La Salle beats State College 24-7, wins first-ever state crown in Catholic League football history
Special to The CS&T
The fans who braved the elements Saturday afternoon were probably too frozen even to contemplate what they saw below.
High school football players were frolicking in the snow. Some lay on the ground flapping their arms against the white, frozen ground while others grabbed a bunch of ice crystals and rubbed them all over their faces.
The battered and bruised athletes who had just spent the past two-plus hours putting their bodies through impossible rigors inside Hershey’s Hersheypark Stadium looked more like lifeguards sunbathing in Ocean City, N.J.
Nothing like an overwhelming sense of euphoria to get those endorphins pumping.
Minutes earlier, La Salle College High School had finished off the best season in school history. The Explorers’ PIAA Class AAAA state championship victory over an excellent State College High School squad was made possible by domination on virtually all aspects of the game, namely on offense and defense.
“I’m really not surprised,” said a visibly proud La Salle coach Drew Gordon of the convincing 24-7 win. “The guys played great.”
That might have been an understatement, but the accurate yet low-key assessment was consistent with how Gordon and his coaching staff built this year’s program into being the best in the entire state in only their second try; the Catholic League was not a member of the PIAA until last year.
The word is balance; never too high during their many celebrations, never too down after a disappointment. While there was only one loss – a tough 24-17 regular-season decision against Catholic League nemesis St. Joseph’s Prep back on Sept. 26 – the Explorers never lost sight of the big picture.
“That was disappointing, but it was just one game and we knew we could get a lot better,” said senior Sam Feleccia. “Our goal was to win the Catholic League championship and then go from there.”
In the state final, Feleccia executed what one veteran reporter from Harrisburg said was the best all-around performance he had ever seen in the many years he has been covering the state tournament.
Because of a second-quarter injury to starting tailback Jamal Abdur-Rahman, Feleccia moved from his duties at wideout to running back. Before the day was over, Feleccia had carried 21 times for 161 yards and caught two passes for 44 yards.
With La Salle already leading by 17-0 thanks to a 37-yard field goal by Mike Bennett (the 26th of his outstanding career), a 22-yard touchdown run by Abdur-Rahman and an eight-yard rush by Tim Wade, Feleccia’s 55-yard touchdown run in the second half annihilated any hopes of a comeback by State College, whose only score came on the ensuing kickoff.
“I just ran as fast as I could,” said Feleccia, who also started at outside linebacker and was one of the many defenders who prevented State College’s highly touted offense from finding the end zone. “I’ll never forget that one.”
Nor will Feleccia’s teammate, quarterback Drew Loughery. Both products of St. Genevieve Parish in Flourtown, Loughery lauded Feleccia for playing “the game of his life” when it counted most.
Not that Loughery was any slouch. Playing in a steady snowstorm, he completed an efficient five of 11 attempts for 110 yards.
Again, it was another example of LaSalle’s balanced approach. Run the ball well, and pass the ball well. Score points while eating up the time of possession.
“With the weather being what it was, we knew what to expect,” said Loughery. “We didn’t force anything. We took what they gave us and our offensive line was great.”
Same with La Salle’s defense. While the Explorers amassed 363 yards of offense, the defensive unit led by senior Steve Sinnott (eight tackles, forced fumble and fumble recovery) surrendered a miserly 122.
Talk about a one-sided victory.
“This means so much to all of us,” said Loughery of the win, the first state title for a Philadelphia Catholic League football team in any spanision. “It’s not just about the players or La Salle. This was big for District 12 and big to the city of Philadelphia. Knowing we will go down in history for what we accomplished is very special.”
Very special indeed.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.