For The Daily Item
BLOOMSBURG — When you manage to score 44 points in your ninth game of the season and that is a season-low and your coach says you weren’t very sharp, yet you still manage to win by 32 points, you know you’re having a pretty good season.
That’s what happened to Southern Columbia on Friday as the No. 1 Class A team in the state topped cross-county rival Central Columbia without a problem, 44-12, but made some mistakes of the sloppy nature, which coach Jim Roth hopes will get his team’s attention as it heads into the playoffs in two weeks.
“I told the team afterwards that sometimes to have a game that’s not all that sharp and you don’t execute all that well — it’s not always a bad thing, especially if you’ve had the kind of year we’ve had because you need something to keep your attention a little bit,” said Roth. “It serves as a bit of a wakeup call. We can’t become complacent with the playoffs ahead and we’ve got some things that we can look at.”
The Tigers raced out to an early 21-0 lead, effectively putting the game out of reach as they scored on their first three possessions with ease. Southern needed a total of just 16 plays on its first three drives to find the end zone three straight times. Quarterback Nick Becker completed his first six passes on those first three drives, including four completions to Luke Rarig. He also found Blake Marks down the right sideline for a 33-yard pickup on the third play from scrimmage as Marks timed his leap perfectly to haul in the completion. A play later, Matt Lupold opened the scoring with a seven-yard scamper into the end zone.
“I thought we did some good things once we got going,” said Central coach Jason Hippenstiel. “Unfortunately we were down by 21 before we got going but once we did I thought we did some good things. We threw the ball and exploited some things we saw. We have to come out of the gates against a team that’s that good. That could be a ballgame if we come out of the gates better.”
Adam Feudale finished the next two drives for the Tigers, punching it in from one and then three yards out for the scores. After the first three drives, however, in which Becker went 6-for-7 for 111 yards (out of 136 total in the game), he only attempted five more passes for the rest of the game, completing just two while being picked off twice. Southern would also lose a fumble late in the game and would go on to lose the turnover battle, giving it away three times to just two for Central.
“We were a little sloppy with some turnovers and we did some things that we haven’t been doing like letting the quarterback outside containment and we weren’t as consistent offensively,” said Roth.
“There were a couple of things on both sides of the ball that we didn’t do as well as we could have but it’s not like we played a terrible game or anything and (Central) has enough talent that if you don’t execute, they can hurt you in various ways and they did hurt us at times.”
The Blue Jays, however, were unable to capitalize on Southern’s turnovers. After the Tigers’ first three touchdowns, Central would come back and put together a nice 9-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Steve Shannon to Lewis Williams to cut the lead to 21-6 after a missed two-point conversion. On Southern’s ensuing drive, Becker was picked off by Justice Powlus at the Central 31. The Blue Jays would go three-and-out, however, and on fourth down, the snap went over punter Cody Bowman’s head and into the end zone, where Bowman recovered and stepped out of the end zone for a safety.
Southern took possession on the free kick after the safety but Becker was again picked off, this time in the red zone by Frankie Tewell. Central went three-and-out again, however, and this time, Bowman got the punt away but Rarig returned it 46 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers a 30-6 advantage. Rarig, who had 78 receiving yards, also added 50 total punt return yards on the night for 128 all-purpose yards and also kicked six PATs.
“Luke is a heck of a player. He’s so versatile. He’s an outstanding returner, he’s a very good defensive back, a very good receiver and he’s our kicker. He’s got a real good ability to go up and catch those jump balls and that’s what he showed tonight,” said Roth.
The Tigers would add another score just before halftime and it would have been even a bit earlier had it not been for a penalty. Garett Sosnoski had what looked to be a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown but he was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty before he got into the end zone, wiping out the score. It wouldn’t matter, though, as two plays later, Becker found Marks in the end zone from 25 yards out. Southern would then put the game into mercy rule territory when Lupold scored his second touchdown of the game a third of the way through the third quarter.