Serra Catholic faces tough challenge in 4-time defending champion Southern Columbia

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Friday, December 10, 2021 | 11:20 AM


To members of the Serra Catholic football team, the number 16 is symbolic

It represents the final chapter for a group of Eagles who will look to win their program’s first state championship when they take on Southern Columbia at 1 p.m. Friday in the PIAA Class 2A title game at Hersheypark Stadium.

“Since our very first summer practice, the word of the year has been ‘16,’” senior linebacker Zach Weber said. “It means so much to us because we knew it would take 16 (games) to get a state championship. Now we are here and our final goal is to win. We know what we are capable of and we’ve worked hard day in and day out, knowing eventually we would reach this point.”

After relying on its defense throughout its run to a WPIAL championship and now a state title game appearance, Serra Catholic will have to pass perhaps its toughest test in Southern Columbia, a program that has won 11 PIAA championships.

The Tigers (14-1) are seeking their fourth consecutive state title in Class 2A and are coming off a dominant 56-14 win over Northern Lehigh.

“It’s definitely going to be a big challenge,” Serra Catholic coach Jose Regus said. “The kids are going to be playing on a big stage against a tough opponent with a lot at stake.”

In order to topple the mighty Tigers, the Eagles must contend with their potent rushing attack.

Southern Columbia featured three players with 100-yard performances in last week’s win over Northern Lehigh. Braeden Wisloski led the way with seven carries for a team-high 132 yards and three touchdowns. Wes Barnes also had seven carries and three scores while rushing for 119 yards. Gavin Garcia, a Kent State commit who surpassed the 7,000-yard mark in his career, added six carries for 107 yards and a score. On defense, he scored on a 102-yard interception return.

“They have some good athletic guys who have been in their system for a couple of years and they’re doing what the system does,” Regus said. “We just have to play sound football and make the stops. We have to shut them down early on first down and put them in bad predicaments. We have to do what we have to do to win this game. If everybody takes care of their proper assignments, we should be good.”

As usual, defense will be crucial for Serra.

The Eagles once again limited a high-powered offense in last week’s semifinal win over Farrell, forcing six turnovers — three fumbles and three interceptions — and limiting the Steelers to just 18 points. Farrell entered the game averaging more than 50 points per contest.

Serra has forced 20 turnovers over its last three games, including nine in the WPIAL championship contest against Beaver Falls.

“I expect them to shut up and ball. This entire playoff run has been about that, just balling,” Serra Catholic defensive coordinator Akeeme Robinson said. “If we ball how we are supposed to, it’s going to be hard to beat us. I want to see them finish. If Southern Columbia gets an opportunity to close the game or get momentum, we have to take advantage because we can’t let a championship team stay around. Ultimately, finishing is what it’s all about.”

Serra Catholic has made just one state championship game appearance in program history. That came 14 years ago — the same year they won their last WPIAL title — when the Eagles suffered a 34-15 defeat at the hands of Steelton-Highspire in the Class A championship game.

This time around, Serra is embracing its role as the underdog as it looks to make school history with win No. 16.

“We want them to do what they’ve been doing all year because, yeah a state title is on the line, but it’s just another game,” Regus said. “I always tell them, I’ve been an underdog my entire life. You just have to go out there and prove yourself.”

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