The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 20, 2013

Harold Raker's column on high school football: Drastic change pays off for Tigers

Daily Item

---- — I know that none of you can think of former NFL coach Jim Mora without having his rant of "Playoffs! You kiddin' me? Playoffs!" attach itself to your brain. It's worse than a Barry Manilow tune. Well, maybe not.

How about the name Jim Roth. Of course winning teams and state championships come to mind when you think about the 30-year Southern Columbia head coach.

But how about that defense?

Roth was the defensive coordinator before succeeding Andy Ulicny as head coach. Roth has never strayed from running the defense which has been so successful. That's right, the Tigers' vaunted 4-4. They play it so well that, it almost seems like they invented it.

We get so used to watching the Tigers shut teams down with their four linemen and four linebackers that we don't really pay attention to it.

At least I didn't, and at least one radio crew doing last week's game at Mount Carmel, also didn't because, against the Red Tornadoes, Roth's team switched to a 4-3 just for that game -- for now.

I can't speak for the radio people, who mentioned Southern's 4-4 defense a couple of times, but I was busy keeping play-by-play and all of the statistics. Sure it's an excuse, but it's all I've got.

So in my post-game talk with Roth, when he began talking about his reason for using the 4-3, I tried not to act surprised.

And what Roth said about the decision made perfect sense, especially after the Tigers had suffocated the Red Tornadoes' no-huddle attack, limiting them to negative seven yards rushing in a 45-7 victory.

"We switched to a 4-3 zone because of their spread," Roth said. "We had to run something like that. If we would have played in our base defense we felt we would have been hurt with the pass at times. We'd have been OK against their run, but we would have been hurt in the passing.

"So we went to a four-deep scheme, but, unlike a lot of 4-3s against the spread where they will loosen up their outside linebackers, and they'll walk them up on the receivers, we went to a four-deep 4-3. But we kept our linebackers fairly tight because of how much they ran out of the spread," he said.

Roth noted that in their first two games, even though they were running a spread offense, between Wasilewski and the backs, they were still running the ball a lot.

"We didn't play a loose 4-3 where it was going to be easier for them to run the ball. We figured (we would) keep those backers in to cover the run and make them throw the ball underneath if they were going to throw it and go from there," Roth said.

Roth said that, considering it was a defense that was just put in during the week for that game, his kids executed it well. "We never gave them anything with the run the linebackers did a nice job," he said.

Later in the game, the Tigers mixed in some blitzes and the pressure resulted in at least four sacks and several negative plays.

"They looked like they were getting a little comfortable throwing against that scheme and that's when we started putting a little more pressure on with the blitzes and we were effective with that," Roth said.

Said Mount Carmel coach Carmen DeFrancesco, "They came to play tonight and they just put it to us."

They just stormed us in that first quarter (Southern led 19-0). Give (the Tigers) credit, they are a good football team."

DeFrancesco added, "You gotta move on. We told our kids that we got beat by a real good football team and we are going to win a lot of football games. We really are," DeFrancesco added.

n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school football for The Daily Item. Email comments to