CATAWISSA, Pa. – Heading into Friday’s PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal in the Southern Colombia region, Richland knew he had to play a clean game to stay with the state’s eleven champions.
Those plans were disrupted as three Richland turnovers in the first half led Southern Columbia to 21 points as the Tigers produced 41 straight points in the first and second quarters.
Led by Gavin Garcia’s 211 rushing yards and six total TDs, Southern Columbia scored in his first six offensive possessions en route to win 62-20.
“It was a cry of joy,” said Richland coach Brandon Bailey. “That’s what good teams do. They forced us to make unusual mistakes. Groping, throwing interceptions, whatever we did in the first half to give them a 34 point lead at half time. It’s just insurmountable.
Richland finished 11-3 with four consecutive District 6 crowns.
“We knew we had to play perfectly,” Bailey said. “We knew we had to control the ball and we did at times during this game. We just weren’t consistent enough on either side of the ball to make it a tighter, more competitive game.
Southern Columbia (13-1) racked up 408 rushing yards on 35 carries. The reigning four-time state champions Tigers will face 48-24 winners against West Catholic Northern Lehigh in a PIAA semi-final next week. The Tigers have only attempted four passes.
“The idea that came to me was that if our offense could do what it did, I didn’t expect to score 60 points obviously, but I thought if we could score points and not give up the big game was the key. Southern Colombia coach Jim Roth said.
“We didn’t give up the big game, we made them drive the ball. The way the offense moved the ball and scored tonight, the defensive effort was more than enough.
Southern Colombia quickly took control when Garcia scored in the second game of the game. The Kent State rookie took a moving transfer, cut back and passed Richland’s defense to the end zone on a 57-yard rush. Isaac Carter’s kick made it 7-0 after just 20 seconds of the game.
“The point is, if you throw it, it’s so good on that second hit,” Roth said. “You hit the hole there and usually if we give him that initial hole where he can go to the next level, it’s so hard for second and third level defenders to attack him out in the field. He has that sparkle.
Richland responded with an eight-game drive. Quarterback Kellan Stahl rigged a sweep and followed his line for 4 yards. Noah Ritko’s kick tied him at 7-all with 7:41 left in the first quarter.
Southern Columbia responded with a five-game, 60-yard streak. Garcia found the end zone at 17 yards as the Tigers regained the lead at 14-7.
“This is what a Division I is like back,” Bailey said of Garcia. “He is able to miss very good football players on the open field. He did this all night.
Connor Gallagher knocked out Stahl on the field on a starting route. Seven games later, all on the ground, Wes Barnes found dirt 2 yards as the Tigers led 21-7.
Richland missed the ensuing kickoff.
In the next play, quarterback Blake Wise faked a transfer and found Garcia on a corner road for a 25-yard touchdown.
Garcia dodged him early, but took a foot in the end zone for the score. Southern Colombia took the lead 28-7 after the first quarter.
After a three-and-out from Richland, Garcia pitched and pushed his way up to a score of 26 yards. Southern Colombia increased their lead to 35-7 after the five-game series.
Stahl fumbled with a shotgun at the reader that followed. Southern Columbia linebacker Garrett Garcia recovered the loose ball and returned it 11 yards for the score. A failed conversion allowed Southern Columbia to lead 41-7.
Richland was forced to kick the next drive. Jake Rose returned the punt for 51 yards to Richland’s 18-yard line. Three games later, Gavin Garcia found the end zone at 11 meters.
Richland scored on an 11-game record. The Rams covered 80 yards in 3:34. Stahl’s 1-yard touchdown brought the visitors down to 48-14.
Richland was unable to log on to some games scheduled to take advantage of the field clashes.
“It’s very slim against these guys,” Bailey said. “We played them so many times, we knew exactly what they were going to be in. We were able to get the formations we wanted and the defenses we wanted.
“We had some good games against him. It’s just hard to do. They have very good football players.
Richland failed to convert on two fourth downs to start the second half in BC territory. After a 43-yard run, Gavin Garcia scored for 5 yards as Southern Columbia kicked off the clock with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
Braeden Wisloski broke a 56-yard touchdown run. The junior finished with 147 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Richland’s Lanigan McCulty scored 5 yards to set the eventual final at 62-20 with 4:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Richland finished with 309 total offensive yards. Stahl completed 14 of 27 passes for 164 yards and one interception. Griffin LaRue caught eight passes for 99 yards.
Friday marked the third consecutive season Southern Colombia, with eight PIAA finalists, ended Richland’s campaign.
“I think they can’t wait to play us because I think we’re crazy enough to think we can compete with them,” Bailey said. “I think they like to tell us that every time we act that way.”
Richland’s senior class finished 45-7, three more wins than the accumulated 2010-13 teams.
“It was the best four years of my life,” Stahl said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I have built relationships with coaches, players, fans, people from this community that I will have forever. I cannot thank these people enough.
“Going 4 for 4 is something no one has done in Richland. We were the most accomplished class in Richland. I was just proud to be a part of it.
The legacy of the senior class will live on.
“Just to pick up on our senior class and what they’ve done for the community, 45 wins in four years,” Bailey said.
“You only schedule 10 games. Winning more games than the scheduled games each season, I’m super proud of them. They all had a role on the team and everyone knew that role. They gave their all and they are respected by their teammates.
“It’s going to be sad to see them graduate and move on, but we’re so thrilled for them because we think they’re great people and they’re going to do great things in their lives.”
Richland also won two Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference titles in 2018 and 2019.
“I keep saying that from Stahl, LaRue and (Aiden) Thomas to the guys who played a part for us this year, the guys who couldn’t finish, they all had a part on the team and everyone knew that role, ”Bailey said. “They gave their all and they are respected by their teammates.”
Jake Oswalt is editor-in-chief for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on twitter @ TheWizOfOz11.