What if I told you “David vs. Goliath” had a sequel?

Nearly one year to the date of last year’s memorable PIAA Class 2A championship clash between City League champion Westinghouse and six-time defending PIAA champion Southern Columbia, the stars have aligned and the pieces have all fallen into place for a can’t-miss rematch. At 1 p.m. Friday at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg, the ultimate underdog story will get one more crack at the state’s top football dynasty.

Time to run it back.

There couldn’t be a more stark contrast between two programs in all of Pennsylvania, let alone two state finalists — especially among two public schools. Westinghouse (13-0) is an inner-city school of majority Black students located in Homewood, and the Bulldogs had never even qualified for the state playoffs before 2021. They’re now playing in the state finals for the second time in a row, attempting to win their first state title and become only the second team from the City League ever to do so.

On the other hand, Southern Columbia (13-1) is a rural school with few minority students, located in the small town of Catawissa in northeastern Pennsylvania. There aren’t many football programs in the country that can match the Tigers’ pedigree, and certainly none in Pennsylvania.

“Oddly enough, we’ve been pulling for Southern Columbia throughout the year to make sure they do get back,” said Westinghouse coach Donta Green. “To me, it just wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t beat Southern Columbia for the state championship.”

Competing out of District 4, Southern Columbia has won six consecutive state titles and 13 overall — both state records — and the Tigers are playing in the state finals for the ninth year in a row and the 22nd time in the past 30 seasons. They won 65 games in a row from 2017-21, including a state-record 30 consecutive wins via mercy rule from 2019-20, and they went a full decade without losing a regular-season game from 2011-21 — a span of 93 consecutive games, also a state record.

To really drive the point home, Southern Columbia has won more state titles in the past six years than any WPIAL school has won in its entire existence — and four of those six consecutive state crowns have come via mercy rule.

“It’s rewarding to have the consistency, and I think that’s the biggest thing,” said Tigers coach Jim Roth, the winningest coach in Pennsylvania history with a record of 498-67-2. “You don’t expect to win that many titles or get there this many years in a row, but you just try to do the best you can each year, and it’s been working out for a few years now. It doesn’t get old.”

Although the two teams are polar opposites in terms of background, tradition and historical success, they turned out to be evenly matched dance partners when they met in last year’s Class 2A state final. A back-and-forth battle ended in a 37-22 win for Southern Columbia — the Tigers’ closest margin of victory in any of their 13 state championship victories — but it was a one-point game at halftime, and only a seven-point deficit for the Bulldogs late in the fourth quarter.

Westinghouse’s Donta Green has developed a reputation as one of the most respected coaches in Western Pennsylvania, but a win against mighty Southern Columbia in the state finals could elevate him to legendary status. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Of course, that was last year, and these are two different teams with plenty of new faces at key positions, including quarterback and running back. But while their rosters might not look the same, both teams have used a similar formula to make it back to the state finals. For Westinghouse, a balanced and explosive offense coupled with a fast and physical defense led by a stout defensive line — and for Southern Columbia, its trademark variation of the wing-T offense and a formidable front seven on defense.

Gone are standout Southern Columbia running backs Braeden Wisloski and Wes Barnes, who each rushed for more than 100 yards against the Bulldogs in last year’s matchup. Barnes is now a wrestler at Clarion, while Wisloski excelled as a kick returner for Maryland as a true freshman. As much as the Tigers do miss them, there wasn’t any drop-off this season with seniors Garrett Garcia (1,693 yards rushing, 28 TDs) and Louden Murphy (1,436 yards rushing, 24 TDs) stepping into the fold as the team’s primary ball carriers.

“I’m really happy for [Garcia]. He missed all of last year with a knee injury. He’s come back and had a really strong year,” Roth said. “We plugged him in at fullback this year, and he hadn’t ran the ball since eighth grade, and he’s our leading rusher with over 1,600 yards.”

Garcia is following in the footsteps of older brothers Gaige and Gavin, who each put up eye-popping numbers in recent years at Southern Columbia while helping to lay the foundation for the Tigers’ current dynasty. Roth said the youngest is the biggest of the three, and perhaps the most powerful runner — and he’s also a PIAA place-winner in wrestling, just like his brothers.

Along with Garcia and Murphy, senior Carter Madden is another capable runner with 812 yards rushing and nine TDs on the season, giving Southern Columbia a three-headed monster in the backfield with a combined 3,941 yards rushing and 63 touchdowns through 14 games.

“There’s a host of them,” Green said. “As a whole, you have to look at the big picture and figure out a way to stop the offense, rather than just one person. They’ve got Garcia, Madden and Murphy. And Madden and Murphy played a lot last year. They’ve got some veteran guys. It’s not just one person.”

