The most satisfying victories are ones in which many different people made key contributions.
Thus, consider St. Joseph’s Prep’s 30-20 triumph over La Salle in Friday night’s Catholic League AAAA Division championship a satisfying result to half of the estimated 8,000 fans that rocked Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School.
While the win dethroned the five-time defending champion and chief rival Explorers, it more importantly ended an eight-year title drought.
“I can’t describe it,” said junior tailback Olamide Zaccheaus. “Each game is a season in itself and is special in its own right. But I’m not surprised we did this. We came into the game believing we were going to win.”
The Prep built a 30-7 lead before the Explorers (8-3) tallied two late touchdowns. While Zaccheaus manned the ground game for 112 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, senior quarterback Chris Martin strapped the passing game on his broad shoulders and engineered arguably the best game of his career.
Spreading the wealth to five different receivers, three of Martin’s lasers resulted in touchdowns. Senior Jawan McAllister caught two of them, from distances of 30 and 57 yards, respectively, and junior John Reid snared another from nine yards out. Martin’s eight completions in 12 attempts amassed a whopping 172 yards.
Emblematic of his game-long focus, Martin could be seen emphatically barking directions to a confused offensive player just two plays into the first quarter.
“It wasn’t just me,” Martin said. “All of us had that look about us. We didn’t look ahead. We just took one play, one series at a time.”
As Martin simultaneously walked and spoke, an unspoken cloud hovered above his head – and on those of his teammates.
On the Prep’s final touchdown, a 12-yard scamper by Zaccheaus that increased the Hawks’ bulging lead to 30-7 early in the fourth quarter, Martin was utilized as a blocker downfield.
As the offense celebrated what amounted to a game-clinching tally, merriment turned to concern when Martin remained on the ground clutching his leg. With medical personnel and some of the Prep coaching staff helping him along, Martin stood up and gingerly limped toward the sideline, accompanied by a standing ovation from the Prep faithful.
He would not return, and he spent the post-game victory ceremony wearing a soft knee cast and leaning on a crutch.
“I’ll see how it is,” Martin said later, forcing a smile. “For now, I’ll just try and enjoy this win.”
This week, official word from the Prep is that Martin is rehabbing his knee and hopes to be back at some point in the season.
“It was disappointing to see that happen,” said Prep junior defensive lineman Jake Strain, whose 11 tackles (four behind the line of scrimmage) and sack actually understated how dominant he was. “It can happen at any time. We all face that possibility.”
Strain was one of several standout Prep defenders. While Strain’s individual line included 11 tackles (four behind the line of scrimmage) and a sack, senior linebackers Vince Moffett (12 solo tackles) and Ryan McNulty (11 and a sack) provided their own hammers.
“No matter who gets hurt, it affects the team,” Strain said. “The fact that it was Chris means that we’ll obviously have to adjust. We feel really bad for Chris. He’s a great player and he was making a great block when he got hurt. But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves whether or not Chris is able to play. We have to move on, which is exactly what Chris would expect.”
Several other Prep players followed Strain’s logic. Losing their leader, they said, will affect the Hawks as much as they let it.
Now with junior Jack Clements calling the signals, the Prep plans to execute the same way it has en route to an 8-2 record – by blocking, tackling, running hard and playing aggressive defense.
The rest, they said, should take care of itself.
“We have talked about taking everything one game at a time, and that won’t change,” said Prep coach Gabe Infante. “That’s the way we approached the championship.
“Yes, it was a very important game and yes, it was a great opportunity for the players, the fans and the entire community. And it is wonderful to win. Absolutely. But we didn’t magnify this. We tried to maintain a balance.”
Of course, that ideal one-game-at-a-time approach belied Infante’s ear-to-ear smile and subsequent spirited embraces with several individual players. It also betrayed the off-the-record honesty by a few Prep players who begrudgingly admitted that their regular season loss to non-playoff-team Archbishop Ryan in the regular-season finale two weeks earlier might have been influenced by a temptation to look to the future as opposed to focusing on the present.
In the end, this was a championship victory, and those don’t come along every day. Sometimes it occurs once every eight years.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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