Got a few hours free tonight? Feel like hopping in the car and taking some rides? There are numerous mega-important Catholic League sporting events throughout the area to enjoy.
At 7 p.m. tonight, Oct. 20, Neumann-Goretti travels to Cardinal O’Hara for a Blue Division football game that might determine the Catholic League champion, which is determined by the best record of the regular season.
N-G enters with a 4-0 record while O’Hara is at 3-1. If Neumann-Goretti wins, it mathematically wraps up the title because of tiebreakers. If O’Hara wins, the Lions would need a victory over West Catholic the following week to clinch their second straight crown.
“They’re the defending Blue Division Catholic League champs,” said N-G junior wide receiver/defensive back Tre’Sean Bouie. “To win, we just need to do our jobs.”
N-G senior linebacker/defensive end Jayvonne Campfield described the Saints as “optimistic.”
“What we have to do to win is stay focused, have positive mindsets, be confident not cocky, stay humble, have heart, listen to and trust our coaches, be mindful and compassionate of one another, and work collectively as a team to meet our goal, which is to win,” he said.
Cardinal O’Hara, which is 6-1 and has won three straight after dropping a 10-7 upset decision to Bishop McDevitt, will face a Saints team that is 6-0 and has allowed only one touchdown a piece in each of the last five games.
Then again, the Lions have allowed only four touchdowns all season. They have also intercepted nine passes, one more than the Saints.
“I think the team is ready to go,” said senior two-way lineman Tom Wertz. “We know how big this game is and how important it is for our season. We beat them on our home field two years ago, and I’m sure they remember that, so it will be an intense game.
“We can’t let the hype of some of their players and the ratings and the standings get in our heads. We just have to focus on winning individual battles and doing our jobs and focus on winning this game and all else will fall into place.”
Senior wide receiver/defensive back Justin Santilla understands the task.
“We want the PCL championship again, and they are a team we have to beat to get back there,” said Santilla. “To win, we just have to have a no-mistake mentality to beat this team.”
At 8 p.m. tonight, La Salle and St. Joseph’s Prep meet at Widener University. The Prep would seal the Red Division title with a victory; La Salle would still need to defeat Archbishop Wood the following week.
The Hawks (6-0 overall, 4-0 division) have won 20 straight over a course of two seasons and have captured three state titles in the past four years. Since 2007, La Salle has won six championships and the Prep has snared three. Overall, La Salle has garnered 11 league titles to the Prep’s 10. The Prep leads the legendary series, 49-36-5.
“If we pay attention to detail on every aspect of the field, offense, defense, and special teams, we can get the job done,” said LaSalle senior linebacker/tight end Liam Trainer. “Prep is a very good football team and will take the game over if we make stupid mistakes. More importantly is how we handle that adversity in the game.”
La Salle senior middle linebacker Austin Lemke was impressed with his team’s “extremely energetic” two weeks of practice preparing for this must-win challenge.
“Everyone knows the rivalry might be the biggest in Pa.,” said Lemke. “Every year we look forward to getting to play the Prep, and it seems a lot of other people get excited for the game as well. The crowds the rivalry brings in for a game is crazy and it is great to get to play in a game like that.
“It is exciting to get to play in a game like this, but at the end of the day it is just high school kids doing what they loved to do since being kids, and we have preached that. We just need to keep our composure and focus on the goal to achieve what we want to. Getting caught up in the hype can lead to mistakes that lead to turnovers or touchdowns given up. We just need to settle down and realize it is just another football game and if everyone stays true to their job, we will be in good shape.”
SJP senior linebacker/tight end Phil O’Connor said the Hawks don’t need to change anything just because of their upcoming opponent.
“We have the same approach to this game as the rest of them,” said O’Connor. “The biggest thing for us is to not buy into the hype and distractions. We need to just play our brand of football and focus on getting better as a team.”
Senior wide receiver Brandon Sanders mirrored those words.
“The general mood of the team is that this game is the most important one, only because it’s the next one,” said Sanders. “We pride ourselves on never taking any opportunity for granted. We are going to prepare the same way that we have been preparing all season.
“This game has a lot of history. Two good teams going at it makes for a good matchup. La Salle is a very good team. We have tons of respect for them, so it should be a great game. To win, we believe we just need to do what we’ve been doing all season.”
With the boys’ soccer regular season and play-in games now recorded, the quarterfinal round begins with four games on the docket.
At 3 p.m. Oct. 20, 10th-seed Cardinal O’Hara will visit top-seed La Salle while fourth-seed St. Joseph’s Prep faces fifth-seed Archbishop Ryan at Temple University. At 6 p.m., sixth-seed Father Judge will take on third-seed Archbishop Wood 6:00 at Southampton’s Veterans Field, and at 7:00, eighth-seed Lansdale Catholic will play second-seed Roman Catholic at Lighthouse Field.
The playoff schedule was solidified after Tuesday’s play-in games. Lansdale Catholic stopped ninth-seed Archbishop Carroll, 3-2; O’Hara edged seventh-seed Bonner-Prendergast in overtime. The game had ended 0-0 through two overtime periods and was decided on penalty kicks. O’Hara knocked tallied four to B-P’s three.
In Lansdale Catholic’s victory, the Crusaders trailed, 1-0, at halftime. Goals by sophomores Sean Cole and Evan Senour in the first five minutes of the second half re-routed the momentum. About 20 minutes later, junior Kyle Kane increased the advantage to 3-1, making a Carroll goal during the closing minutes moot.
“It feels awesome but the season isn’t over,” said senior Chris Edling. “We gotta just keep fighting.”
Senior goalie Joe Duffy is not surprised by his team’s resurgence, which included undefeated soccer down the final stretch against the likes of playoff teams LaSalle, Father Judge, and Archbishop Ryan.
“It’s where we expected to be when the season started, but the path we took was not the easiest for us,” said Duffy. “We are where we wanna be now.”
Cardinal O’Hara made the most of their spot as the 10th-seed in its upset of Bonner-Prendergast. Senior goalie Ryan Henderson orchestrated the shutout. In a penalty-kick shootout, sophomore Jalen Hammond’s kick that made it 4-3 proved to be the game winner, setting the stage for a Bonner-Prendergast attempt that deflected off the crossbar to end the game.
“This victory meant so much,” said senior co-captain Kevin Calamita, who contributed one of the penalty kick goals. “We had to come back from missing our first two kicks against probably one of the best goalies in the Catholic League to making four in a row and come back to win.
“It brought tears to my eyes seeing the crowd rush the field and celebrating our first playoff victory in over seven years. It was so special to share this moment with these guys and I hope our season can continue and we can build this program into a top-tier program someday.”
In Catholic League girls’ quarterfinal soccer Thursday, Oct. 19, John W. Hallahan almost pulled off a miraculous victory. The pesky ninth seed had defeated eighth-seed Little Flower, 3-1, in the preliminary round. Up next was top-seed Archbishop Ryan.
The Ragdolls couldn’t find the net through regulation, and the scoreless tie continued through overtime. Ryan finally survived thanks to penalty kicks.
Second-seed Lansdale Catholic had no problem with seventh-seed Archbishop Carroll, 4-0. Fourth-seed Archbishop Wood blanked fifth-seed Cardinal O’Hara, 3-0, and sixth-seed Conwell-Egan stunned third-seed St. Hubert, 2-0.
The semifinals are now set for a doubleheader Tuesday, Oct. 24 at the United German Hungarian Club. At 5 p.m., second-seed Lansdale Catholic meets fourth-seed Archbishop Wood. At 7:30, top-seed Archbishop Ryan faces sixth-seed Conwell-Egan.
John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.