Winning a Catholic League football championship has always tasted extra special. This year, however, it has taken on a distinctly different flavor.
On a blustery and often chilly Saturday afternoon, Oct. 22, at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School, St. Joseph’s Prep defeated La Salle, 63-35. Yes, you read that score correctly, but more on that later.
(See a photo gallery on the game here.)
In the past, such a victory would have wrapped up the regular-season title, which would have been nice, but nowhere nearly as important as eventually seizing a victory in a league championship game a few weeks later.
For the first time since 1960, however, the Catholic League title is determined by who has the best regular-season league record and is ahead on all tiebreaking procedures. The Hawks’ rout, therefore, mathematically sealed first place in the larger-enrollment Red Division; thus, the Hawks have been officially crowned champions.
Any loss of luster?
“It’s a little different feeling because it’s not a ‘game’ per se,” said Prep coach Gabe Infante. “Maybe it’s a little anticlimactic, but it’s still very special and important. I’m not sure it’s set in yet what they just did. It’s quite an accomplishment.”
Although the Hawks rushed the field to celebrate their triumph, gone was the utter ecstasy of waiting at midfield to pose with a league championship plaque. Instead, players gathered in the south end zone, heard a heartfelt victory speech from their enthusiastic coach, and were told to whoop it up and get crazy.
The Hawks obeyed the command, but only for a few minutes. After snapping pictures with one and all, the players retreated to the locker room.
“It’s a great accomplishment to bring the PCL home back to the school,” said senior star running back D’Andre Swift, “but we’re not done yet.”
Maybe therein lies the issue. Because the Prep has snared two state championships in the past three seasons, the horizon includes a far more daunting task – proving you’re not only the best team in a seven-team division, but in the entire state.
“We treat every game the same,” said Swift, who has dealt with an ankle injury at various times this fall. “It’s the most important game because it’s the next game. It was just good to get back out here with my brothers.”
Swift did more than just “get back out there.” He tied Catholic League records for most rushing touchdowns – six – and total touchdowns – seven. He accrued 275 yards on 19 carries, leading a Prep ground attack that amassed 420 yards and added 172 more via the arm of junior quarterback Marquez McCray.
Appearing unstoppable, Swift was asked a direct question: how does he do what he does?
“It’s just the talent that God blessed me with,” said Swift. “I thank him every day for it. Without him, nothing would be possible. Also to the coaches who trusted me to put me out there today, and to the offensive line as well.”
The Hawks (7-0 overall, 5-0 league) clinched because, even if they should lose their season finale next week against Archbishop Ryan, they would still be declared champion because they defeated both La Salle and Archbishop Wood, both of whom are tied for second place with one loss apiece.
“It’s a great win,” said junior defensive lineman Ryan Bryce. “We look at it as a good job with this game and we move onto the next game.”
Might not be an exciting approach, but it certainly seems to garner results.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.