(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs' archives, The Herald and Erie Times-News. Quotes from Bob Greenburg interview)
WEEK SIXTEEN FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
Mercer County Statistics
After 15 weeks of games and two weeks of preseason camp, we've reached the finish line for football season in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Friday afternoon, Wilmington (14-0) will face Southern Columbia (15-0) in the Class 2A state title game in Hershey at 1 p.m. Wilmington is making its third all-time appearance in the state championship game. For Southern Columbia, this is appearance No. 17 in the state championship game and the third consecutive appearance for the Tigers.
CLASS 2A PIAA FINALS
Wilmington vs. Southern Columbia, 1:00 p.m. at HersheyPark Stadium
Two schools that are continually ranked among the state's best small-school programs will meet for the first time Friday with the Class 2A championship at stake. Wilmington has been one of western Pennsylvania's top teams over the last four decades, winning district titles in three classifications and titles in both District 7 and District 10. The Greyhounds played in the inaugural Class AA state title game in 1988 and then won the Class AA title in 2008.
However, Catawissa-based Southern Columbia has a resume unmatched in Pennsylvania over the past quarter century. Southern Columbia has won 25 District 4 titles in the last 27 years and owns seven state titles. The Tigers won Class A state titles in 1994, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 under head coach Jim Roth (411 wins in 34 years). Two years ago, Southern Columbia won the state title in Class AA. Last year, the Tigers fell to Steel Valley in the 2A title game, 49-7.
Wilmington advanced to the state championship game by outlasting District 7 champion Washington, 49-42, last Friday night at Slippery Rock University. The "Hounds Hammer" defense absorbed a few dents but did force five turnovers. Wilmington finished the game plus-3 in turnovers and now has 30 takeaways on the season.
Junior quarterback Robert Pontius threw touchdown passes to Colton Marett and Bryson Verrelli and also ran for two scores. His 18-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winning score. A first-year starter under cetner, Pontius has rushed for 11 touchdowns and has 10 touchdown passes.
"He's grown as the year has gone along," head coach Terry Verrelli said of Pontius. "He's a very bright kid. He runs the offense and keeps control out there. I'm very happy with his play."
Fullback Jack Patton ran for 99 yards and a score in last week's win. He leads Wilmington with 1,251 rushing yards. Halfback Bryson Verrelli has 1,051 rushing yards and a team-leading 18 touchdowns. Junior Cameron Marett has added 887 rushing yards and 16 scores, despite being less than 100 percent healthy in the state playoffs.
Marett also leads the team with 1,677 all-purpose yards and 10 interceptions this season. Verrelli has six picks. Junior defensive tackle Colton Richards has 30 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He ranks third on the team 73 total tackles. Patton has 92 stops from his outside linebacker post while junior middle linebacker Noah Hunt has 79 tackles. Junior tackle Jimmy Reed has added 5.5 sacks.
Underclassmen played major roles in last year's title run for Southern Columbia. This year, sophomores and juniors again fill many key roles. Sophomore wide receiver Julian Fleming, one of the nation's most-decorated 10th-graders, leads the Tigers with 63 catches for 1,389 yards and 19 touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Fleming received an offer from Michigan during his freshman season and has since received offers from Penn State, West Virginia and several other schools. He also won the District 4 title in the long jump, leaping 23 feet.
Junior quarterback Stone Hollenbach, a 6-3, 190-pounder, has thrown for 2,366 yards and 27 touchdowns this year. He is completing 63 percent of his passes. Sophomore halfback Gaige Garcia has rushed for 2,137 yards and 36 touchdowns. Garcia is the feature back in Southern Columbia's Delaware Wing-T offense. Senior fullback Jeff Cox has added 623 yards while Hollenbach owns seven rushing touchdowns.
"We have our hands full," Verrelli said. "We realize that. It's a power offense. They have good-sized linemen. They want to drive you off the ball and let the back find his way."
Sophomore linebacker Cal Haladay leads the Tigers with 100 tackles. He has returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns. Sophomore linebacker Max Tillett has 91 tackles and 7.5 sacks. Fleming has intercepted four passes.
Senior kicker Elijah Hoffman has drilled 11 field goals and is 98 of 100 on extra points. Southern Columbia has scored a program-record 767 points this year.
Southern Columbia downed Dunmore in the state semifinals last week, 56-19. Garcia ran for 234 yards and four touchdowns. He went over the 4,000-yard mark for his career in the win. Hollenbach went 8 of 13 for 130 yards. Fleming hauled in five passes for 106 yards and a score.
The Tigers closed the regular season with a 49-28 win over Selinsgrove, a PIAA Class 4A playoff qualifer. That marked Southern Columbia's 61st straight regular season win.
Southern Columbia is 1-2 against Mercer County teams in the state championship game. Farrell defeated the Tigers in the 1995 (6-0) and 1996 (14-12) Class A title games. In 2006, Southern Columbia downed West Middlesex, 56-14, in the "A" title game.
Wilmington fell to Bethlehem Catholic in the 1988 Class AA title game, 26-11, at Mansion Park in Altoona. Nine years ago, Wilmington upset heavily-favored Philadelphia West Catholic, 35-34, in two overtimes for the "AA" title at Hershey.
The game will be heard on Sports Radio 96.7.