By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
If it is still early morning when you are reading this, please don’t call Luke Rarig. Hopefully he is still asleep. Perhaps having nightmares of footballs headed into the outstretch hands of Central Columbia wide receivers, especially Dylan Hine.
In the biggest game to date of his rookie year as a starting cornerback, the Southern Columbia sophomore came up with one big play after another Friday night as the Tigers won a surprising defensive struggle 15-7 in a Heartland Athletic Conference crossover battle of the District 4’s Class AA and A points leaders.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my teammates, (safety) Bryce Parry and (cornerback) Joe Kleman, who helped me out a lot this summer, helped me work real hard, and made me focus real hard,” Rarig said.
Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth, coaching in the 400th game of his career, said, “He’s done a great job all year, he’s a good athlete, he runs real well, he’s going to have a heck of a career. But the most impressive thing about him is his poise for his age.”
He added, “His athletic ability is one thing, but playing with that kind of confidence, especially when you get in a game like this, we have kids a lot of times who are upperclassmen and have trouble relaxing and playing the ball that way.”
Rarig was one of several players on both sides with outstanding defensive performances in a thrilling game that came down to the final seconds at Tiger Stadium.
Yet, for as many big plays as Rarig made — and that included a 34-yard catch from quarterback Taylor Young to set up the first touchdown — Hine made them on offense to keep the upset-minded Blue Jays in the game to the end.
The Blue Jays (8-2) not only drew first blood, but led 7-0 until Matt Lupold scored on a one-yard run with 6:34 left in the third quarter. The Tigers (9-0) took the lead after a Blue Jays’ offsides penalty on the PAT try led Roth to go for two. Adam Feudale scored to make it 8-7 Southern.
That TD was set up on Young’s fade pass to a wide-open Rarig, who was knocked out of bounds at the Jays’ one-yard line.
Rarig said he didn’t know how he got so open, but, “I just ran as hard as I could and my quarterback just placed the ball perfectly.”
The defensive struggle continued but the Tigers picked up an insurance score thanks to a Central fourth-quarter fumble at its own 3, recovered by Parry (he also had an interception). That led to a Feudale one-yard TD and Dylan Swank’s kick made it 15-7 with 7:35 to play.
But this one was far from over. The Jays abandoned the run, which had given them their only score (a 35-yard scamper by quarterback Jordan Thivierge and went after the Tiger defense through the air. Most of the damage in the ensuing drive was done by Hine. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior, who had one catch for 8 yards in the first half, had four for 78 yards, to help the Jays drive from their own 14 to the Tiger 11 in eight plays.
They were not your garden variety receptions. He made one leaping high the air and diving stretched out as far as he could go.
But the Tigers defense stiffened again, as it would do later to preserve the win. Thivierge took three shots in the end zone, under pressure, and another which Rarig broke up at the 5.
Yet, with 3:55 left, it was still not over. Central forced another Southern three-and-out and got the ball back at its own 47 with 2:08 and Thivierge immediately hit Hine on a fly pattern down the right sideline and he stumbled out of bounds at the Tiger 21. Another four passes to the end zone went incomplete with coverage by Rarig, Parry and Kleman, the latter with Thivierge under attack on a blitz.
With 1:13 left, the Tigers were finally able to kill the clock and celebrate another win.
Central coach Jason Hippenstiel said, “I thought we did some really good stuff on both sides of the football and especially on special teams. It was just a great football game.”
He added that, with the lead at halftime, they talked about what was working and what was not, and tried to clean up some things.
“We did that, but you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Southern Columbia,” he said.
Roth said, “It got pretty tense there at the end, but I wish we could have moved the ball a little bit there and moved the clock.”
Other defensive standouts for the Tigers were Mitch Stanziale, who blocked a punt, and Tony Chiavaroli, who had a fumble recovery and helped get pressure on Thivierge.