A perfect season in any sport is rare. St. Joseph Prep’s football team is two games away from achieving such an anomaly.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, the Hawks will meet North Penn at Northeast High School in a Class 6A state semifinal. The winner will move on to next week’s state championship in Hershey.
Not only is the Prep attempting to capture its third state crown in four years, it’s also trying to become the seventh Catholic League team in 30 years to engineer an unblemished record. The others include 11-0 Bishop McDevitt in 1987; 14-0 La Salle in 1996; 12-0 Archbishop Carroll in 2000; 13-0 St. Joseph’s Prep in 2002; 12-0 St. Joseph’s Prep in 2003, and 11-0 Archbishop Wood in 2003.
Prep first-team, All-Catholic junior defensive lineman Ryan Bryce said the Hawks don’t feel abundant pressure.
“We are confident in ourselves and our ability to play well in these situations,” said Bryce. “We’ve been consistent all year and have a goal in mind to get to the state championship. We play for one another, especially the seniors who have done a great job leading us this year.”
At the beginning of the season, a common theme emanated from the Prep’s upperclassmen when asked about their collective goals. Not only did they mention the Catholic League championship, district title and state crown, they talked about the very real possibility of not losing a single game.
At 12-0, that lofty accomplishment is within reach. To punch their ticket to Chocolate Town, they first must defeat a North Penn squad that will enter the contest with precisely the same goals – finishing undefeated and winning the state title.
The Knights are 14-0. The only common opponent between them and the Hawks was La Salle, which North Penn defeated in both teams’ season opener, 33-24, on Aug. 26. The Knights struggled against Garnet Valley in the state quarterfinals last week before surviving a 48-38 slugfest.
The Prep, however, would take North Penn just as seriously as any other team, regardless of its opponent’s record.
“We are 0-0 going into this game,” said star senior running back D’Andre Swift. “We always feel good going into any game because our preparation allows us to. That’s just the field general (junior quarterback Marquez McCray) putting us in great situations by trusting his reads and making plays.”
Although McCray (40 for 64, 589 yards, seven touchdowns passing, two rushing) has been terrific in the Prep’s four playoff wins over Roman Catholic (45-7), La Salle (35-14), Northeast (44-6) and Parkland (38-17), the player that North Penn needs somehow to neutralize is Swift.
Shaking off a nagging leg injury that cost him almost half the season, Swift is fully healthy and is supplying rather ridiculous numbers. In the past four games, he has carried the ball 49 times and gained a jaw-dropping 653 yards while scoring nine touchdowns. That’s usually a season’s worth of production for most standouts.
Swift always opts to deflect individual glory.
“Nothing happens without the big men up front,” Swift said. “They are the reason why we can do what we do as an offense.”
Prediction: As well as North Penn has played, it is difficult to comprehend this Prep team losing to anyone. The Knights show they belong, but the Prep will prevail, 35-21.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.