By John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – If they played against each other 10 times, each would probably win five.

But when it comes to deciding a team champion, it all comes down to one game, and that is why LaSalle High School’s players and fans were celebrating on Northeast High School’s field Friday night.

Led by one of the most efficiently executed passing games in recent memory, the Explorers defeated St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, 35-28, in the Class AAAA Catholic League championship before a jam-packed crowd that wasn’t able to relax until the final minute.

The title was LaSalle’s second straight and third in the past four seasons. So if there is an imaginary baton possessed by the Catholic League’s most elite program, it has been passed from the Prep to LaSalle.

Bottom line is that it’s impossible to argue with three championships in four years.

“Our guys worked extremely hard for this,” said LaSalle coach Drew Gordon. “I’m so happy for them.”

After sophomore quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg’s three touchdown passes – a pair to sophomore Desmon Peoples – had given the Prep a 28-20 lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Explorers mounted an impressive comeback.

While LaSalle’s defense kept the Prep from scoring thanks to a huge sack by junior Ryan Geiger, its offense scored twice. Senior quarterback Drew Loughery’s seven-yard touchdown pass to senior Connor Hoffman and two-point conversion to junior Jamal Abdur-Rahman tied the game at 28-28. LaSalle’s winning drive was masterful, culminated by Loughery’s fourth touchdown pass of the game – a picture-perfect 37-yard slant to junior Kevin Forster. Loughery finished with 21 completions on 31 throws for 297 yards.

After forcing the Prep to punt with 5:57 remaining in regulation, LaSalle (10-1) took over. With the Hawks (9-2) perplexingly out of timeouts, the Explorers used both their running and passing games to run out the clock on their visibly frustrated opponent to preserve the victory and cement a date in the PIAA Class AAAA District 12 championship with Public School champ George Washington High School, which stunned the Explorers last year.

“This is great for the program,” said Loughery. “St. Joe’s was always the team to beat. I think we made a statement with what we have accomplished.”

No one could argue that.

John Knebels can be reached at