Steve Merth of Northwest tries to find running room against the Southern Columbia defense in the first quarter of Friday’s PIAA Class A playoff game at Kemp Memorial Stadium in Shamokin.Pete g. wilcox/the times leader
Northwest running back Bret Rutkoski has his helmet turned around when Southern Columbia’s Alex Fidler gets a hold of Rutkoski’s face mask in the first quarter of Friday’s playoff game.Pete g. wilcox/the times leader
COAL TWP. — Under normal circumstances this season, Northwest was able to overcome a mistake here or a mistake there.
Nothing was normal about the situation Friday night.
Every time Northwest did something wrong, Southern Columbia was prepared to do something right.
Of course, the Tigers have been doing that for four decades.
The result was Southern Columbia, owner of six state championships, overwhelming Northwest in its maiden voyage in the PIAA Class A football playoffs 60-7 at Shamokin High School’s Kemp Memorial Stadium.
District 4 champion Southern (9-4) will play the winner of tonight’s game between D1 champion St. Pius X and D11 champion Tri-Valley in the state quarterfinals next weekend.
D2 champion Northwest ended its year at 9-4.
The only bright spot for the Rangers was a 60-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Moss to Steve Merth with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
The TD allowed Northwest to avoid its first shutout in its last 58 games. It did little to cut into Southern’s insurmountable lead at the time – 54-0.
“The first half set the tone for everything,” Northwest coach Carl Majer said. “We just couldn’t get anything going in the first half. You can’t give the ball to a great football team like that in the first quarter inside the 20.
“I said all week long that we would have to play mistake-free football, and we didn’t.”
Not that a mistake-free Northwest would have made a huge difference Friday night. Southern had too many weapons, a veteran line and too much momentum from its five-game winning streak coming in,
“It wasn’t too far into the season I tried to convince this team they were good enough to make a run in the playoffs,” Southern coach Jim Roth said. “Obviously, at 3-4 a lot of people were questioning that, maybe some of the people in the program and some of the players themselves.”
There was no questioning Southern on Friday night.
The Tigers scored their first touchdown four plays after a bad punt snap resulted in Northwest turning over the ball at its 21-yard line. Southern continued capitalizing on Northwest mistakes throughout the night.
An interception led to a 3-yard TD run by tailback Jake Morton and a 20-0 lead after the first quarter.
The Tigers then turned a Northwest fumble into another short TD run by Morton and a 27-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
The final miscue of the first half came when a Northwest player inadvertently touched a punt and Southern pounced on the loose ball. Four plays later, Southern tailback Tyler Levan scored on a 30-yard run for a 48-0 lead with one second left until halftime.
“I told the kids not to put their heads down,” Majer said. “They did something at Northwest that’s never been done. They set the bar high for the other kids by winning their first district title.
“Hey, nobody likes getting beat like we got beat. But you win with class and you lose with class. This was a great learning experience for our program and our coaching staff.”