COAL TOWNSHIP — When this series was resurrected in 2005, it was one of the most enticing games of the season, even serving as the season opener a number of years.
Southern Columbia is still, well, Southern Columbia. But Shamokin, the host for Friday night’s Heartland Athletic Conference crossover game, has fallen on hard times in recent years.
One goal for first-year Shamokin coach Yaacov Yisrael is to turn his new program into one that will compete on the same level as coach Jim Roth’s six-time Class A state champions.
“In Shamokin, we are looking to build a powerhouse like Southern and I think it’s great that we have an opportunity to play them,” Yisrael said this week.
The fact that the Class AAA Indians are 0-7 and the Tigers, ranked No. 1 in the state in Class A, are 7-0, does not diminish the excitement the home team has for this game, despite the good chance that it will be one-sided.
“They are one of the best teams in the state and have a great coaching staff (that has) been together for over 20 years,” Yisrael said.
“This game is another chance for us to build the program; we are looking forward to it,” he added.
Roth knows that his players will not be fooled into thinking they should have a problem beating teams like Shamokin, so he makes sure to find an area or two in which they need to focus.
With Shamokin, Roth said, the biggest issue is that the Indians are running an I-formation pistol offense, which the Tigers have not seen anyone else run.
He said the Indians also run a 3-5 defense, which the Tigers have seen often, but Shamokin, he said, “really gets into some unusual looks with it.”
He said, “They will put three guys to one side on the corner outside of your tight end, tackle or wing, and they will bring everybody up on the line.”
He said in last week’s game at Mifflinburg, Shamokin at times had eight or nine guys right up to the line.
Despite the loss to the Wildcats last week, Yisrael said his team played its best game of the season, having a lead twice in the first half, before the home team pulled away.
“I am grateful of the effort the team gave last week. We learned after the game that we were our own worst enemy,” Yisrael said.
Another enemy for the Indians has been the injury bug, which claimed its latest victim during practice going into the Mifflinburg game. Sophomore starting offensive lineman and linebacker Garrett Zalor was lost for the season with an injury.
But the Indians moved forward and gave Mifflinburg a challenge.
“It was good to see us improve last week. That was a big step for us and we realize not every team can say that,” Yisrael said.
“There are still a lot of aspects of our program that need (to be) fixed and we are on the right track,” he said, adding that the seniors are doing a great job of laying a strong foundation this year for the future.
“We understand that the best programs do things the right way and, as a team, we have made a decision to do so. We are getting better at it each week,” he said.
Roth agrees that Shamokin is progressing.
“They look like a team that is capable of doing some things on each side of the ball,” he said.
Roth said that lack of consistency is what has helped keep them winless.
“You can tell it’s a team that is kind of in a learning curve,” he said, noting that, against Milton, Shamokin had the ball for most of one quarter, yet Milton scored all the points.
“They will play competitive football, but not make a stop when they have to or convert on offense when they have to,” Roth said. “A lot of it is confidence and there is a transition with a new staff.”