Southern Columbia routs Serra Catholic, rolls to 5th consecutive PIAA title

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Friday, December 10, 2021 | 4:08 PM


HERSHEY — Serra Catholic punched and pulled at the football all afternoon, but the Eagles couldn’t wrestle the state championship from Southern Columbia’s steely grip.

Southern Columbia rushed for nearly 400 yards, scored nine touchdowns and celebrated a record-tying fifth consecutive PIAA Class 2A title Friday with a 62-25 victory over Serra Catholic at Hersheypark Stadium.

The state title was Southern Columbia’s 12th in 20 championship appearances.

No other team in history has won five consecutive PIAA titles, but Southern Columbia (15-1) has now done it twice. The Tigers also won five straight in 2002-06.

On the other sideline, Serra Catholic (15-2) was in the state finals for only the second time in school history after a runner-up finish in 2007.

“I told my boys that I love them, and that there’s nothing to hold your head down about,” Serra Catholic coach Jose Regus said, “The scoreboard didn’t go our way today, but you guys accomplished a lot. …. They went out with a bang.”

Serra Catholic entered the fourth quarter with hopes of upsetting the District 4 power.

After three quarters, Southern Columbia’s lead was 28-19. Serra Catholic quarterback Max Rocco had connected with Zack Weber on an 80-yard touchdown pass late in the third, cutting the deficit to nine points. But Southern Columbia, showing how it’s a five-time defending champion, responded with three consecutive fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away.

“Of the 20 (championship) games, this one will probably be a memorable one,” Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth said. “It was unique. I can’t recall another game that was difficult for us to pull away.”

Rocco completed 18 of 35 passes for 379 yards and four touchdowns. But the senior quarterback was pressured often, threw three interceptions, was sacked nine times and fumbled once. Rocco threw two touchdowns to Terrell Booth (56 and 82 yards) and one each to Jayvon Holt (30) and Weber (80).

Booth finished with five catches for 172 yards.

“Sure, we came up short, but at the same time, we all know that we’ve accomplished a lot,” Rocco said. “We made it to the state finals when no one thought we’d make it this far.”

Creating turnovers was vital to Serra Catholic’s game plan.

The WPIAL champion had fought its way through the playoffs behind an aggressive defense that forced them regularly. The team forced 15 in its previous two games. Against sure-handed Southern Columbia, Serra recovered one fumble and a muffed punt, but that wasn’t nearly enough to slow the Tigers’ ground game.

“I’m proud of the fact we didn’t turn the ball over … because of how good this team was at doing that all year,” said Roth, who stressed ball-security drills in practice this week. “You could see they were going for it. There were a couple of times when guys were just down and the ball came out, but they’re going for it all the time.”

Southern Columbia had two rushers top 100 yards in the run-heavy wing-T attack. Kent State recruit Gavin Garcia carried 22 times for 162 yards and three touchdowns, and Wes Barnes had 106 yards on 13 carries.

Braeden Wisloski added 139 yards from scrimmage (76 rushing) and scored four times.

Combined, Southern Columbia rushed for 396 yards on 51 carries.

Serra Catholic never got its run game started, and focused instead on a short passing game. The Eagles finished with minus-72 yards rushing but much of that negative yardage was accumulated on sacks. Serra’s ball carriers combined for five yards on nine carries.

After Southern Columbia scored on its first possession, Serra Catholic answered with a six-play, 77-yard touchdown drive. Rocco went 5 for 5 passing including a 56-yard touchdown to Booth to tie 7-7.

Southern Columbia upped its defensive pressure, intercepted Rocco twice and scored the next three touchdowns to lead 28-7 at half.

Serra Catholic won the third quarter 12-0. Holt caught a 30-yard touchdown with less than three minutes left, and Weber sprinted down the right sideline for an 80-yarder at the nine-second mark.

“That’s best thing about it,” Rocco said. “We didn’t quit, not matter how much we were losing by. We don’t quit.”

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

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