kick)
SCA-Garcia 102 interception return (Carter kick)
SCA-Wisloski 18 run (Carter kick)
NL-Frame 16 run (Misera kick)
RUSHING — Southern Columbia: Braeden Wisloski 7-131, 3 TDs; Wes Barnes 8-113, 3 TDs; Gavin Garcia 6-106, TD; Matt Masala 3-18; Carter Madden 2-4; Team 1-(-1); Louden Murphy (1-7). Northern Lehigh: Matt Frame 20-94, 2 TDs; Trevor Amorim 13-84; Nick Frame 1-0; Dylan Schmoyer 7-(-35).
PASSING — Southern Columbia: Blake Wise 1-2-1, 10 yards. Northern Lehigh: Schmoyer 10-16-1, 153 yards.
RECEIVING — Southern Columbia: Jake Rose 1-10. Northern Lehigh: N. Frame 3-95; Amorim 5-39; Brett Misera 1-13; Austyn Smith 1-6.