Southern Columbia wins ninth state title

Southern Columbia’s Gaige Garcia catches a pass leading to a touchdown late in the second quarter of play against Wilmington in the PIAA Class 2A Championship game at HersheyPark Stadium.

SHAMOKIN — If there were any questions who the player of the year in the area should be, take one look at the PIAA Class 2A state championship game and the answer will be obvious.

Following a spectacular season that ended with a five-touchdown performance, and a state title, in Hershey, Gaige Garcia is named Player of the Year on The News-Item’s 2018 All-Area Football Team. Garcia also received the top selection on last year’s team.

The Southern Columbia junior, who is on pace to smash several school rushing records, finished the year with an astonishing 2,625 total yards of offense, over 2,000 of which came on the ground.

He ran the ball 205 times for 2,042 yards, averaging almost exactly 10 yards per carry, and dashed into the end zone 38 times. Despite the high volume of carries, he fumbled the ball only three times during the season.

As a receiver out of the backfield, he hauled in 13 passes for 284 yards (21.8 avg.) and scored eight times. In addition to leading the team in nearly all rushing categories, Garcia also led the team in kick return yards with 234.

Southern Columbia (16-0) leads the all-area squad with 11 selections. Mount Carmel (10-3) is second with six and Line Mountain (4-7) and Shamokin (6-6) both received three picks.

Gavin Garcia, Cameron Gaw, Michael Hood, Tom Reisinger, Shane Weidner, Cole Schankweiler, Lear Quinton, Collin Bowers, Blake Zalar and Brycen James are all first-time selections to the team.

Below are capsule looks at the other players, in alphabetical order, on the team:

Billy Anderson, Mount Carmel, OL-DL, sr.

The leader and driving force of an offense line that helped the Red Tornadoes run game produce one of the strongest seasons in recent memory, Anderson’s contributions proved pivotal to the success of John Ayres as a running back. A two-way player, Anderson managed 36 tackles, six for loss, on the defensive side of the ball.

John Ayres, Mount Carmel, RB-LB, sr.

Ayres capped off an outstanding four-year career as a starter with a campaign that brought him 1,356 rushing yards on 155 carries. The 8.7 yards per carry average placed him at the top of the charts for the Red Tornadoes. He had seven games with over 100 rushing yards and finished the season with 16 touchdowns.

Collin Bowers, Shamokin, QB-S, sr.

Under first-year head coach Henry Hynoski, Bowers jumped into the quarterback position and never looked back, helping the Indians produce its first respectable season in several years. While Bowers had a solid season as a dual-threat quarterback, he got more attention for his play on the defensive side of the ball, which included five interceptions from his safety position.

Jack Chapman, Mount Carmel, TE, jr.

A second-year selection on the team, Chapman upped his game even further for his junior season, serving as the leading Red Tornado in every receiving category. He managed to gain 612 yards on 30 receptions (20.4 avg.) that resulted in six touchdowns.

Breven Derk, Line Mountain, WR-S, sr.

An all-around athlete whose abilities were critical to Line Mountain on both sides of the ball, Derk led the team in receptions with 35 and receiving yards with 574. He scored five touchdowns through the air and managed three more on the ground, which is also a team-high for scores. Derk also stands far and above his teammates in all-purpose yards with 1,368 (124.4 per game), including an impressive 512 kick return yards.

Troy Donlan, Southern Columbia, OL, sr.

Southern Columbia head coach Jim Roth may have been critical of his offense linemen at the beginning of the season, but by the end of the year he was singing their praises. Much of that can be contributed to offensive line leader Troy Donlan, who battled through early-season adversity and proved his effectiveness as a team captain.

Julian Fleming, Southern Columbia, WR-CB, jr.

No introduction needed for the top wide receiver college recruit in the Class of 2020. Fleming continued his dominance in the high school ranks with a season that resulted in 1,879 total offensive yards. He hauled in 78 passes for 1,524 yards (19.5 avg) and 22 touchdowns.

Gavin Garcia, Southern Columbia, RB, fr.

Little brother to The News-Item’s Player of the Year, Gavin Garcia one-upped his brother in an impressive category — yards per carry. Though only running the ball 101 times, less than half the amount of Gaige, he managed 1,179 yards on the ground. The average of 11.7 yards per carry is the best in The News-Item’s coverage area.

Cameron Gaw, Line Mountain, OL-LB, sr.

A force to be reckoned with on defense, Gaw led the team in tackles with 85 (50 solo, 35 assists) and had an impressive team-best 21.5 tackles for loss during his senior season. Gaw also served as the leading offensive lineman for Line Mountain.

