John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Mike Johnson graduated from St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in 2002. Like any faithful alum, he continues to root for his alma mater.

Last Wednesday morning he was told that the night before, Nov. 2, the Prep, in its 16th attempt, finally won the Catholic League soccer championship. The Hawks had defeated Archbishop Wood 2-1.

Hands held high accompanied by a huge smile, his first words?

“Jim Murray!” he shouted.

Johnson was referring to the coach of the Prep — the only coach the school has ever had during the program’s 40-year existence.

Asked to describe what it meant to him personally, Murray emerged almost speechless. {{more}}

“Everything about this is great,” he said. “I keep saying it’s surreal because it really is sort of an out-of-body experience.”

The Prep has come within a break here, a break there, a crossbar here and a post there, from finishing on top. It just hasn’t happened.

But this time was different.

“This was about so many things,” said Pat Kardish, who set the ridiculously-long-awaited celebration in motion by scoring the game-winner — his second goal of the game — on a highlight-reel breakaway with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. “It was about making history for the school, and it was definitely about winning this for Coach Murray.”

Wood coach Joe Krantz, who has already won a Catholic League title, was very classy in defeat.

“I told him the other day that if we had to lose, I was glad we lost to him,” said Krantz. “He’s been through so many wars. He’s a great coach and has had many great teams, and he deserves this.”

Murray laughed when told that.

“(Archbishop Ryan legendary coach) George Todt used to tell me he hopes to God that I win it, as long as it’s not against him,” Murray said. “Hey, we coaches want to win, not lose.”

The Prep (17-2-2 overall, 15-1-1 league) defeated a Wood team (13-6-1, 11-4-1) that had toppled Archbishop Ryan and championship favorite La Salle to reach the final. After Kardish gave the Prep a 1-0 lead at the five-minute mark of the first half, Wood’s Mike Zavorski tied the game at 1-1 with 20 minutes remaining in the second half.

Yet another season of heartbreak appeared imminent when the Vikings were awarded an indirect kick with about three minutes left in regulation, but the Prep squashed the scoring chance.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Kardish was suddenly taking a pass from junior Tom Cugliotta and rumbling down the field with one man to beat. He pushed the ball past his defender and, using his superior speed, went in alone on Wood’s standout goalie, Nick Aglira.

When Kardish’s shot met the twine, the Prep faithful went ballistic. About two minutes later, the game was over. So too was the wait.St. Joseph’s Prep was the Catholic League soccer champion.

Nothing surreal about that.

John Knebels can be reached at