By now, out-of-area Pennsylvania high schools are probably sick and tired of the Philadelphia Catholic League making headlines. Well, they had better find some medicine because there’s a huge dose of local football coming their way this weekend.
Each of the three Catholic League representatives survived their PIAA state quarterfinal challenges. Therefore, this coming weekend, La Salle College High School (Class AAAA), Archbishop Wood (AAA) and West Catholic (AA) will attempt to advance to the following week’s state championship in their respective spanisions.
While La Salle and Wood battled to the very end, West Catholic basically did whatever it wanted to its overmatched foe.
So if you talked with anyone associated with the Burrs’ football team, you would expect to hear every imaginable compliment when assessing its latest demolition.
Dominating … persistent … strong … fast …
But after West Catholic dispatched Northern Lehigh 55-14 in the Class AA state quarterfinal Dec. 3 in Allentown, perhaps it was the opposing coach who summarized it best.
“We knew they were that good,” said Northern Lehigh coach Joe Tout. “Coming into the game I thought we could match up with them. But really, their kids did a nice job. They patiently looked for the cutback lanes and kept making big plays.”
Except for four possessions, the Burrs scored a touchdown every time they touched the ball, including one blazing stretch when they found the end zone on four consecutive drives.
It seemed that no matter who took the handoff, a running back was following a bevy of punishing blocks and accumulating large chunks of yardage.
“Our line did a great job of opening holes,” said senior Brandon Hollomon, who gained 146 yards and scored one touchdown on 12 carries. “We were able to wear them down.”
For the past five games, Hollomon has been a force. In his last 58 carries, he has rushed for an incredible 795 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Those numbers during such a short reign are unrivalled by any player in Class AA history.
As the final score indicates, Hollomon wasn’t the lone offensive standout. Sophomore David Williams contributed 126 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Senior quarterback Anthony Reid scored three touchdowns and gained 79 yards on eight carries. Senior running back Joshua Mathias added 85 yards and two scores on 11 attempts.
West Catholic advances to the state semifinals. The Burrs take on undefeated Lewisburg (14-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, at Hersheypark Stadium.
In the AAA spanision Archbishop Wood defeated Strath Haven 24-14 Dec. 3 at Coatesville High School.
The Vikings, who for the third straight year advanced to the semifinals, will face Central Catholic High School 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, at Bethlehem Area School District Stadium. Both teams are undefeated.
If they are able to run the ball as well as they did against a formidable Strath Haven defense, the Vikings (13-0) should have enough ammunition to return to the league final for a chance to avenge losing there in 2008.
“We played hard on both offense and defense,” said Wood coach Steve Devlin. “I’m very proud of our team for how we played.”
Devlin should be proud. His team won by 10, but it could have been more. The Vikings left some points on the board, including a rare inability to get into the end zone during a key third-quarter drive that stalled inside the Strath Haven one-yard line. So instead of going ahead by 17, Strath Haven had life.
The Panthers took full advantage by marching almost the entire length of the field to cut its deficit to three. However, what has become pretty typical with this team, the Vikings answered with a touchdown of their own.
“I like the way we responded,” said Brandon Peoples, a bull in the backfield. “We just regrouped and got the job done.”
Peoples finished with a career-high 230 yards and two touchdowns on 32 bruising carries. Singing a similar tune like other successful Catholic League runners from the weekend, Peoples lauded his offensive line for doing the dirty work in the trenches.
A scary comment, however, indicated that the line can play even better.
“They just keep getting better,” said Peoples. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Taking a similar route to the semifinals, La Salle held on to a 19-7 lead to beat Easton Dec. 5 at Northeast High School.
However, there was fear. Maybe even some doubt.
But when you are a team that has won 23 of your last 24 games, are the defending state champions and are 12-1 this year after finishing the year before on an 11-game winning streak, getting a player or coach to admit such a thing borders on impossible.
Or maybe it’s because when you win as often as La Salle does, you really are completely confident in your ability to find a way to win.
The Explorers’ next opponent is always-tough North Penn, which fell to La Salle 27-14 in the first weekend of the regular season but hasn’t lost in 13 games since.
“At this stage of the season every team is very good,” said senior Jamal Abdur-Rahman. “That’s the way you have to look at it.”
In other words, Abdur-Rahman said, neither team has an advantage over the other because of something that happened three months earlier.
Against North Penn, the Villanova University-bound Abdur-Rahman will be riding the momentum of being the quarterfinal game’s unequivocal star. Along with gaining 109 yards on 17 carries (giving him an unofficial 1,566 for the season) and catching three of junior quarterback Matt Magarity’s five completions for 57 yards, Abdur-Rahman clinched the victory with a personally historic play.
With two minutes remaining in regulation, Abdur-Rahman intercepted a pass at the Easton 38 and headed south. Along the way, he benefitted from a titanic block from underrated junior fullback/linebacker Tim Wade. When he reached the end zone, La Salle’s season was still alive.
“It felt great,” said Abdur-Rahman. “I had never scored a touchdown like that before. It came at the perfect time.”
The Explorers had scored earlier on a Magarity touchdown run and two field goals by sophomore Ryan Winslow. La Salle’s defense held its opponent to seven points or less for the eighth time this year and fifth in its last six games.
Great offense and great defense. It has a way of producing lots of wins.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.