Chance Hackenburg, Line Mountain, LB, sr.

Finishing in a three-way tie between Eagles for most solo tackles (52) with Ki Phillips and Adam Malafi, Hackenburg had the most tackles for loss (16) on the team. He also had 11 assisted tackles to bring his total to 63.

Cal Haladay, Southern Columbia, LB, jr.

Though he only ended the season with three sacks, Haladay spent a lot of time bursting into the backfield and blowing up plays before they could begin to form. He finished the season with 131 tackles, the best on the team.

Stone Hollenbach, Southern Columbia, QB, sr.

Area-leading 64 percent completion rate. Area-leading 1,737 passing yards. Area-leading 28 passing touchdowns. Area-best four interceptions. Stone Hollenbach is far and away the best quarterback on this year’s all-area team and will look to continue his football career as a walk-on at Alabama next year. The Southern Columbia senior lost just one game during his three-year stint with the Tigers, resulting in two state championships in three appearances.

Michael Hood, Mount Carmel, DE, sr.

Michael Hood received an honorable mention to last year’s all-area team. This year he was a no-doubter for the real thing. As the squad’s starting defensive end, Hood wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks, most notably of which came during the annual Coal Bucket game against Shamokin. He had six tackles during the game, three of which were sacks and the other three were in the backfield. He also had two QB hurries. On the season, Hood had 66 total tackles, 32 for loss and 17 sacks. His number of sacks in 2018 is second only to Nick Cuff (18.5) in school history. His 32 tackles for loss is also second in school history to Ed Smerlick (36).

Brycen James, Shamokin, RB, jr.

The heart of the Shamokin offense, Brycen James led the team in offensive production with 12 touchdowns on the ground and one through the air. He ran the ball 160 times for 686 yards (4.3 avg.) in his inaugural season as a starting running back.

Lear Quinton, Southern Columbia, DL, jr.

Though the majority of Southern Columbia’s sacks came from linebackers who shot through gaps on all-out blitzes, Quinton was the most successful defensive lineman at getting to the quarterback and creating pressure. He finished the season with a line-leading 3.5 sacks and two recovered fumbles. He also led the defensive line in tackles with 68 and had two pass break-ups during the year.

Tom Reisinger, Mount Carmel, QB, jr.

A breakout season for the junior, Reisinger found his groove in the pass game thanks in part to the abilities of tight end Jack Chapman, his favorite receiver. Reisinger ended the season with 1,466 passing yards on 89 completions in 167 attempts. His completion rate of 53 percent is second in the area to only Hollenbach. Reisinger threw for 17 touchdowns and had eight interceptions.

Cole Schankweiler, Southern Columbia, DL, jr.

The team’s top defensive tackle, Schankweiler played a big role in helping the linebackers achieve so much success in stopping the run game of opponents. He finished the season with 51 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Oak Six, Southern Columbia, OL, sr.

Though he won’t show up on the stat sheet due to being a dedicated offensive lineman, Six served as the Tigers’ primary play-side tackle and was the driving force behind the squad’s success in the run game.

Max Tillett, Southern Columbia, LB, jr.

Tillett narrowly missed surpassing Haladay’s top mark for tackles on the year with only eight fewer, totaling 123 through 16 games. Tillett led the team in sacks with seven and also had three pass breakups and two interceptions as an outside linebacker.

Shane Weidner, Mount Carmel, RB, jr.

While Ayres’ power run game proved most fruitful for the Red Tornadoes, Weidner benefited the team admirably by being the primary ball carrier to the outside using his lightning speed to beat linebackers to the edge. He carried the ball 126 times for 930 yards (7.4 avg.) and 12 scores.

Preston Zachman, Southern Columbia, WR-LB, sr.

An all-around athlete who served in any capacity Southern Columbia needed, mainly as outside linebacker and wide receiver. Zachman caught 19 passes for 381 yards (20.1 avg.) and four scores. He also served as the Tigers’ starting quarterback during Hollenbach’s injury absence, throwing 44 times and completing 29 passes for 597 yards, eight scores and just one interception. In the run game, Zachman had just 10 carries but averaged 12.2 yards per touch, scoring once and managing 122 yards.

Blake Zalar, Shamokin, OL-DL, sr.

Leader of an Indians line that made vast improvements for the 2018 season and powered to a 6-6 record. Zalar has received interest from multiple Division I schools and is currently most interested in a preferred walk-on offer from Temple University. Zalar had 73 tackles as a defensive lineman this season.

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