Ethan Susen

Wilmington running back Ethan Susen carries the ball during a Class 2A semifinal game against Steel Valley last Friday at Ambridge High School.

One more shot.

That’s what the Wilmington High football team has at capturing a state championship. Fifteen of the Greyhounds’ players are seniors and they will be taking the field for the final time in their high school career.

In Wilmington’s way is Southern Columbia, the defending PIAA Class 2A champion. The same Tigers team that rolled to a 48-0 decision over the Greyhounds in the state championship game a season ago.

The teams will meet once again at 1 p.m. Friday at Hersheypark Stadium for the PIAA Class 2A crown.

“It feels kind of surreal,” said first-year Wilmington coach Brandon Phillian of his team advancing to Hershey for the second straight season. “I’m tremendously blessed to be in this position as a first-year head coach. I have a great group of coaches and young men.”

Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth isn’t taking anything for granted. He knows his team won last year’s championship battle with the Greyhounds. But that was last year.

“They’re an excellent football team,” Roth said. “They’re strong on both sides of the ball and they’re good up front.

“They were a good team last year and most of them are back. They lost a few skill players, but they returned a really strong nucleus. They appear to be a stronger team than they were last year.”

Wilmington (13-1) comes in as the District 10 champion. The Greyhounds won their 15th district title last month and 13th in the District 10 circuit.

Southern Columbia (15-0) is the District 4 champion. Winning a district crown is nothing new to the Tigers, who have won 26 district championships in the past 28 years.

“They’re a very talented football team with a three-headed monster on offense,” Phillian said of Southern Columbia. “As good as they are at the skill positions, they’re excellent up front. They’re big, physical and aggressive. They get off the ball, too; they’re the total package.

“Defensively, they’re very similar. Their defensive line is big and they get off the ball well. We’re looking forward to the battle in the trenches.”

Wilmington is 19-12 all-time in the PIAA playoffs and the Tigers are 48-16. The Greyhounds’ lone state championship came in 2008, a 35-34 double-overtime win over Philadelphia West Catholic.

Stone Hollenbach, a 6-foot-3 senior quarterback, paces the Southern Columbia offense. Hollenbach is 79 of 125 for 1,571 yards with 26 touchdowns and four interceptions.

“He’s primarily a pro-style pocket passer,” Phillian said of Hollenbach. “There’s a couple of designed runs and he’s capable with his legs. But he’s more of a pro-style pocket passer.

“He’s extremely accurate and he puts a great touch on the ball.”

Hollenbach accepted a preferred walk-on offer to Alabama in August. He is 46-1 as a starter for the Tigers with one state championship, while playing in another. Tomorrow will be his third state title tilt before he heads to Tuscaloosa.

Gaige Garcia, a 5-10 junior running back/linebacker, leads Southern Columbia in rushing with 1,907 yards on 185 attempts with 35 touchdowns.

Gaige’s younger brother Gavin (5-7, 160, freshman) is next with 1,074 yards on 94 carries and 21 scores.

“Gaige is an excellent runner,” Phillian said. “He has all the tools; speed, quickness and agility. He’s willing to lower his shoulder and his balance is as good as any back as I’ve seen.

“Gavin is very similar to Gaige. He has the tools; size, speed and agility. He can go between the tackles.”

Julian Fleming, a 6-3 junior wide receiver/defensive back, has hauled in 72 passes for 1,495 yards and 22 touchdowns.

“He’s a threat at all three levels: short, intermediate and deep,” Phillian said of Fleming. “He has size, speed and quickness and he has excellent hands.

“He has all the tools and he can name the college he wants to go to. Slowing him down will be one of our focal points.”

Fleming has “30 to 40 Division I offers”, according to Roth, including three from this year’s college football playoff field – Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame. He’s listed by some as the nation’s top wide receiver and a five-star recruit.

“Fleming is rated extremely high,” Roth said. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player. We’ve never had a player like him and we probably never will again.”

Cal Haladay, a 6-1, 190-pound running back/linebacker, is being recruited by Michigan at middle linebacker.

The Tigers are dominating the opposition, posting an average score of 54-9.8.

“They’re a four down lineman team, based out of the 4-4 and they are three deep in the secondary.

“They use their hands very well and their linebackers are athletic; they play sideline to sideline.”

Wilmington’s Robert Pontius, a 6-4, 195-pound senior quarterback, is 71 of 114 through the air for 1,238 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. 

Pontius has produced 568 rushing yards on 84 carries and he has scored 19 additional touchdowns as well.

“Pontius is a good athlete,” Roth said. “The thing that jumped out when we evaluated the film is how much more he’s running the ball.

“They didn’t throw the ball a whole lot recently. But he still threw it enough to have success. The concern against a team like this is that you see so many runs in a row then you try to defend against your players falling asleep. Then they come out with a play-action pass and hit a big one.”

Cameron Marett, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound senior running back/safety, is Lawrence County’s leading rusher, boasting 1,751 rushing yards on 200 carries. Marett has compiled 28 total touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions.

“He’s a good runner,” Roth said of Marett. “He appears to have good speed. For a small guy he runs pretty physical.

“He appears to have good vision. He’s out there making moves, cutting back or bouncing it outside; he seems to see the field well. We can’t get caught up on keying on him, though, because they incorporate all of the other guys.”

