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Southern Columbia stops Nolehi

Joe Tout was fearful it was coming.

And no matter what he, his staff, and his players tried, they just couldn’t avoid it.

Northern Lehigh hoped to contain the speed of perennial powerhouse Southern Columbia in Friday night’s Class 2A state semifinal contest, but the Tigers quickness on both sides of the ball was just too much in cruising to a 56-14 victory.

“That was my fear, to let things get away,” said Tout, the Bulldogs’ head coach. “What we didn’t want to get into tonight was a track meet where we’d have to keep pace and that’s exactly what happened. They’re an institution. They’ve been doing it so well so long.

“We knew they were going to send the house (on defense), and kind of lock man and challenge you to throw, and they just played faster than we did tonight. They sent the house, and we weren’t just picking it up.”

The Tigers wasted no time setting the tempo, as their three-headed backfield of Gavin Garcia, Braeden Wisloski and Wes Barnes all contributed to two quick scores and a 14-0 advantage.

Garcia’s 34-yard burst on the opening drive led to a Wisloski 14-yard touchdown run, and his 45-yard scamper set up a 7-yard run to the end zone by Barnes less than five minutes into the contest.

Each member of the trio ended over 100 yards rushing with limited amounts of carries.

“You saw their ability in the open field,” said Tout. “They’re so quick, and it’s not just one guy. It’s three running backs that do that. Even the fullback (Barnes) that’s more their inside player. They’re in the open field, and they’re still able to make a couple of cuts. They’re not real big kids, but they’re so fast and strong.

“They’re running the wing-T, and they’re not running many plays, but man they got the edge. We noticed that immediately. They’re typically a C-gap team and they were just able to cave down our ends and get that edge.”

Despite the rough start, the Bulldogs responed with an impressive drive that cut their deficit in half.

Quarterback Dylan Smoyer connected with Nick Frame on passes of 18 and 49 yards to get the District 11 champs into the red zone. Matt Frame took over from there, carrying four straight times including the final one from a yard out to make it 14-7 with 2:59 left in the opening period.

“We fought back, but we needed probably four more (drives like that) to stay in it against a team with the kind of speed they have,” said Tout.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they wouldn’t have another drive like that until the second half when the game was out of reach.

Southern Columbia (14-1) immediately responded to Nolehi’s drive by scoring 53 seconds later. Wisloski took an inside reverse and broke free for a 53-yard touchdown run.

Wisloski contributed to the next Tiger tally as his 26-yard gain midway through the second quarter eventually led to a Barnes 6-yard TD and a 28-7 spread.

Meanwhile, Nolehi’s offense couldn’t muster much against a defense that started to get pressure on Smoyer. Even when the Bulldogs got a positive play, a penalty or sack prevented the momentum to continue.

“We’d take a step forward offensively, and then we’d take a step back,” said Tout. “We tried just about everything. We went through the whole gamut of being tight, being spread.

“Dylan did a great job in the first half, he kept a couple things alive, but (Derek Berlitz) just ate us up. We struggled with him all night.”

Berlitz not only applied pressure to Smoyer from his defensive end position, but his blocked punt late in the first half set up another Southern Columbia score. Garcia took another inside reverse and bolted into the end zone from 13 yards out to make it 35-7 with 1:24 left until the break.

While Northern Lehigh (11-4) received the second-half kickoff, any hope to creep back into the game ended when Smoyer was sacked by a blitzing Garrett Garcia on third down on its opening possession. Following a punt, Barnes escaped two plays later for a 45-yard touchdown and a 42-7 lead that invoked the mercy rule.

“Our defensive philosophy for anybody that watches us over any period of time is that when we face a throwing team, we’re going to blitz and we’re going to bring pressure,” said Southern Columbia mentor Jim Roth, whose team is headed to its seventh consecutive state title game. “That’s just what we’re going to do, not all the time, but we’re going to be a heavy pressure team.

PICK SIX ... Garcia not only stopped a Northern Lehigh march late in the third quarter with an interception in the end zone, but he raced 102 yards the other way to extend the Tigers’ lead.

LATE TALLIES ... The teams traded touchdowns in the final quarter as Wisloski reached the end zone for a third time on an 18-yard run, while Matt Frame completed a 99-yard drive with a 16-yard tally. The drive was highlighted by Trevor Amorim’s 57-yard run.

BIG PLAYS ... The Tigers ran just 30 offensive plays in the game, but 13 of them went for 10 yards or more.

SPECIAL YEAR ... “What I noticed teaching is the school needed a win with COVID, with all the debate with masking in school and all these different things,” said Tout. “I just think we noticed the community wanted to rally around something, and our guys were able to provide that, and the community gave it right back. They’ve been awesome with everything ... It’s just been phenomenal.”

Northern Lehigh's Matt Frame carries the ball as Southern Columbia's Derek Berlitz tries to make a play on defense. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Northern Lehigh's Trevor Amorim tries to escape the grasp of a pair of Southern Columbia defenders. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS