Southern Columbia’s 99-yard drive dashes Westinghouse’s state championship hopes

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Friday, December 8, 2023 | 4:31 PM


MECHANICSBURG — It was heartache again for the ‘House.

Southern Columbia marched 99 yards late in the fourth quarter and scored a winning touchdown with 42 seconds left Friday to dash Westinghouse’s hopes of winning a state championship for the second year in a row.

Carter Madden finished off Southern Columbia’s winning drive with a 12-yard touchdown run and Isaac Carter added the extra-point kick to defeat Westinghouse, 21-20, in the PIAA Class 2A final at Cumberland Valley. The title was the seventh in a row for the state’s most dominant football program.

Westinghouse lost by two touchdowns to Southern Columbia in last year’s state finals, but the Bulldogs held a late lead this time.

But the tears shed afterward felt the same.

“Heartache is heartache,” Westinghouse coach Donta Green said. “A loss is a loss. At the end of the day, it’s the same process. We’ve got to get over ourselves. Get over ‘not drowning in our own tears,’ and just get back to work.”

Westinghouse (13-1) was trying to become only the second City League team to win a state title, following Perry in 1989.

Instead, Southern Columbia (15-1) celebrated its 14th state championship. The District 4 champions were making their 22nd appearance in the state finals, and longtime coach Jim Roth said this one was unlike any of the others.

“This is the most rewarding and unique one that I’ve been a part of,” Roth said. “If you include my assistant years, that’s 44 years. I don’t think I’ve been in a game that finished this way, let alone a state championship.”

Southern Columbia scored twice in the opening minutes on an 83-yard touchdown run and a 66-yard interception return.

It was a dreadful start for Westinghouse, but the Bulldogs bounced back to force a 14-14 tie by halftime and took their first lead on a 49-yard pass from junior Khalil Green to freshman K’shawn Hawkins late in the third quarter. They led 20-14 after their two-point conversion run was stopped short of the end zone.

A first-year starter, Green completed 10 of 16 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 109 yards and a score on 21 carries.

“That’s what we expected from him,” Dante Green said. “That kid is dynamite. He’s an amazing kid. We knew that he was ready for the big moment.”

Westinghouse senior Taymir O’Neal had four catches for 76 yards and a touchdown, and junior Lloyd Penn had 72 yards on four catches.

Clinging to a six-point lead, Westinghouse’s defense made a stand early in the fourth quarter, stopping Southern Columbia on fourth-and-2 at the 11-yard line.

But after a Westinghouse punt with 6:19 left, Southern Columbia got another chance on a drive that started at its own 1-yard line. The Tigers moved 99 yards in 12 plays, but there were stops and starts along the way.

With 1:41 left, Westinghouse nearly clinched the win with a strip-sack by sophomore Josiah Collins on fourth down near midfield, but the Bulldogs were called for holding. Given new life, Southern Columbia converted a fourth-and-8 with an 11-yard catch by Kyle Christman and reached the end zone three plays later.

The Tigers’ offense hadn’t scored since the first minute of the first quarter, but came through with a drive at the end.

“It was pure want-to,” Green said. “We had the strategy. We had everything down. It was just pure want-to.”

The fourth-down conversion near midfield was the key.

Facing a fourth-and-8, Southern Columbia quarterback Blake Wise completed a pass to Kyle Christman beyond the sticks, but the Tigers were flagged for offensive holding. Now facing fourth-and-18, Collins burst into the Southern Columbia backfield and knocked the ball away from Hoy, but Westinghouse was flagged for grabbing receiver Louden Murphy a couple of steps into his pass route.

Again facing a fourth-and-8, Wise found Christman for an 11-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Wise completed only 4 of 10 passes for 27 yards.

“If we had taken care of business earlier in the game, we wouldn’t have been in that situation,” Green said. “There’s no one play or one call that determines game. We’ve just got to play a more solid game for all 48 minutes.”

Roth said he believed the call was correct.

“Murphy came off the wing and the kid literally reached out and grabbed him and he was turned,” Roth said. “Murphy was trying to run and he’s still holding him. The flag came out fairly quick, so I knew we had another play.”

Southern Columbia rushed 40 times for 239 yards and two touchdowns. Murphy led with 137 yards on 18 carries, including an 83-yard touchdown run on the game’s second play.

Westinghouse’s first possession ended with a 66-yard interception return by Carter, a defensive lineman who also kicked the winning extra point. Carter picked off a fourth-down screen pass and took it to the end zone.

“You’ve got to turn the page,” Green said. “The outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but at the end of the day, our kids fought hard. … We’ve just got to regroup and get ourselves together. I told them they have until tonight to kind of drown in their sorrows a little bit, but tomorrow is a new day and we’ve got to get back at it.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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