Southern Columbia routs Avonworth in record-setting PIAA championship

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Friday, December 6, 2019 | 3:40 PM


HERSHEY — Avonworth’s Park Penrod and Trevor Faulkner connected for an electric 43-yard touchdown pass on the opening possession Friday, and for more than 4 minutes, the Antelopes led the state championship.

Maybe this wasn’t the mismatch many expected?

That question didn’t linger long. District 4 champion Southern Columbia answered with eight first-half touchdowns, including three interceptions returned to the end zone in a record-setting 74-7 victory over Avonworth in the PIAA Class 2A final at Hersheypark Stadium.

Avonworth (15-1) was the first opponent all season to take a lead against Southern Columbia but nine turnovers quickly doomed the Antelopes’ upset hopes.

“We prodded the bull,” Avonworth coach Duke Johncour said. “We woke them up.”

But the Antelopes couldn’t take the bull by the horns. Southern Columbia (16-0) won its third consecutive state title, its fourth in five years and its 10th overall while breaking records for points scored and margin of victory in a PIAA championship.

The Tigers, with seniors committed to Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, extended their winning streak to 48 games. Their last loss was to Steel Valley in the 2016 state finals.

“This team would compete with any team in the state,” Johncour said. “I don’t care what level it is. That team is absolutely unbelievable. If they showed up tomorrow night and played St. Joe’s (in the Class 6A final), it would probably be a pretty good game.”

Southern Columbia’s offense compiled 436 yards from scrimmage and scored seven touchdowns but its defense also scored four times.

“I think we could give almost everybody in the state a run for their money,” said Southern Columbia star senior Julian Fleming, an Ohio State commit who’s ranked as the nation’s No. 1 recruit by ESPN. “Our linemen may not be that big but they can move well, they block well, and our defense is one of the best in our school’s history. … I think it would be interesting.”

Southern Columbia celebrated a 49-14 victory in last year’s PIAA Class 2A championship and a 48-0 win in 2017, both against Wilmington.

Avonworth, making its Hershey debut, understood the challenge. The Antelopes started strong by taking the opening kickoff and driving 73 yards in six plays, ending with Penrod’s 43-yard pass to Faulkner.

Tyler Bryan’s extra point gave the Antelopes a 7-0 lead.

Southern Columbia — trailing for the first time — answered with an 11-play, 86-yard drive and a 14-yard touchdown catch by Fleming.

“I think (falling behind) certainly made us determined,” Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth said. “There was a little bit of an adjustment — I won’t say shock — but we were taken aback a little bit because they scored and they were also having some success moving the ball against us. That hasn’t happened too often.”

Avonworth’s fortunes changed, and Southern Columbia scored 74 unanswered points.

The Antelopes’ second possession ended disastrously. Penrod and running back Jax Miller fumbled a handoff exchange and Southern Columbia recovered at Avonworth’s 8-yard line. Michigan wrestling recruit Gaige Garcia scored a rushing touchdown on the next play as Southern Columbia’s rout gained momentum.

The Tigers scored five touchdowns in a 5-minute span.

Garcia caught a 32-yard touchdown pass to lead 21-7, and then Southern Columbia’s defense returned three interceptions for touchdowns. Cal Haladay returned an interception 40 yards, Jake Davis had a 42-yard return and Cade Linn’s was a 46-yarder to lead 41-7 with 10:20 left in the second quarter.

Ty Roadarmel added an 8-yard touchdown run and Fleming caught a 63-yard touchdown to lead 55-7 at half.

“We capitalized well on every opportunity that we had,” Fleming said. “Our defense played great, our offense played great, but defense outshined offense a little bit today, which is something new.”

Southern Columbia’s Matt Masala tacked on a 46-yard fumble return touchdown in the fourth quarter for a 67-point victory. That eclipsed Archbishop Wood’s 52-0 victory over Bishop McDevitt in 2011 as the biggest win in PIAA championship history.

“We said we had to play a perfect game,” Johncour said. “You can’t make mistakes against a team like that.”

Southern Columbia quarterback Preston Zachman, a senior linebacker committed to Wisconsin, completed 7 of 11 passes for 181 yards and four touchdowns. Fleming had four catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

Garcia and Roadarmel also scored twice each.

Avonworth’s Penrod completed 6 of 21 passes for 89 yards, a touchdown and six interceptions. Miller, the team’s star rusher in this postseason run, had 16 yards on 11 carries.

The Antelopes offense also lost three fumbles.

Avonworth started the championship short-handed and lost two more players in the first quarter. That meant 10 of the 22 starting spots were different from just a few weeks ago, Johncour said.

“It’s been absolutely a great year, I can’t ask for anything more out of these kids,” Johncour said. “They played their hearts out today. We were banged up coming in and lost a couple of kids in the first quarter. It was just tough odds against a great team.”

North Allegheny held the record for points in a PIAA championship with a 63-28 victory over Coatesville in 2012.

Southern Columbia broke that mark in the third quarter when Roadarmel had a 42-yard touchdown run and Gavin Garcia added an 11-yarder to lead 68-7.

“You never expect to score those kinds of points,” Roth said. “But you don’t expect to score four or five times defensively. When that happens, with the way our offense has been, you’re going to have a lot of points on the board.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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