The South County Stallions Varsity Football team has won the State Championship for the first time in school history. This game was a defensive match that ended in a 14-13 victory capping off a perfect season.
During the opening quarter, South County got off to a 14-7 lead, it started with a TD toss by Senior QB Matthew Dzierski to Senior Zion Dayne. Linebacker Akibu Koroma (Junior) then picked off an Oscar Smith pass that led to another quick score. But Oscar Smith wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
The Tigers scored a TD in the second quarter, but a missed extra point was all it took to keep South County on top. From that point on, it was a defensive slugfest, with neither team managing to break through. There were two major stops by the defense that helped to seal the win for SoCo, with one being a second interception. The other one was a goal-line stand in the second half, Oscar Smith’s offense had no answers for South County’s Defense.
South County’s Defensive Coordinator, Joe Gingrich, was confident that his men were up to this challenge. “We told them (the players) that if Oscar Smith doesn’t score, we can’t lose,” he explained. The main strategy for South County was to blitz early and often, using three different types of heavy rushes against Oscar Smith. “Once we established pressure on the QB, we were able to throw off his timing and rhythm with his wideouts,” Gingrich said. By the time the third quarter had come into play, this plan proved to be the winning stratagem for SoCo; which carried them to the end of the game.
South County’s win Saturday marks the second trip to states for the team this decade. However, this time the trip ended in a victory while the 2011 loss is a distant memory. The former players of that team however, laid the groundwork for this year’s success. According to Head Coach Gerry Pannoni, the 2011 squad still works with the team. “Those players still come back to talk to the team and have raised thousands of dollars for these kids,” Pannoni said.
The Stallions almost had a perfect season in 2015, only to lose to Westfield in the State semis. That following offseason, Pannoni and his coaching staff studied Westfield. They watched them practice and talked to Westfield’s coaches to gain ideas and insights. This would help enhance SoCo’s chances at winning from that point on. Pannoni told his players on their first offseason work before this season, “We are a special group here and the only team that can beat us, is ourselves.” This victory is the culmination of all these events that started back in 2011.
On this exciting night, Pannoni had many joyous thoughts running through his head. After the game Pannoni was trying to, “Find his wife and family to give them hugs.” Pannoni’s wife is as beloved by the team as her husband. “She loves these kids, they will gather around her and give her stink hugs and she loves everyone. Mrs. Pannoni has a rare disease, so moments like this are extra special for the Stallions and their coach.