CATAWISSA — A massive crowd nestled into Tiger Stadium on Friday to watch Southern Columbia try to match Clairton’s state record 66-game winning streak.
Wyomissing had other plans.
The injury-riddled Tigers struggled against the visiting Spartans, who executed a flawless game plan en route to a 41-21 win, stunning the home crowd.
Not only was it the Tigers’ first loss since the 2016 state championship game, putting an end to the longest active win streak in the country, but it also snapped their 93-game, regular-season string — a state record by 19 games. That dated to Oct. 28, 2011, when the current seniors were second graders.
“We had to play at a high level for four quarters to have a shot, and we didn’t do that,” Southern coach Jim Roth said. “(Wyomissing) obviously had a lot to do with that. You can tell if your team is playing to their capability, and most of the time we weren’t tonight. When you combine that with the talent (Wyomissing) has, and what they’re capable of doing on both sides of the ball — especially in their running game and size up front — you have to be on top of your game, and we certainly weren’t tonight.”
Wyomissing (6-0) and Southern Columbia (5-1) have both had a difficult time arranging a consistently challenging schedule locally, making their coaches grateful for the opportunity to play in a playoff-like atmosphere ahead of what will likely be deep postseason runs.
“We’re always looking for good teams to play, because like (Southern Columbia), we have some teams in our league that are walk-overs most years,” said Wyomissing coach Bob Wolfrum, who now has 328 career victories. “They always say, ‘If you want to be a bullfighter, you have to fight the bull.’ We found one that was willing to play, and I’m glad they gave us a shot.
"We had a Saturday game the weekend they played Wyoming Area, and the kids were listening on the radio. They were cheering for Southern because they wanted the streak to continue. They knew playing these guys would always be special, but to play them with a (65-game) winning streak on the line would be even more special ... and it was special tonight.”
The defending Class 3A state runners-up were hot from the start, as feature back Amory Thompson scored on the opening drive with a 41-yard run before returning a kick for a 98-yard TD less than four minutes later.
Those two plays were the first of four Wyomissing touchdowns from more than 40 yards.
“Getting a good start in a big away game like this is really important,” Wolfrum said. “If we went down early, I don’t like to think our kids would’ve quit, but it would’ve been a lot tougher than it was. Making plays early was key for us tonight.”
“We gave up way too many yards and didn’t tackle well,” Roth added. “We stressed coming in that physical play could be the difference in the game, and we certainly weren’t physical enough. It wasn’t the type of game where you can say you have nothing to be ashamed of, not that we should necessarily be ashamed. Our players have to learn from this and play at a higher level in big games. We have to play more aggressively than we did tonight right from the start.
“We didn’t play this poorly on defense all year long. (Wyomissing) had a good scheme, but it was nothing we didn’t prepare for. We just got outplayed. They killed us on the tosses by getting people outside. Our team speed is pretty good, and we’re usually able to run that stuff down, but we certainly weren’t getting there tonight.”
The most pivotal play of the contest came in the final minute of the first half, with Southern driving in a two-minute offense, looking to cut the Spartans’ lead to three points heading into the break.
With the Tigers having a fresh set of downs and knocking on the door of the red zone, Wyomissing linebacker Matthew Kramer busted through Southern’s pass protection to deliver a powerful strip sack on backup quarterback Blake Wise. Spartans safety Drew Eisenhower scooped the loose ball and bolted down his team’s sideline 70 yards to the end zone, pushing the Spartans’ lead to 31-14.
“It was amazing, but it was all set up by Matthew,” said Eisenhower, who also added an interception and a 9-yard touchdown run to his momentum-shifting play. “Matthew did a great job delivering a tremendous hit, and I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
“At the beginning of the week, Coach told us we’d have to make big plays and limit our mistakes to win. The whole team was making big plays left and right, and we played pretty clean as well.”
With Southern starting quarterback Liam Klebon sitting out with an injury, and running backs Braeden Wisloski and Wes Barnes playing at less than 100 percent health, the Spartans were able to key in running back Gavin Garcia, who still ran for a game-high 107 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
The Tigers were unable to get comfortable in their passing game, however, leading to a defensive effort from Wyomissing that even its coach didn’t anticipate.
“We thought we were pretty good, but I also thought there was a good chance we would come in here and get our doors blown in,” Wolfrum admitted. “I was just hoping we’d play a competitive game and let the chips fall where they may. I always say you can’t be afraid to lose. When you schedule a game like this, you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you’re willing to take it no matter what happens.
"It was a great experience. To come out with a win is really special. I tell these kids how lucky they are to be a part of a program that plays in big games all the time. Other than a state championship game, it doesn’t get any bigger than a team that has a winning streak like that and the reputation that they have.”
WYOMISSING 41, SOUTHERN COLUMBIA 21
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Wyomissing;17;14;10;0 — 41
Southern Columbia;6;8;7;0 — 21
W-Amory Thompson 41 run (Ian Levering kick), 9:56
SC-Wes Barnes 24 run (run failed), 6:26
W-Thompson 98 kick return (Levering kick), 6:07
W-Levering 20 FG, 3:08
W-Drew Eisenhower 9 run (Levering kick), 7:36
SC-Gavin Garcia 82 kick return (Barnes run), 7:19
W-Eisenhower 70 fumble return (Levering kick), 0:13
SC-Garcia 61 run (Isaac Carter kick), 11:39
W-Charles McIntyre 82 run (Levering kick), 10:17
W-Levering 22 FG, 2:33
RUSHING — Wyomissing: Charles McIntyre 4-96, TD; Drew Eisenhower 15-92, TD; Amory Thompson 8-85, TD; Tommy Grabowski 14-59; Ja-mhi Jackson 1-13; Team 2-(-4). Southern Columbia: Gavin Garcia 15-107, TD; Wes Barnes 7-57, TD; Matt Masala 2-8; Braeden Wisloski 5-7; Blake Wise 1-(-2); Team 1-(-5).
PASSING — Wyomissing: Ben Zechman 4-6-0, 32 yards. Southern Columbia: Wise 8-16-4, 46 yards.
RECEIVING — Wyomissing: Aiden Mack 1-11; Eisenhower 1-10; Grabowski 1-6; Nevin Carter 1-5. Southern Columbia: Jake Rose 4-26; Garcia 3-16; Barnes 1-4.