York Catholic prepares for 'bookmark' game against Class 2-A powerhouse Southern Columbia

  • York Catholic plays Southern Columbia at Shamokin High School Saturday at 1 p.m.
  • Head coach Eric Depew said the Irish need to force the Tigers' offense into mistakes.
  • Southern Columbia has several NCAA Division I recruits, including wide receiver Julian Fleming.

York Catholic’s unbeaten road to the state playoffs hasn’t been easy.

The Fighting Irish (12-0) have won four games by one score this season, including two in overtime. The most recent test for the Irish was a 28-21 overtime victory over Delone Catholic to win the District 3 Class 2-A championship.

Eric DePew, seen here in a file photo, will lead his York Catholic football team against Southern Columbia on Saturday afternoon in a District 3 Class 2-A state playoff game at Shamokin High School. DISPATCH FILE PHOTO

Sometimes, the first round of the state playoffs can be easier than the title game of the district playoffs.

That is not the case for York Catholic, however. The Irish are tasked with playing Class 2-A powerhouse Southern Columbia on Saturday. Kickoff for the game at Shamokin High School is 1 p.m.

“We’re going to bring it,” York Catholic head coach Eric Depew said. “It doesn’t matter against who. We’re not going to back down. We’ve got to go through them.”

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About Southern Columbia: The Tigers (13-0) have almost every attribute of a top football program.

Head coach Jim Roth, who has coached the Coal Region program since 1984, has a career record of 425-63-2 and has led the Tigers to 26 District 4 titles. Southern Columbia, which is ranked as the top 2-A team in the state in the TribLive HSSN poll (York Catholic is ranked third), has eight state titles since 1988 and has won two of the last three. Last season, the Tigers defeated Wilmington 48-0 in the state 2-A championship contest.

“They’re a good program,” Depew said. “Jim does a good job. They’re tough, physical kids. They have great tradition. They know how to win these games. It’s going to be tough.”

The Tigers are averaging 57 points a game this season while allowing only 9.1. They defeated Mount Carmel 39-14 in the District 4 title game — the Tigers’ closest contest of the season.

With numbers like that, it’s not surprising the Tigers have several NCAA Division I recruits.

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On defense, junior linebacker Cal Haladay, who has an offer from Michigan, leads the Tigers with 102 tackles.

Junior Julian Fleming, a five-star recruit who is the top-rated wideout in the state and one of the top 2020 prospects in the nation, has caught 63 passes for 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Fleming has received scholarship offers from Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Penn State, among many others.

“They have the Fleming kid, who is one of the top receivers in the country,” Depew said. “You want to stop the run and you have to be sound in the pass.”

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Throwing the ball to Fleming is senior quarterback Stone Hollenbach, who will be a preferred walk-on at Alabama next year. He’s thrown for 1,253 yards and 20 touchdowns this season.

Leading the ground attack is junior running back Gaige Garcia, who is averaging 9.9 yards per attempt on 157 carries for 1,552 yards and 38 touchdowns. Gavin Garcia, Gaige’s younger brother, has also rushed for 970 yards and 19 touchdowns.

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

Formula to win: Depew thinks the Irish have the formula to compete with the Tigers.

While Southern Columbia has been putting up ridiculous numbers on offense, York Catholic has been almost as impressive on defense. The Irish led the York-Adams League in every defensive category, including giving up 9.4 points per game. While York Catholic had some easier games on the schedule, such as Fairfield, Biglerville, York Tech and Hanover, the Irish allowed only a total of 54 points in their four games against playoff teams (13.5 points per game).

Being a defensive-minded team, Depew said, could benefit the Irish against a high-powered offense in Southern Columbia.

“I don’t think you want a shootout type thing,” Depew said. “We want to make sure we make them go 70-80 yards to score and force them into mistakes.”

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The most astounding stat in favor of the Irish is their plus-30 turnover differential. The defense, led by twin brothers Jarred and Harris Kohl, has forced 35 takeaways this season.

“It really comes down to the mistakes and the miscues,” Depew said. “That’s the main factor in these games. That’s what it has to be. We have to force some miscues. They had some miscues with fumbles and interceptions last week against Mount Carmel.”

Delone Catholic's Evan Brady, left, pulls away from York Catholic's Jarred Kohl during District 3, Class 2-A football title game action 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

If the Irish win, it will be the second state playoff victory for a Y-A team vs. a team from outside of District 3. The first was Littlestown in 2004.

“We want to be like these programs and mirror them,” Depew said. “Now we have an opportunity for a bookmark type of game to see where we’re at as a program.”

Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at jmeyer@yorkdispatch.com