By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
HERSHEY — It was high noon in Hershey, and that didn’t bode well for the Big Reds.
While West Middlesex High was making its initial appearance on the statewide stage and entered Hersheypark Stadium early for pre-game warm-ups, 4-time commonwealth kingpin Southern Columbia casually came out exactly one hour prior to Friday’s 1 p.m. kickoff. And that businesslike approach, highlighted by Henry Hynoski’s 11-carry, 126-yard, 3-TD performance, enabled the Tigers to maul Middlesex 56-14 before 5,006 spectators.
Southern (16-0) secured its 5th consecutive commonwealth crown, snapping a stalemate with Berwick (4) in PIAA annals. It was the 9-time Eastern Regional titlist Tigers’ 6th championship overall, all directed by 23-year mentor Jim Roth (276-44-2).
“This year, I thought, was the toughest, when you consider the expectations coming in,” Roth said. “Everything the media in the state was saying. With what we had coming back and what we’ve accomplished, we kind of figured there was going to be a lot of pressure, probably even a little bit more than I had anticipated.
“There’s no way to measure (which of his Southern squads have been the best), but with the big-time players we have, combined with everybody else... there was so much talent we had offensively, and all we needed was the line to come together. But offensively, we’re right there with any team that we’ve had, and defensively, too. Overall, when you look at both sides of the ball, from day one, it could easily be said that this is as good a team as we’ve had. I have to give them that credit since they’re 16-0.”
Meanwhile, West Middlesex (15-1) established not only school, but also Mercer County single-season marks for wins, while earning the once downtrodden program’s third District 10 title in five seasons.
“I just hope it doesn’t diminish what we were able to accomplish. These players played outstanding football for 15 weeks,” 3rd-year Middlesex mentor Brian Hoffman said. “But I’ll be honest with you when I tell you (the Tigers) were bigger, stronger, faster. We were able to make plays on the offensive end, but in the end we didn’t tackle and that was the difference.”
Southern Columbia collected 465 total yards, including a 293-61 advantage on the ground, and quarterback Ted Heitzman — who hadn’t been required to throw for most of this season — hit on 4 of 9 attempts for 172 yards and 2 TDs.
The University of Pittsburgh-bound Hynoski’s hijinks began approximately 3 minutes into the contest when he burst 52 yards off the right side on a 3rd-and-1 play. That was followed by Heitzman’s 58-yard scoring strike to Colby Snyder, Corey Sober’s 30-yard return of a pickoff of a Kolten Hoffman pass, and Heitzman’s 14-yard option left.
By the time kicker Bryan Snyder tacked on his fourth consecutive conversion, West Middlesex trailed the Tigers 28-0 after 12 minutes.
The Tigers’ built their bulge to 35-0 midway through the second stanza as Heitzman and Hynoski collaborated on 70-yard screen pass, culminating a 4-play, 95-yard, 63-second march. West Middlesex’s deepest first-half penetration prior to that was halted when Lucas Allen was stopped a yard shy on a 4th-and-2 play from Southern’s 6-yard line.
But the Big Reds broke through with 1:54 remaining to intermission on Hoffman’s 4th-and-4, 9-yard TD toss to Allen, capping a 12-play, 50-yard drive that consumed 4:18. Josh Brown’s conversion boot was wide.
But no sooner had the Big Reds drawn within 35-6 then Nick Gallinot galloped 57 yards to score just seconds later. In assuming its 42-6 margin at intermission Southern Columbia collected a 382-170 edge in total yards, as Middlesex mustered only 54 rushing yards.
“A big part of this game is your physical conditioning, and they were bigger and stronger, and that’s what happened today,” Middlesex mentor Hoffman said regarding the Tigers’ offensive line, that averaged 269 pounds in paving paths for the 240-pound Hynoski.
“In the scheme of things they got a body on a body and we weren’t able to make plays on defense,” Hoffman acknowledged, adding in praise of the Tigers, “They’re well-coached. That team could win the AA level and they’d contend for AAA, too, if you’d put them against that level as well. And they’re classy.”
