SELINSGROVE — Once again, it seemed like an undefeated team was poised to give Southern Columbia a game at Harold L. Bolig Memorial Stadium.
Richland tied Friday's contest in the first quarter with a 62-yard touchdown pass on fourth down, then successfully recovered an ensuing onside kick.
So the Rams were going to be the team that finally gave the Tigers some trouble, right?
Nope, Gaige and Gavin Garcia each topped 100 yards rushing, Julian Fleming had 118 yards receiving and keyed a secondary that limited the Rams passing attack in Southern Columbia's 49-27 victory over the Rams. The score was 49-7 at the half.
"We didn't get down; we didn't let it effect us," said Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth, whose team is making a state-record 18th appearance in a state championship game. "That's been part of this (defensive) group's makeup. When we need a play, they make it."
Southern Columbia (14-0) advances to play Avonworth (14-0), a 33-21 winner over Wilmington, at 1 p.m. Friday at HersheyPark Stadium. The Tigers will be looking for their third consecutive Class 2A title and a state-record 10th state title overall.
Richland finishes its season with a 13-1 record and back-to-back District 6 Class 2A championships.
With Richland's quarterback Kellen Stahl throwing for 40 touchdowns this season, and one of the state's best receivers in Caleb Burke, the Rams' potent passing attack figured to be a problem for Southern Columbia.
And with Tigers standout Fleming defending one side of the field, the Rams figured to test Jake Davis on the other side.
"I always feel like I have a target on my back," Davis, a junior, said. "We assumed their game plan would be to throw the ball at me a lot."
"(Jake) has played well all year; he does a real good job," Roth said. "That's been a big key for us, especially for a team like this that really throws the ball. Obviously, Julian is going to do the job on whoever we put him on."
Fleming drew Burke — who entered the contest with 66 catches for 1,336 yards — and held him to four catches for 34 yards. Fleming, who also had an interception, admitted it's the most he's had to do as a defensive back in a while.
"I told a couple of my friends (after the game) this is the most I've run around in a game all season," said Fleming, who also had six grabs for 118 yards and a score. "We worked all week in practice, following a guy in motion. He's running routes almost every play. You had to be ready for anything. He ran (six different routes) and I felt I did my film work all week and was ready."
The Rams hit a big pass play early in the first quarter when Trevor Tustin was matched on a linebacker in coverage for a fourth-and-2 play from Richland's 38. That led to a 62-yard TD and a 7-7 tie, but the Tigers' secondary held Stahl to 6-of-18 for 32 yards and two interceptions after the long TD catch by Tustin. Fleming and Owen Purcell had the first-half interceptions, while Davis had three pass breakups and drew an offensive pass interference call on Tustin.
"Jake is always going out and putting his all into it," Fleming said. "He does such a great job on the other side. He's breaking up passes — he had at least two in his hands. He's really come on this year."
With the score tied and 8:48 left in the quarter, Allen Mangus recovered an onside kick for the Rams at the Southern Columbia 48. The Rams were forced to punt after two incompletions and a tight end screen pass stopped for no gain by Preston Zachman and Davis.
Gavin Garcia (10 carries, 123 yards) raced 68 yards to the Richland 7 on the next play. That set up Zachman's 4-yard TD run on third-and-goal to give Southern Columbia a 14-7 lead with 6:16 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers' defense got a quick three-and-out, and the Tigers marched 75 yards in 10 plays, capped by Gavin Garcia's 28-yard TD catch. Garcia caught a short crossing route going to his left, stopped, reversed field, picked up a block from his quarterback, and scored a TD to make it 21-7 with more than a minute left in the opening quarter.
The Rams picked up a first down on their next drive but then stalled, and a 14-yard punt gave Southern the ball at its 41. Gaige Garcia (13 carries, 153 yards, 3 TDs) took an inside reverse handoff from his brother and trucked 59 yards down the right sideline for a 28-7 Tigers' advantage with 11:31 left in the first half.
Gavin Garcia later added his only TD run, while Fleming caught a 52-yard scoring pass with 4:06 left to push the Southern Columbia lead to 42-7.
The Tigers scored again in the half after Purcell picked off a pass with 48 seconds left. Gaige Garcia ran 39 yards to score at the first-half horn, giving Southern Columbia a 49-7 lead at halftime.
PIAA CLASS 2A TOURNAMENT
at Harold L. Bolig Memorial Field, Selinsgrove H.S.
SOUTHERN COLUMBIA 49, RICHLAND 27
Richland (13-1)`7`0`0`20 — 27
Southern Columbia (14-0)`21`28`0`0 – 49
SCA-Gaige Garcia 2 run (Ethan Haupt kick)
R-Trevor Tustin 62 pass from Kellen Stahl (Autumn Facci kick)
SCA-Preston Zachman 4 run (Haupt kick)
SCA-Gavin Garcia 28 pass from Zachman (Haupt kick)
SCA-Gaige Garcia 59 run (Haupt kick)
SCA-Gavin Garcia 4 run (Haupt kick)
SCA-Julian Fleming 52 pass from Zachman (Haupt kick)
SCA-Gaige Garcia 39 run (Haupt kick)
R-Caleb Burke 14 run (pass failed)
R-Tustin 87 pass from Stahl (pass failed)
R-Burke 8 pass from Stahl (Burke pass from Stahl)
RUSHING — Richland: Allen Mangus 3-18; Kellen Stahl 3-15; Tyler Reed 1-13; Jacob Sabol 2-4; Caleb Burke 2-1, TD; Trevor Tustin 2-0. Southern Columbia: Gaige Garcia 13-153, 3 TDs; Gavin Garcia 10-123, TD; Preston Zachman 4-31, TD; Ty Roadarmel 3-15; Jayden McCormick 3-2; Matt Masala 1-0; Kole Biscoe 1-(-1); Wes Barnes 6-(-4).
PASSING — Richland: Stahl 14-36-3 for 262 yards, 3 TDs. Southern Columbia: Zachman 7-13-1 for 146 yards, 2 TDs; Ronnie Szido 0-1-1.
RECEIVING — Richland: Tustin 2-149, 2 TDs; Burke 7-80, TD; Mangus 1-20; Koby Bailey 2-11; Jordan Ford 1-2. Southern Columbia: Julian Fleming 6-118, TD; Gavin Garcia 1-28, TD.