Southern Columbia trying for record fifth straight title
Southern Columbia has made so much history at the PIAA football championships, it can be easy at times to overlook the school's unprecedented success since the title games were first played in 1988.
If the Tigers (15-0) can defeat West Middlesex (15-0) Friday afternoon for the PIAA Class A title, they will stand alone in PIAA history.
Southern Columbia can win a record fifth consecutive PIAA title — only the Tigers and Berwick, another Columbia County school, have won four consecutive championships. Berwick was the Class AA champion from 1994-97.
Southern Columbia also can win its sixth state championship, tying it with Berwick for the most overall titles.
The Class A championship game, set for 1 p.m., will be the first of four played this weekend at Hersheypark Stadium. General McLane (12-2) of Edinboro and Pottsville (13-2) will meet in the Class AAA game at 7 p.m. Friday. Saturday's championship games match Jeannette (14-1) against Wilson Area (15-0) in Class AA at 1 p.m. and Upper. St. Clair (15-0) against Bethlehem Liberty (14-1) for the Class AAA championship at 7 p.m.
All four teams from the eastern half of the state, Southern Columbia, Pottsville, Wilson Area and Liberty, reached the state championship game last year, but only Southern Columbia was victorious.
The Tigers are making their ninth consecutive appearance in the Class A state championship and their 13th in 19 seasons. This season, they have scored at least 35 points in every game, including last weeks 35-0 semifinal victory over Bellwood-Antis.
Southern Columbia has been so dominant this year, often pulling its starters after halftime, that coach Jim Roth was asked if this was his best team.
"There's always talk about that type of thing," Roth said. "I guarantee you if we lose on Friday, that talk will be over in a hurry."
Fullback Henry Hynoski and lineman Josh Marks are Division I-bound seniors who have started four years for teams that have gone 20-0 in playoff games.
Hynoski, who has given a verbal commitment to Pitt, has rushed for 7,003 yards in his career and 115 touchdowns. He is seventh on the state career rushing list.
On many of those runs, Hynoski followed Marks, who plans to attend Penn State. Marks, a first-team all-state defensive lineman last season, has started all 60 of Southern Columbias games the last four seasons.
West Middlesex, which lost a Mercer County record 29 consecutive games in the early 1990s, understands it has a difficult challenge.
"I'm concerned about a lot of things," coach Brian Hoffman said. "They have athletes at all of their skill positions, and Southern Columbia has been there before. This is new terrain for us."
Liberty, Pottsville and Wilson Area are hoping what was new terrain last year proves to be friendlier this December.
"The kids had their silver medals out and looked at them. They don't want to see silver again," said Liberty coach Tim Moncman, whose 2005 team lost to McKeesport 49-14.
Liberty is led by quarterback Dan Persa, who has passed for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000, possibly the first player in state history to perform such a statistical feat. Persa plans to play at Northwestern.
Upper St. Clair is making its first appearance in the PIAA final in nine years. The Panthers' only PIAA title came in 1989.
"It's a little unexpected," coach Jim Render said. "But I wouldn't say we were a year away, either. We had eight guys coming back on defense."
Pottsville was beaten by Franklin Regional 23-13 in last years AAA title game and lost most of its defensive players, plus its quarterback. The Crimson Tide relied on a strong running game to get back to Hershey, with Tom McFarland rushing for nearly 1,700 yards and fullback Matt Feeney for nearly 1,500.
Pottsville has two Division I recruits on the offensive line in seniors Brad Hallick (Virginia) and Gary Bardzak (Connecticut).
General McLane, which defeated District 7 champion Thomas Jefferson 28-7 in the semifinals, is making its first PIAA title game appearance. The Lancers are led by senior Drew Astorino, who has played quarterback, tailback and wide receiver at various times this season.
Wilson returns quarterback D.J. Lenehan, who is third on the state career passing list with 7,530 yards. Lenehan completed 27 of 52 passes for 346 yards in last year's championship, all PIAA title game records.
"I don't think you'll see 60 passes this year," coach Bret Comp said. "We're a little more diverse than last year."
Jeannette has won 12 consecutive games since a 35-21 loss to Yough. Jayhawks quarterback Terrelle Pryor is being recruited by major colleges for football and basketball.