TROY — On Saturday afternoon, after Mother Nature forced all District 4 playoff games to be moved, Southern Columbia had to weather the early storm by finding their footing on a sloppy field surface at Alparon Park.
After a scoreless first quarter, the tide turned in the second quarter. Southern built a 27-0 lead at the break and went on to win over Troy by a convincing 48-12 margin after making the trip two hours north to Bradford County.
“When you look at what Troy was able to do this year, they have been a very good football team. It’s a blue-collar team with a good front on both sides of the ball with an aggressive style. For us to come in and execute on both sides of the ball on the line is huge at this point in the season,” said Southern head coach Jim Roth.
After returning from a six-week elbow injury last week and scoring on a long touchdown run on the first play of that game, Tiger (9-3) senior Wes Barnes returned on defense Saturday.
The captain made an impact on both sides of the ball, as he rushed for a game-high 136 yards and three touchdowns, while also returning an interception for a fourth score and recording a fourth-down stop to end a Trojan (9-3) drive in the first quarter.
“I came back to play with my guys for this one last ride. When I came back from the injury, I wanted to go back to playing both ways to try and make an impact in whatever way that I can,” said Barnes.
After Braeden Wisloski scored the opening touchdown of the day on an eight-yard run less than a minute into the second quarter, Barnes scored just 26 seconds later off a turnover.
Isaac Carter, who has been the team’s kicker for three seasons, got the opportunity to play on the defensive line last week, and the junior soccer player has looked like a natural after switching from the pitch to the gridiron.
On the first defensive play after Wisloski’s score, Carter recovered a fumble, setting up the 29-yard jaunt by Barnes.
“At defensive end, I am getting more comfortable coming off the ball. They ran that option formation as they try to read what the defense gives them. I was glad to be in the right place at the right time to recover the fumble,” Carter said.
Carter would also recover a fumble in the third quarter, which led to a four-yard TD run by Wisloski to put the game into the mercy rule at 41-0.
The touchdown prior, Barnes recorded a pick-six that he took to pay dirt from 26 yards out after making the interception with a one-handed grab.
“They ran a backside screen a few times that we saw on film, so playing at outside linebacker I knew that coming in. When he lofted it, I just stepped in front of it and took it back for the touchdown,” said Barnes.
The final touchdown of the game also came on defense. Starting tight end Ryan Kerstetter worked in with the second unit at linebacker, and the senior picked off a pass and took it 58 yards for a touchdown.
“I got in on defense a little bit, and they were running most of their plays to the other side of the field. I just knew I had to stay in position, and I had a good read on the throw. It was amazing seeing my teammates come up to congratulate me after I scored. That’s something I will always remember after we took care of business up front blocking on offense,” Kerstetter said.
Southern’s defense forced seven turnovers in the victory over the Trojans. The lone negative for the Tigers was a brawl that started with a late hit by a Troy defensive back, and two-way starter Louden Murphy retaliated.
The officials threw both Murphy and Justice Chimics, who had a late hit on Wisloski before appearing to kick him while he was on the ground, out of the game.
Murphy — who rotates at halfback with Carter Madden, who was injured early on in the game — will now be out for Friday’s District 4 Class 2A championship game at Mount Carmel Area. The Tigers will also need to fill in his void at safety.
“There’s no question that our team is stronger now than we were a month ago. Unfortunately, we will be without Louden next week after he retaliated to Braeden Wisloski being cheap-shotted,” Roth stated. “The rule is the rule, but I do think the extra game suspension in the case of what happened is a bit overboard. As much as you hate to see it, anybody that saw first-hand would understand why Louden was so upset after seeing his teammate get whacked after the play.
“That’s a time though where you can’t react because the second guy almost always gets caught.”
The top-seeded Red Tornadoes come in undefeated, as they will host the gold medal game at the Silver Bowl. But when they beat the Tigers, 35-21, Barnes was in street clothes.
“I wasn’t able to play against them the first time around, so I am definitely motivated heading into next week’s championship. I think the way that we have been playing, we are entering this game with a lot of confidence,” said Barnes.