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HEISER: York Catholic to fight against history in Saturday showdown vs. Southern Columbia

  • York Catholic faces Southern Columbia in a PIAA Class 2-A state football quarterfinal on Saturday.
  • The game is set for 1 p.m. at Shamokin High School. Both teams enter the game with unbeaten records.
  • Southern Columbia owns eight PIAA state titles, including the 2-A crown in 2017.

History can be the most daunting foe.

You can’t argue with it. You can’t dispute it. You can’t change it.

Delone Catholic's Gabe Hernandez, left, and Joe Hernandez, right, work to keep up with York Catholic's Cole Witman as he scores a touchdown during District 3, Class 2-A football title game action against Delone Catholic at South Western High School in Hanover, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. York Catholic would win the game 28-21 in overtime. Dawn J. Sagert photo

There’s only one thing you can do — try to make some history of your own.

That’s the formidable task awaiting the York Catholic football players on Saturday afternoon when they’ll be fighting against the historical tide on multiple levels.

The Fighting Irish coaches, players and fans likely know by now that they’ll be decided underdogs when they journey to Shamokin High School to take on the Southern Columbia Tigers in a PIAA Class 2-A quarterfinal. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. 

Small-school royalty: When it comes to Pennsylvania small-school football, the Tigers are absolute royalty.

The Coal Region powerhouse owns eight PIAA state football championships, including two in the past three years. The Tigers cruised in last year’s 2-A state title game, 48-0.

To make matters worse for the Irish, this year’s version of the Tigers, ranked No. 1 in the state in 2-A in the Trib HSSN poll, may just be better than its predecessors.

That’s a truly scary thought.

Southern Columbia (13-0) rolled to the District 4 2-A championship on Saturday with a 39-14 triumph over a good Mount Carmel team. That 25-point victory is the closest game the Tigers have had all season. Two of Mount Carmel’s three losses came against the Tigers.

Heralded recruit: In addition, Southern Columbia may have the most heralded recruit in the history of the storied program.

Julian Fleming, a 6-foot, 2-inch, 205-pound junior wideout, is rated the No. 1 recruit in Pennsylvania for the Class of 2020 and the No. 1 wideout recruit in the nation for his class. The five-star blue-chipper is the No. 9 overall national recruit, at any position, for his 2020 class.

His offer list includes Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and Penn State, among many others.

Put simply, the kid is seriously good.

Oh, and one other thing. Saturday’s contest is practically a home game for Southern Columbia. The Tigers are from Catawissa, which is located less than 20 miles from Shamokin. York Catholic, meanwhile, faces a trip north of nearly 95 miles.

Y-A teams have struggled in state playoffs: Southern Columbia’s prodigious pedigree, however, is not the only history going against the Irish.

The state playoffs have not been exactly kind to York-Adams League football teams over the years.

HEISER: D-III programs again excel in districts

When facing teams from outside of District 3 in the state playoffs, Y-A programs have exactly one win. That covers more than three decades.

The lone win was Littlestown’s 27-0 triumph over Athens from District 4 in 2004 in a 2-A quarterfinal.

We made the distinction “vs. foes from outside of District 3” because sometimes, in some classes, the PIAA playoffs officially begin with the District 3 finals or even semifinals. For example, the York High-Cocalico District 3 semifinal last weekend was also considered a first-round 5-A state playoff game. Same goes for the Bermudian Springs-Middletown District 3 3-A final.

When facing foes outside of District 3 in the state playoffs, however, the current members of the Y-A League have a combined record of 1-15. In the 15 losses, the average margin of defeat has been more than 17 points per setback.

York Catholic beats Delone in OT to win title

Irish have nothing to lose: Given that historical context, you might think that the York Catholic players shouldn’t bother getting off the bus on Saturday morning in Shamokin.

You would be wrong.

The great thing about high school sports is that anything can happen on a given day. You’re talking about teenage boys, who may be the most unpredictable creatures on the face of the planet.

York Catholic now No. 3 in state 2-A rankings

York Catholic, after all, has a pretty healthy pedigree of its own. The Irish are also unbeaten (12-0) and they’re also ranked in the Trib HSSN 2-A poll, coming in at No. 3.

York Catholic has also beaten some pretty good foes already — most notably Delone Catholic and Bermudian Springs. Delone lost just two games, both to York Catholic, and was ranked in the top five in the state in 2-A for much of the season. Bermudian, meanwhile, made a surprising run to the District 3 3-A title game, upsetting a state-ranked and unbeaten Lancaster Catholic program along the way.

So, York Catholic has a pretty fair resume of its own.

Southern Columbia, however, appears to be on another level, at least on paper. Saturday, we’ll find out how that translates to the field.

One thing is certain. York Catholic has nothing to lose. Most football fans across the state are expecting a Southern Columbia blowout.

Occasionally, however, a big underdog with nothing to lose will pull off an epic upset. The Irish just have to hope that this will turn out to be a shocking Saturday.

If that happens, it would be truly historical.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.