CATAWISSA RR — Could it have really ended any other way?

Southern Columbia’s storied senior class, which has lost a total of one game during their entire careers, played their final home game at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night in the District 4 Class 2A championship, and head coach Jim Roth had a few worries heading into the contest.

“I was really concerned coming into this game,” said Roth. “Mount Carmel is a good football team and all (our guys) would hear is ‘you won’t have any problem’ and who’s winning here or there in the state and having played them with how the game went early in the year (a 48-0 Southern win in Week 2), so the biggest concern was making sure the players were grounded and focused coming in and they come out and play good, hard football.”

Like they have done in every game this year and in most games throughout their careers, the senior class and the rest of the Tigers’ squad did just that and took care of business early and never left the game in doubt as Southern topped Mount Carmel 49-0 to win their fifth straight district championship and their 27th in the last 29 years, a remarkable string of excellence nearly unparalleled in Pennsylvania high school football.

The win advances the Tigers to the state quarterfinals next Friday at 7 p.m., where they will face District 3 champion Upper Dauphin at Selinsgrove.

“We’re real pleased with how they came out and performed,” said Roth.

Again, much like they have done all season long, the Tigers scored every time they had the ball in the first half to take a 49-0 halftime lead and then with a running clock in the second half, was content to trade possessions with the Red Tornadoes with its second team playing the entire half.

Mount Carmel took a big gamble early that briefly paid off, deferring to the second half after winning the coin toss and recovering an onside kick on the opening kickoff. But their first possession went a total of -12 yards after Southern sacked Tom Resinger on both second and third downs, forcing a Red Tornado punt.

“Our offense has had a tremendous year and a lot of the guys on the offense get a lot of recognition but the defense has a lot to do with (our success),” said Roth. “They’ve had an unbelievable year and the defense has a lot to do with the offense’s success. They constantly give us the ball back and stop people quickly, usually three-and-out and the other team’s defense keeps getting thrown out there, so that makes it difficult (for the other team) in that regard.”

Gavin Garcia then broke loose for a 46-yard touchdown run on the fifth play of Southern’s first drive, which followed a reception by his brother Gaige on the preceding play in which Gaige caught a ball in stride that had been tipped by a Mount Carmel defender and turned it into a 15-yard gain.

The Red Tornadoes fumbled on the first play of scrimmage on their next drive, and one play later, Preston Zachman hit Julian Fleming for a 23-yard touchdown pass on a slant.

Southern forced another three-and-out on Mount Carmel’s next possession, and on their next drive, needed only four plays to go 40 yards and was capped on Gaige Garcia’s 22-yard touchdown run, which would be the first of three touchdowns for Southern’s all-time rushing leader. Gaige finished with 175 yards on just eight carries.

Mount Carmel’s next drive appeared to have the Red Tornadoes score a touchdown on what would have been a 65-yard touchdown pass from Reisinger to Jack Chapman. But Mount Carmel was called for offensive pass interference on the play and then a Red Tornado assistant coach was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and 15 more yards, backing the team up inside their own 10. They were eventually forced to punt from their own end zone, and Fleming returned it 28 yards to the Mount Carmel 4-yard line. He then hauled in a four-yard touchdown pass from Zachman on a fade route.

Jake Davis then intercepted Reisinger on Mount Carmel’s next drive, setting up the Tigers at the Mount Carmel 30. Five plays later, on the first play of the second quarter, Zachman found a wide-open Wade Kerstetter for a three-yard touchdown to put Southern up 35-0.

“That was nice,” said Roth of Kerstetter’s touchdown. “Obviously, we have our big guns and they make so many plays but to get him involved and get him a score like that, it was great for him and a lot of the players got excited for him.”

Gaige Garcia’s 48-yard touchdown run on Southern’s next drive after another Mount Carmel three-and-out made it 42-0 and Garcia capped the scoring later in the second quarter with a 61-yard touchdown run, which followed some penalties after some chippiness by both sides. It appeared to start after the Red Tornadoes’ Shane Weidner was knocked out of the game after a late hit out of bounds on a kickoff return. The game was delayed for about 30 minutes so an ambulance could come to pick up Weidner, who appeared to hit his head on the bench. The ambulance originally on call had left with an injured Mount Carmel player earlier in the game.

The chippiness continued in the second half as there were a total of seven personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties assessed to both teams following Weidner leaving the game.