The first half of the PIAA Class 2A Championship game was a challenging one for Southern Columbia’s defense against the run-heavy Wilmington offense.
The second half couldn’t have been any more different.
The Greyhounds ran the football effectively thanks to mixing up formations and creating enough space for running backs to make plays consistently.
Wilmington recorded five rushing first downs on its opening drive including a 46-yard run by quarterback Robert Pontius and a 2-yard touchdown from Ethan Susen.
The Greyhounds converted on six of seven third downs in the first half, however the Tigers came marching back.
In the second half, Southern held Wilmington to only four first downs and did not allow a single third-down conversion.
Max Tillett posted a game-high 13 tackles including three for a loss. It was the highest amount of tackles by a Southern Columbia linebacker since Week 2 versus Mount Carmel.
“We knew we had to pick up the intensity. We knew they were going to come out firing, but we just got the job done,” Tillett said.
The junior inside linebacker also addressed the adjustments his team had to make against the Greyhounds offensive formations.
“Early on they knew a couple of our blitzes that were going on. So, we just had to change things up and try and confuse them,” Tillett said about the early success of Wilmington’s offense.
In the second half, the offense got the ball rolling and dropped five touchdowns on the Greyhounds defense, which gave Tillett and his fellow defensemen extra energy against the limited offense that Wilmington possessed.
After Gaige Garcia zipped into the end zone after breaking several would-be tacklers, Tillett thought that it was time for his defense to slam the door and ride the momentum Southern had discovered.
“As soon as Gaige broke all those tackles and scored, we thought that going off that momentum we had to pick it up. That was just a deal breaker. We had to get a stop and go from there,” Tillett shared about the impact Garcia’s touchdown had.
Defensive coordinator Andy Mills thought his team did not have to adjust much to the different looks Wilmington gave his defense even when the Greyhounds did have success producing first downs.
“They ran big splits which was a different look, but we didn’t change anything at halftime. We just had to stay positive and keep the intensity. We would go out in shades and line up in the gaps. It was big to have Cal (Haladay) and Max (Tillett) on the line to put pressure then we’d go tight. When they threw we would go to a 4-3 defense,” Mills said about his defensive alignment.
In the second half Wilmington could only muster 86 yards on the ground as Marett was held to 11 yards on four rushing attempts. Pontius tallied just seven.
The Greyhounds passing aerial attack collected just five yards as Pontius was 1-8 and threw two interceptions in the final half. Overall the signal-caller went 5-13 on the night for 83 yards.
“We knew they started doing similar stuff, not too many pass routes. So, we started to recognize that and it started to work,” Tillett explained about Southern’s defense picking up the Greyhounds tendencies.