HERSHEY, Pa. – Wilmington did a lot more right than wrong during Saturday’s PIAA Class 2A state championship game against Southern Columbia on Saturday.
At the end of the day, however, Tigers’ coach Jim Roth and his team showed why they are high school football royalty in a 42-14 win over the Hounds, capturing their fourth straight state title and 60th straight win.
It was also a sweet one for Roth, who became the winningest coach in Pennsylvania high school football history, surpassing the late Berwick coach, George Curry, with 456 wins.
“First of all, it says a lot about the program, the assistants, the community that backs the program with families that are very supportive,” Roth said. “I got to be closer to Geroge as time went on. I respected the heck out of him and learned a lot from him about how to run a program. The other thing I would like to add is his family reaching out to me recently meant a lot. He was the fiercest competitor on game day, but would do anything for any high school coach or program.”
Wilmington (12-1) controlled the clock, but it was Southern Columbia that hit for most of the big plays.
The Tigers had four scores of 65 yards or more, led by Gavin Garcia, who scored on runs of 89 and 74 yards, as well as 65-yard screen pass from quarterback Liam Klebon.
“We knew we couldn’t give up the big play,” said Wilmington coach Brandon Phillian. “It’s not an indictment on anything our guys did wrong. That’s an extremely talented Southern Columbia football team and an extremely talented running back in Gavin Garcia. He was able to get us a few times today.”
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, the Hounds chewed up 76 yards and 7:38 off the clock on their opening drive of the second half.
They had a fourth-and-three from the Tigers’ (12-0) 17-yard line, when Caelen Bender dropped back and dropped a perfect ball to Mason Reed in the corner of the end zone. Reed hauled it in and the 14-point lead was down to seven.
“That was a huge play,” Phillisan said. “Caelan Bender put a great ball up there and Mason Reed made a great adjustment to make the catch. We had to have that to start the half.”
Added Bender: “We came out strong in the second half and went down the field. That’s Hound football, just pound it and pound it.”
Just three plays later, all that momentum evaporated.
That’s because Garcia broke free for a 74-yard score, his fourth touchdown of the game, to make it 28-14.
“We played hard,” Bender said. “We had momentum, but Southern Columbia is a great program with great kids.”
From that point forward, it was all Tigers.
They hit for another big play early in the fourth, a beautiful 79-yard scoring strike from Klebon to Jake Davis.
Wes Barnes also added a late score, and the celebration was on for the Tigers.
“I can’t say enough about this senior group and team as a whole to work and get back to play at this level,” Roth said. “When I look back at all the titles, this one will be special.”
Southern Columbia scored on its opening drive of the game on a 1-yard run by Garcia.
It was one of just two scoring drives for the Tigers that lasted over three plays.
After a Wilmington punt, Garcia took the following play 65 yards to the house.
Southern Columbia’s defense stymied Wilmington once again to get the ball back, but a fumble set up the Greynounds at the Tigers’ 11.
Darren Miller took the next play 12 yards to cut the lead in half at 14-7.
But Garcia ended the half with a bang, breaking free down the left sideline for an 89-yard score.
It was those big plays that were the theme of the game.
Ethan Susen had 150 yards on the ground for Wilmington, while Garcia had 319 yards of combined offense – 221 rushing on just 13 carries and 98 receiving on three receptions.
Still, however, this was a special season for Wilmington.
They won their fifth-straight District 10 title and advanced to the state title game for the third time in four years – all losses to the Tigers.
“I’m proud of our football team, the effort they gave,” Phillian said. “They gave their all. They were extremely prepared and focused all week in practice, particularly the seniors. I can tell you to a man these are not just great football players, they are high character young men. I thank God for being able to coach them.”
Added Bender: “I’m sad it’s over, but glad it happened.”
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Southern Columbia 14 7 7 14 – 42
Wilmington 0 7 7 0 – 14
S – Gavin Garcia 1 run (Isaac Carter kick) 7:30
S – Garcia 65 pass from Liam Klebon (Carter kick) 3:18
W – Darren Miller 12 run (Daniel Hartwell kick) 11:44
S – Garcia 89 run (Carter kick) 2:30
W – Mason Reed 17 pass from Caelan Bender (Hartwell kick) 4:17
S – Garcia 74 run (Carter kick) 3:322
S – Jake Davis 79 pass from Klebon (Carter kick) 9:28
S – Wes Barnes 2 run (Carter kick) 3:49
First Downs 12 16
Rushes-Yards 31-285 57-235
Passing Yards 177 17
Comp-Att-Int 4-4-0 1-4-0
Total Yards 462 252
Punts-Avg. 1-35.0 2-25.5
Penalties-Yards 7-55 0-0Tr
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Rushing: Southern Columbia – Gavin Garcia 13-221, Braden Wisloski 6-53, Wes Barnes 6-12, Braden Heim 2-11, Trevor Yorks 2-1, Logan Potter 2-0, Liam Klebon 1-0; Wilmington – Ethan Susen 25-149, Darren Miller 17-67, Caelan Bender 15-61
Passing: Southern Columbia – Liam Klebon 4-of-4, 177 yards, 2 TDs; Wilmington – Caelan Bender 1-of-4, 17 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Southern Columbia – Gavin Garcia 3-98, Jake Davis 1-79; Wilmington – Mason Reed 1-17