By Joseph Pawlikowski

Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – Since the Class AA playoffs began, no team has been a real challenge for West Catholic High School. But that changed when Lancaster Catholic came to town for the state semifinal last Friday night at Northeast field.

West Catholic’s balanced running attack usually does not require one specific player to step up. While that balance was maintained with 394 team rushing yards, it was Curtis Drake who silenced the threat of Lancaster Catholic.

West took a 14-0 lead going into the second quarter. With 5:15 left in the half, Lancaster Catholic blocked a West Catholic punt, recovering at West’s 45. Three plays later, they scored on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Lancaster quarterback Kyle Smith, cutting West’s lead to 14-6. The extra point was blocked.

Drake played a role in the next three touchdowns for West. After converting a fourth and two from their own 32-yard line, Drake executed a perfect shovel pass to senior Ed Colon, who took it 30 yards for a touchdown.

Then, after a botched snap, Burrs’ holder Lamont Davis gracefully recovered the ball and found Colon in the corner of the end zone for a two-point conversion. The score was 22-6 at halftime.

Drake described the touchdown late in the first half as a game changer. “We felt very confident up two scores that we could come out in the second half and win the game,” said Drake.

Lancaster Catholic opened the third quarter with an impressive scoring drive, totaling 74 yards and ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by Smith. After a successful two-point conversion, West’s lead was cut to 22-14. Smith was particularly impressive, mixing shotgun formations with play-action and threading the ball into tight spots.

Drake thwarted the pressure from Lancaster again, this time by blocking. After moving the ball to Lancaster’s 45, Curtis Maples ran around the right side for 34 yards, thanks to a huge block by Drake. Rob Holloman finished the job with an 11-yard touchdown run despite his facemask being grabbed by a Lancaster defender on his way to the end zone. Holloman followed with a two-point conversion run, making the score 30-14 with 3:39 left in the third quarter.

Lancaster Catholic began another productive drive with a great mix of passing and running. Smith was able to complete three passes in a row to advance the ball to West’s 14-yard line heading into the fourth quarter.

On a third and goal from the West Catholic 9-yard line, Smith finally made a critical error. He threw a pass over the middle which was intercepted by Kareem Heyward on the goal line. It was an opportunity to be within a score of West yet again.

On West’s next play, Drake ended Lancaster’s state championship hopes with an electric 91-yard run, scoring the final touchdown of the 37-14 victory.

Despite pulling away toward the end, Drake still credited Lancaster’s defense, particularly their linebackers. “They were very fast and got to the ball quickly,” he said. “They kept us inside and wouldn’t let us break anything to the outside.”

Drake, who has committed to Penn State, has caught the attention of local fans. After shaking hands with Lancaster quarterback Smith and talking with him for several minutes at midfield after the game ended, Drake remained humble and credited his teammates and coaches for the win, even though he proved convincingly that he was the best player on the field.