With the 35-point mercy rule in effect, Southern’s second-half scores included Austin Carpenter’s 47-yard scoring sprint and Hynoski’s 8-yarder, while West Middlesex countered with Hoffman’s 17-yard TD toss to his cousin, Tyler Barris, with 2:09 remaining. Brown ran for the 2-point conversion.
In typical fashion for a successful coach, Roth remembered Southern’s 6 straight setbacks in the state title tilt, but said 5 consecutive wins helps erase that pain.
“I’d rather have it go this way, than win a close one — a lot more fun,” he said to a congratulatory telephone-caller, before relating, “You’d have to look long and hard — perhaps even in another state — where a team lost six in a row, then won five. But believe it or not, that was the only thing that was always in the back of my mind during those losses: The only way to erase this (losing) feeling is to come back and do the same thing, only get the ‘W,’ string together a bunch of these wins. Obviously, when you’re getting here every year, you’re good enough to make it, and if you’re good enough to make it, when you’re losing some close games, you’re good enough to win. But we never got complacent or down or said, ‘enough’s enough.’ We just kept plugging away and tried to get a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, and faster and worked at the game of football and we developed a better program. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Kolten Hoffman, Mercer County’s single-season (2,401) and career (5,054) yards passing leader, concluded his scholastic career with an 22-for-46, 210-yard, 2-TD performance.
West Middlesex seniors include Allen, Steve Andrusky, Brown, Tyler Gilmore, Hoffman, Todd Minner, Chachi Ruffo and Marco Skarica.
“What can you say? Outstanding group. For four years they’ve given me everything they have, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. I hate the way they went out because they deserve better, and that’s my frustration,” Brian Hoffman summed.
This year’s edition improved from a 3-win season 2 years ago in Hoffman’s debut at the helm, to 7 last year including a D-10 playoff berth, to 15 this year.
“It’s amazing. I can’t even talk about it right now without getting choked up,” Kolten Hoffman said. “It’s been so much fun, such a great year. We’re the only ones to ever do it.”
PIAA Class AA Championship
S. Columbia 28 14 14 0 — 56
W. Middlesex 0 6 0 8 — 14
SC—Hynoski 52 run (B. Snyder kick), 8:56
SC—C. Snyder 58 pass from Heitzman (B. Snyder kick), 5:11
SC—Sober 30 interception return (B. Snyder kick), 4:50
SC—Heitzman 14 run (B. Snyder kick), :48.
SC—Hynoski 70 pass from Heitzman (B. Snyder kick), 6:21
WM—Allen 9 pass from Hoffman (kick failed), 1:54
SC—Gallinot 57 run (B. Snyder kick), 1:21.
SC—Carpenter 47 run (B. Snyder kick), 9:52
SC—Hynoski 9 run (B. Snyder kick), 5:3
WM—Barris 17 pass from Hoffman (Brown run), 2:09.
First downs 15 21
Rushes-yards 29-324 20-97
Passing 172 210
Comp-Att-Int 4-9-0 22-46-2
Return Yards 108 133
Punts-Avg. 1-36.0 3-33.3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 4-40 4-21
Time of Possession 16:58 31:02
RUSHING—Southern Columbia: Hynoski 11-126, Carpenter 4-82, Gallinot 1-57, Adams 3-20, Heitzman 1-14, Springer 1-8, Miller 1-6, Breech 1-5, Roth 4-5, Sober 1-2, Shankweller 1-(minus-1). West Middlesex: Brown 7-40, Hoffman 7-24, Allen 4-15, Andrusky, 1-15, Saylor 1-3.
PASSING—Southern Columbia: Heitzman 4-9-0-172. West Middlesex: Hoffman 22-46-2-210.
RECEIVING—Southern Columbia: Hynoski 2-109, CSnyder 2-63. West Middlesex: Barris 7-82, Brown 7-61, Allen 4-44, Andrusky 4-23.
By Ed Farrell