MOUNT CARMEL — Mount Carmel Area is one of the few teams in the area, if not the state, that can reasonably shut down Southern Columbia’s running game.
Unfortunately the Tigers can also throw and catch, and they did just that Friday to break open a close game in the second quarter and go on to beat the Red Tornadoes, 41-7, at the Silver Bowl. It was Southern’s 63rd consecutive regular season win, dating back to 2011, when Mount Carmel beat them 22-21, and their 18th straight win overall. Southern is 2-0, Mount Carmel 1-1.
Quarterback Stone Hollenbach completed 15 of 24 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns, and Julian Fleming caught seven passes for 113 and three touchdowns. Preston Zachman and Gaige Garcia each caught three passes for 70 yards.
“That’s one of the best run defenses we’ll see all year, even in the playoffs,” Southern head coach Jim Roth said. “That’s an outstanding defense but we’re in a little different situation this year where we just have some athletes who are at a different level.”
The Red Tornadoes hemmed in Southern on the ground, holding the Tigers to 130 yards and less than four yards per attempt.
“I think our defense played pretty well,” said Southern head coach John Darrah. “We had a tough second quarter. We made some mistakes that hurt us. It probably shouldn’t have been 20-0 at halftime.”
Mount Carmel held Southern scoreless in the first quarter for the first time since the Tigers played West Catholic in the 2015 state playoffs, a string of 35 games.
Two good punts by John Ayres and a dropped pass on a fourth-and-two by Garcia hampered the Tigers. But Hollenbach threaded a pass to Zachman between three defenders for a 45-yard gain on a second-and-18, setting up a 24-yard touchdown run by freshman Gavin Garcia.
Mount Carmel used two first downs to drive to Southern’s 45 but the Tigers’ Jake Davis intercepted a floater thrown by Tommy Reisinger. The Red Tornadoes forced a three-and-out but Fleming boomed a 55-yard punt for a touchback.
The Red Tornadoes were penalized back to the one-yard line for intentional grounding. Ayres, punting from his end zone, got the ball out to the 35 and Fleming returned the ball to the 12, although a holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 22. Hollenbach and Fleming connected on a 16-yard touchdown pass.
Then came Mount Carmel’s biggest mistake. Ayres fumbled the snap on the next punt and although he got a kick off, it went for minus-4 yards, giving Southern great field possession again, at the Mount Carmel 28. Southern went to the four in three plays before but was still there on third down, when Hollenbach found Fleming on a slant over the middle with just 24 seconds left in the half, making it 20-0.
The Tigers got the ball to start the second half and although Mount Carmel held on downs again, the Red Tornadoes couldn’t move the ball. On their next drive, the Tigers used running backs Ty Roadarmel and Gaige Garcia on passes of 38 yards and 19 yards, respectively, the latter for a touchdown.
Mount Carmel got its touchdown on an eight-play, 76-yard drive highlighted by a 29-yard run by Ayres and a 35-yard pass from Reisinger to Avery Demko. Ayres scored on a four-yard run.
Hollenbach hit Gaige Garcia for a 45-yard gain to the three, from where Garcia scored on a run. Fleming had an apparent 60-yard punt return for a touchdown called back to midfield and two more penalties drove Southern back to the 34, but Hollenbach hit Fleming in the flat, and the receiver did the rest for a 66-yard touchdown.
“I wasn’t too upset (about the punt return),” Fleming said. “We were ahead pretty much by that time. This was really a team effort. I was playing decoy for Preston, Preston was playing decoy for me, Gaige was playing decoy for Gavin and Gavin for Gaige. That’s what we can do this year and Stone does a good job getting the ball to all of us.”
Defensively, Southern limited Mount Carmel to 210 total yards, 50 of which were gained by the reserves in the final series. Linebackers Cal Haladay and Max Tillett made life tough for Reisinger and running backs Ayres and Shane Weidner.
“We knew even though we had to replace some defensive linemen this year that that group of linebackers was definitely going to be our strength,” said Roth.