Roth said Garcia (6-0, 220) and all-state junior Dominic Fetterolf (6-1, 220) have served as the backbone of the Tigers defense, with the two punishing inside linebackers making life miserable for opposing running backs and any receivers who dare cross over the middle. Combined with an intimidating front four led by Colden Bloom and Isaac Carter, Southern Columbia’s defensive front plays with a physical nature that not many teams can match — except Westinghouse.

Mike Richardson is the leader of Westinghouse’s punishing defense, and he’ll look to deliver one more signature performance in his final high school game against Southern Columbia in the Class 2A state finals. (Photo by Jason Cohn/Pittsburgh Public Schools)

The Bulldogs’ fearsome front four of Mike Richardson, Sincere Shannon, Byron Lewis and Josiah Collins is as good as any you’ll find in Western Pa., regardless of classification. Lewis (6-4, 270) is the monster in the middle responsible for plugging up running lanes and collapsing the pocket, while Collins (6-2, 215) and Shannon (6-2, 250) are both players with Division I offers capable of lining up inside at defensive tackle or outside at defensive end.

As for Richardson (6-3, 205), Westinghouse’s fiery senior captain is a fast, violent edge rusher who plays the game with a rare blend of crisp technique and unbridled intensity. His penchant for making game-changing plays at crucial moments was on full display in the Bulldogs’ 28-8 win over WPIAL champion Beaver Falls in last week’s PIAA semifinals, when Richardson tallied a trio of sacks — including one on fourth-and-goal and another that caused a game-clinching fumble return TD by Collins.

“[Richardson] was tough last year,” Roth said. “They’re solid in all areas. And they still have the speed, and they still have the explosive players on offense. That’s probably our biggest concern going in, that we don’t give up the big play, the quick scores. With our defensive front, if we don’t give up big plays, it makes it tough on an offense to really drive the ball the distance.”

In the secondary, sophomore cornerback Kyshawn Robinson is a coveted prospect who already holds several Power Five offers — including USC and Colorado — and senior safeties Taymir O’Neal and Musa Bangura help set the tone with their hard-hitting play on the back end. O’Neal is also an electric playmaker on offense, teaming up with junior Lloyd Penn and breakout freshman K’Shawn Hawkins to give Westinghouse a trio of talented wideouts.

Robinson also sees some action at running back behind senior Ty Abram, a powerful downhill runner who doubles as a standout inside linebacker. But the Bulldogs’ most concerning offensive weapon for Roth and his coaching staff to plan for is junior quarterback Khalil Green, a certified dual-threat QB with elite speed and ball-carrier vision to go with a rocket of a right arm.

“I’ve been impressed with [Green],” Roth said. “He throws a good deep ball. He threw a couple deep balls [last week] that were absolutely on the money. And he runs the ball quite a bit, too. That’s another added dimension. Any time you get a running quarterback, it’s almost like you have an extra guy.”

Westinghouse’s Khalil Green is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback who has the undefeated Bulldogs back in the Class 2A state finals in his first year as a starter. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Union Progress).

After last year’s championship game, two Southern Columbia players were disciplined for a racially insensitive video posted to TikTok on the bus ride home, leading to outcry all over social media and overshadowing what had been a great game. Roth insisted the proper measures have been taken to ensure nothing of that nature happens before, during or after this year’s game, and he believes cooler heads will prevail if things get heated on the field.

“If something were to happen, I would be totally shocked,” Roth said. “There has been a lot that has happened because of that. Both after the game last year and with the PIAA and with Westinghouse, and then our school district has really gone proactive with sportsmanship and player behavior and racial stuff, all of it. It’s really been stressed in our school with the athletes and so forth. I would be shocked if anything would happen after what everybody has been through since that incident last year.”

No matter what happens, history will be made Friday afternoon, as the Tigers seek to extend their unfathomable streak of state titles to seven in a row while Westinghouse attempts to capture its first. Last year’s title game was one to remember, but this one has all the makings of an instant classic. And even though just about everybody in the stadium will surely be expecting another Southern Columbia victory, don’t be surprised to hear the Bulldogs faithful chanting triumphantly about the “House up on the Hill” long into the night.

After all, there’s a first time for everything, right?

“It’s a feeling like no other,” Donta Green said. “As much as we say it’s just another game, it’s not. … This year I’m excited, because we know what to expect, and we’ll have more of a handle on how to prepare.

“I’m excited to see the guys and just be able to have that experience with them. It’s priceless.”

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.