ALTOONA — It’s been nearly two years since a Southern Columbia football game’s outcome was in doubt after halftime.
In the state championship game in 2018, Wilmington and the Tigers went to the half tied, before Southern Columbia pulled away to win by five touchdowns.
On Saturday in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals against Richland, the Rams rallied from 20 points down to within five points at halftime.
“Because of how well our defense has played (Richland scored the first three touchdowns the Tigers’ first-team defense has allowed), that was my biggest concern at halftime was ‘how are we going to handle this?’” Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth said. “Are we going to lack confidence or are we going to go out and play inspired football? (We ended up playing inspired football) and that speaks to the character of the team.
“It showed what they’re capable of doing if we do face another situation like this.”
Two big plays — one on defense and one on special teams — turned a one-score game into a three-possession contest as Southern Coumbia eventually pulled away for a 57-30 victory over Richland at Mansion Park in Altoona.
Richland had an opportunity to take the lead as the Rams received the second-half kickoff. The Southern Coumbia defense forced a three-and-out. Jake Davis returned the ensuing punt 51 yards to the Rams 9. Two rushes later from Gavin Garcia and the Tigers lead was extended to 35-22.
Just 31 seconds later, Garcia came in for a rare appearance on defense and made the most of it. He jumped a short sideline route and stepped in front of the receiver for the interception. He shook the receiver off his back for a 20-yard TD return.
“A couple people gave some speeches before we came back out. I think that fired the team up. We put the gas pedal on and took it to them in the second half,” Garcia said.
The two-point coversion gave the Tigers a 43-22 advantage.
“Most of our players only play on one side of the ball for the most part, but there are times when we’ll do something like that,” said Roth.
Davis made another big play on Richland’s next drive as he ended a nine-play drive by the Rams by picking off a pass at the Southern 26, and returning it to near midfield. The Tigers took over and scored again on Braeden Wisloski’s 33-yard touchdown run to go up 50-22.
“I didn’t know how we were going to respond. My wish was to not even get in such a situation and just play these next three games without being challenged,” Roth joked.
Early on, it looked like it may be a repeat of so many of the Tigers’ previous 57 consecutive wins, as Barnes scored three first quarter touchdowns to put the Tigers up 20-0 after the first quarter.
The Rams answered the Tigers’ initial surge. They forced Southern to punt after a three-and-out on their next drive and proceeded to put together a 12-play, 73-yard drive capped by a 29-yard touchdown pass from Kellan Stahl to Griffin Larue.
Southern answered right back on its ensuing drive as it recovered another onside kick and took just six plays to find the end zone again, this time on Wisloski’s first touchdown of the game, to go back up 27-7.
From there, Richland countered with a 27-yard touchdown run by Grayden Lewis, which followed a 35-yard pickup earlier in the drive, and a 17-yard connection from Stahl to Larue.
The Tigers’ next drive then stalled on downs at the Richland 37. The Rams took over with just 40 seconds remaining in the half, and on their first play, Stahl hit Larue down the right sideline on a jump ball that Larue was able to take away from Davis, who had him well defended. Richland then faked the PAT and instead, Stahl found Jordan Ford for the two-point conversion.
“We made some stops there in the second quarter and our kids played really hard,” said Richland coach Brandon Bailey. “We knew we had to play almost a perfect football game because they’re so good.”
The Tigers advance to play Bishop McDevitt (District 12), a 26-14 winner over Camp Hill, in the semifinals next weekend. The win is the Tigers’ 58th straight win. It’s also the 454th win over Roth’s career, leaving him one win from tying former Berwick coach George Curry for the all-time record in Pennsylvania.
PIAA CLASS 2A QUARTERFINAL
at Mansion Park, Altoona
SOUTHERN COLUMBIA 57,
Southern (10-0) 20 7 22 7 — 57
Richland (8-2) 0 22 0 8 — 30
SCA-Wes Barnes 9 run (kick blocked)
SCA-Barnes 40 run (Isaac Carter kick)
SCA-Barnes 64 pass from Liam Klebon (Carter kick)
R-Griffin Larue 29 pass from Kellen Stahl (Autumn Facci kick)
SCA-Braeden Wisloski 1 run (Carter kick)
R-Grayden Lewis 27 run (Facci kick)
R-Larue 63 pass from Stahl (Jordan Ford pass from Stahl)
SCA-Gavin Garcia 1 run (Colin Sharrow pass from Klebon)
SCA-Garcia 20 interception return (Klebon run)
SCA-Wisloski 33 run (Carter kick)
SCA-Garcia 78 run (Carter kick)
R-Sam Penna 24 run (Jordan pass from Penna)
First downs 18 20
Rushes-net yards 41-347 40-205
Passing yards 87 186
Passing 3-5-0 14-30-2
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 10-109 7-55
RUSHING — Southern Columbia: Gavin Garcia 17-196, 2 TDs; Wes Barnes 14-120, 2 TDs; Braeden Wisloski 4-37, 2 TDs; Matt Masala 2-7; Conner Gallagher 1-6; Trevor York 1-1; Ian Yoder 1-0; Liam Klebon 1-(-20). Richland: Kellen Stahl 20-60; Grayden Lewis 7-76, TD; Sam Penna 4-45, TD; Allen Mangus 3-11; Evan McCracken 3-4; Draveyn Plachy 1-6; Jordan Ford 1-5; Griffin Larue 1-(-2).
PASSING — Southern Columbia: Klebon 3-5-0 for 87 yards, TD; Richland: Stahl 14-29-2 for 186 yards, 2 TDs; Sam Penna 0-1-0.
RECEIVING — Southern Columbia: Barnes 1-64, TD; Garcia 1-19; Jake Rose 1-4. Richland: Griffin Larue 9-141, 2 TDs; Penna 2-20; Lewis 1-12; Ryan McGowan 1-12; McCracken 1-1.
Correspondent Philip Cmor contributed to this story.