For his career, Marett has totaled 3,800 total rushing yards in his career. He ranks third on Wilmington’s all-time rushing list, behind Chris Burns (3,991) and Blair Sweet (4,451).

“Cameron Marett is definitely a program guy,” Phillian said. “From the time he’s been a freshman, what he contributes off the field and what he embodies is humility and hard work.

“It’s not about the success on the fied, it’s the way he goes about it. He’s meant an awful lot to this program.”

The Greyhounds are outscoring their opponents, 47.2-12.5.

“They’re a 4-3 team, basically a 4-3 alignment,” Roth said of Wilmington’s defensive strategy. “When you watch the film on them, they do a consistent job up front and controlling their areas. That’s where everything starts.

“Things fall into place and that allows the linebackers to do their thing. It’s a good group; they get to the ball.”

Note: Both the Farrell and Wilmington games will be broadcast on WPIC 790AM and SportsRadio 96.7FM. The pregame show with Ryan Briggs starts at noon both days, followed by the games with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action. Briggs will then host the postgame show.

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STARTING LINEUPS

WILMINGTON 

OFFENSE

TE — Jacob Yohman

LT — Jordan Gray

LG — Colton Richards

C — Weston Phanco

RG — Alex Ramirez

RT — James Reed

SE — Junior McConahy

FB — Noah Hunt

HB — Ethan Susen

HB — Cameron Marett

QB — Robert Pontius

DEFENSE

DE — Alex Ramirez

DT — James Reed

DT — Jordan Gray

DE — Jacob Yohman

OLB — Noah Hunt

ILB — Colton Richards

OLB — Shane Cox

CB — Danny Hanssen

CB — Ethan Susen

S — Robert Pontius

S — Cameron Marett

SPECIALISTS

P — Caelan Bender

PK — Ethan Winters

Holder — Robert Pontius

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SOUTHERN COLUMBIA

OFFENSE

TE — Cam Haladay

LT — Seth Pletcher

LG — Ross Wertman

C — Troy Donlan

RG — John Stabinski

RT — Oak Six

SE — Julian Fleming

FB — Ty Roadarmel

HB — Gaige Garcia

HB — Gavin Garcia

QB — Stone Hollenbach

DEFENSE

DT — Robert Williams

DT — Cole Schankweiler

DE — Payton Pursel

DE — Lear Quinton

OLB — Preston Zachman

OLB — Nate Crowl

ILB — Max Tillett

ILB — Cal Haladay

CB — Julian Fleming

CB — Shane Miller

S — Cade Linn

 SPECIALISTS

P — Julian Fleming

PK — Ethan Dunkelberger

Holder —Preston Zachman

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GAME BY GAME SCORES

WILMINGTON GREYHOUNDS (13-1)

AUG. 24 — at Sharon 42-12

AUG. 31 — at Farrell 19-31

SEPT. 7 — vs. Northwestern 66-19

SEPT. 14 — vs. Lakeview 67-0

SEPT. 21 — at Conneaut, Ohio 55-14

SEPT. 28 — at Greenville 54-7

OCT. 5 — vs. Iorquois 52-6

OCT. 12 — at Sharpsville 48-14

OCT. 19 — vs. Hickory 42-0

OCT. 26 — District 10, Class 2A first-round playoff bye

NOV. 2 — vs. Greenville, at Slippery Rock University (District 10 semifinal) 44-13

NOV. 9 — vs. Sharpsville, at Hickory High School (District 10 championship) 50-7

NOV. 17 — vs. Chestnut Ridge, at Slippery Rock University (PIAA Class 2A playoffs) 40-33

NOV. 24 — vs. Ridgway, at Karns City High School (PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals) 56-14

NOV. 30 — vs. Steel Valley, at Ambridge High School (PIAA Class 2A semifinals) 26-6

DEC. 7 — vs. Southern Columbia, (PIAA Class 2A championship), 1 p.m., at Hersheypark Stadium

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S. COLUMBIA TIGERS (15-0)

AUG. 24 — vs. Bloomsburg 56-6

AUG. 31 — at Mount Carmel 41-7

SEPT. 7 — vs. Selinsgrove 48-0

SEPT. 14 — vs. Shamokin 48-0

SEPT. 21 — at Central Columbia 54-27

SEPT. 28 — at South Williamsport 54-20

OCT. 5 — vs. Jershey Shore 62-7

OCT. 12 — at Shikellamy 69-7

OCT. 19 — VS. Hughesville 69-8

OCT. 26 — at Danville 49-7

NOV. 2 — vs. Line Mountain, at Southern Columbia High School (District 4 quarterfinal) 55-0

NOV. 10 — vs. Troy, at Southern Columbia High School (District 4 semifinal) 69-16

NOV. 17 — vs. Mount Carmel, at Southern Columbia High School (District 4 championship) 39-14

NOV. 24 — vs. York Catholic, at Shamokin High School (PIAA Class 2A playoffs) 56-23

NOV. 30 — vs. Philadelphia West Catholic, at Northern Lehigh High School (PIAA Class 2A playoffs) 42-6

DEC. 7 — vs. Wilmington, (PIAA Class 2A championship), 1 p.m., at Hersheypark Stadium