By John Hartsock
Today’s PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal playoff showdown between Southern Columbia and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic is tantamount to a high school football-caliber heavyweight prize fight.
In the recent past, the way to the national championship of class 2A led through southern Colombia. The Tigers have won five straight Class 2A titles and will be in search of their sixth when they visit Mansion Park for the 7pm battle against the Marauders, who have dominated the Class 1A division of the State dominated before advancing to Class 2A year due to the PIAA’s Success Rule.
The path to the PIAA Class 1A gold medal was via BG, which won four Class 1A state titles in five PIAA championship games from 2014-2021.
The Marauders moved up to Class 2A this year and thoroughly took up the challenge. Step one was to upend a top-flight and undefeated Richland team on the road in the District 6 Class 2A Semifinals. Step two was winning their first District 6 Class 2A Championship by defeating Penns Valley 56-35 at Mansion Park last week.
Step three is Friday’s attempt to defeat a Southern Colombia team that has established the state’s standard in Class 2A.
“It’s very exciting,” said BG coach Justin Wheeler of Friday’s showdown. “We’ve been at the top of Class 1A for the last eight to 10 years, and Southern Columbia has been at Class 2A even longer. It’s a pretty cool moment when two teams that were at the top of their state classification go head-to-head in a playoff game.
“I think it’s such a big game for our program,” Wheeler added. “We did so well in class 1A and we always talked about if we could win in class 2A. It will be an exciting time.”
If there were a Mount Rushmore for Pennsylvania high school football coaches, Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth’s face would be front and center. In his 39th season as the school’s head coach, Roth has won 12 state championships — the top seven in Class A — and a Pennsylvania high school record 481 games.
“It’s an interesting duel – two programs that have been very successful,” Roth said of the showdown with the Marauders. “I have known Bishop Guilfoyle for a number of years now and I know they have had an excellent programme.
“It’s a good game for that reason, but also because we’re both used to making it into that final (Championship) week,” Roth added. “It should be a really good competition. I think both teams should be very determined at this point.”
Although both teams go into the game with 10-3 records, those records are deceptive. BG competes in the robust Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference and the Marauders were probably just a few games away from going unbeaten this year.
Southern Columbia has won five straight games and is a completely different team from the one that started the season 5-3. The Tigers have averaged over 52 points in their last five wins, while Southern Columbia has forced 14 opposing turnovers and had five defensive touchdowns in their last three games — including four turnovers and one defensive touchdown in its 48-18 loss of the previously undefeated Mount Carmel in last week’s District 4 championship game.
The presence of senior Wes Barnes, who was injured in the first half of the year, gave Southern Columbia a big boost on both sides of the ball in the second half of the season. While senior back Braeden Wisloski — who will play Division I college football in Maryland — leads the Tigers’ offense with 1,544 yards on 121 carries and 22 touchdowns, Barnes has provided a nice backfield complement with 80 carries and 11 scores in the second half of the year.
“They’re both incredible backs that are big, strong and physical,” Wheeler said of Wisloski and Barnes. “We’ve never seen two defenders in a game like these two defenders all year. The biggest key for us will be trying to limit their big plays on the run.”
Defensively, Barnes has sent a spark to South Colombia since returning to linebacker midseason. Another senior, placekicker Isaac Carter, has excelled on the Tigers’ defensive line since he started there midseason after completing his high school football season.
“The two guys helped us a lot defensively,” said Roth.
Bishop Guilfoyle also has a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball. Senior quarterback Karson Kiesewetter excels with both his passing arm and running ability. He has 206 carries and 30 touchdowns for 1,499 yards while completing 116 of 174 passes for 1,707 yards and six points.
“He’s outstanding,” Roth said of Kiesewetter, who was named PIAA Class 1A Footballer of the Year in 2021.”A big concern for us is that they are probably more diverse up front than any side we’ve played against this year. They can do a lot offensively and he’s the guy who makes them work.
“He’s such a dynamic runner and he throws the ball solidly too,” Roth added. “He adds an extra dimension to her offense.”
Senior back Cooper Rother has rushed for 894 yards with 143 carries and 11 touchdowns while posting a team-high with 41 pass receptions for 529 yards and four scores.
Kiesewetter does a great job of distributing the ball to multiple receivers. Senior Dominic Yanoshak has 26 catches for 371 yards and two scores, and junior Ryan Hagg has 14 catches for 206 yards and three scores.
Wheeler said the Marauders will be without the services of senior two-way tight end/defensive end Anthony Cioffari, who sustained a leg injury in the Penns Valley game.
BG’s Rother expects a real Donnybrook Friday like everyone else.
“Obviously it’s a great duel between two historic programs,” Rother said. “I think we’re getting an opportunity to play what is perhaps the most historic program in Pennsylvania.
“The competition will be great and I think we will be up for the challenge.”
Southern Colombia vs. BG
What: PIAA Class 2A Quarterfinals
Where: Mansion Park
When: Friday, 7 p.m
Records: Both teams are 10-3
Coach: Justin Wheeler (127-29 in 12 seasons at BG); Jim Roth (481-67-2 in 39 seasons with SC)
Last week: Southern Columbia advanced to the District 4 championship with a 48-18 win over Mount Carmel. Bishop Guilfoyle defeated Penns Valley 56-35 in the District 6 title game.
Winner gets: The winner of Friday’s game between Trinity and Executive Education Charter Academy in a semifinal game next week.
Notable: Southern Columbia has won five consecutive PIAA Class 2A state titles. … BG is competing in Class 2A this season after winning its fourth Class 1A state championship since 2014 last season.
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