St. Joseph’s Prep and Archbishop Wood are both on the throes of successfully repeating as state football champions.
Friday night, Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. in the PIAA Class 5A final, Wood takes on Gateway, a 14-1 squad from Monroesville. In the Class 6A affair tomorrow night at 6, Prep faces undefeated Pine Richland (15-0). Both contests are at Hershey Park Stadium in Hershey, Pa.
“It’s exciting,” said Prep coach Gabe Infante. “Any time you have a chance to represent the Catholic League with something as awesome as a state title, it’s a special opportunity.”
The Hawks, ranked seventh in the nation, have not lost since 2015. They are attempting to finish 14-0 for a second straight season while earning a fourth state title in five years.
They would be hard pressed to repeat their semifinal win. In fact, they would prefer a different route to victory.
The Prep trailed Coatesville, 28-10, with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. Incredibly, the Hawks scored 43 points in the second half and emerged with a scintillating 53-49 win.
Senior quarterback Marquez McCray provided six touchdowns – four on the ground and two through the air on passes to senior James Cherry and junior Marques Mason. Sophomore Kolbe Burrell gained 127 yards and scored on a 44-yard touchdown run. Mason added 70 yards on 18 carries.
“There was no panic,” said Infante. “The trust in the coaching staff and the players is part of the culture. Part of our chemistry is to trust one another.”
The victory probably would not have been possible without an immense contribution from Prep senior Dawson DeIuliis.
With the score 28-18, Coatesville was driving, but DeIuliis intercepted a pass and returned it 72 yards deep inside Red Raider territory. McCray then hit Cherry with an 18-yard scoring strike, and instead of being down 17, the Hawks had crept to within 28-25.
“We all knew that we needed a big play to get the momentum swinging in our direction and to allow our offense to continue to put points and the board,” said DeIuliis. “I was lucky enough to be the one to make that play.
“Our coaches made a great call to put me in the right spot to make the play. Also we work a lot on returning the ball to our sideline and setting up a wall of blockers, so my teammates did a great job of making blocks for me and making space for me to run.”
DeIuliis summarized the whirlwind plot.
“It was a very intense game from start to finish,” he said. “Coatesville has a great team with a lot of young guys that will be successful in the future. We were able to take their punches in the tough moments and respond the way we needed to when we needed to.”
DeIuliis said the Hawks don’t expect to win crazy games like that every week.
“Going forward into this final week, we know that there is still room for improvements and places that we need to continue to get better on in order to have the result we want to on Saturday,” he said. “Having a great week of practice this week is important.”
Meanwhile, Archbishop Wood had a much easier time in its semifinal, defeating Unionville, 49-28. Senior star Nasir Peoples overwhelmed the Indians with 144 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. Over the past five games, Peoples has collected 783 yards and scored 14 of his 26 touchdowns.
“We did a great job executing and coming out fast,” said Peoples. “For this week, we have to stay focused and come out ready to play and be prepared.”
Junior quarterback Jack Colyar, junior Chris Blackstone (7 rushes for 35 yards), and senior Adrian Lambert (5 for 45) each scored a rushing touchdown. Senior defensive end Bill Shaeffer returned a fumble for another score.
“I was backside on the play and I was just running to make the tackle and one of our defensive tackles punched the ball out and it rolled right to me, so I just picked it up and ran,” said Shaeffer. “Honestly, I did the easy part, but our defense is always flying around running to the ball to make plays because we know good things can happen.”
- Eagles’ flight comes up short
Unfortunately for Conwell-Egan, a Class 3A state title dream was knocked aside in the semifinals by undefeated Middletown, 49-7. At least the Eagles scored, the first team to do so in three state tournament games against the Blue Raiders.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” said Conwell-Egan coach Jack Techtmann. “We talked early on as a staff and said we’re going to have to suffer through some youth, and it surfaced today.
“They got better every week and they loved playing the game, and they did a great thing. The run we made I’m really happy with. It really shows some character at every level.”
The Eagles’ touchdown was a beautifully arced 77-yard strike from junior quarterback Alex Goldsby to freshman Dajuan Harris down the right sideline with 29 seconds remaining in the first half.
It obviously wasn’t enough, but when combined with the rest of the season, it’s arguably more than enough. Despite a very young roster, Conwell-Egan finished 7-7 and, before losing to Middletown, was fabulous in a five-game stretch. That included scoring a Catholic League-record 63 points in a single half against Bonner-Prendergast, losing to eventual Blue Division champion Neumann-Goretti by only 20-13, whipping favored New Hope-Solebury, 42-14, in the Class 3A sub-regional semifinal, overwhelming Blue Division rival Lansdale Catholic, 44-20, in the sub-regional final, and then startling undefeated Palisades in the state quarterfinal, 34-17.
Standing tall outside the locker room after the game, senior Chuck Layton IV reflected on his Conwell-Egan career.
“I’m feeling emotional,” said Layton. “Four years of my life I just dedicated to football. I love the school. I love football here. It’s disappointing not going (to the state final), but I had the time of my life. No regrets with that.”
Nor should there be.