By: John Knebels
Photos: James Beaver
AMBLER, PA –The hype was rich, but the result was familiar.
Led by a torrid running game and a defense that dominated the trenches, St. Joseph’s Prep defeated La Salle, 44-13, on a gorgeous September 28 evening at Wissahickon High School.
The victory commenced play in the Catholic League Red Division, which began in 2016 and has yet to include a Prep league loss. Now 18-0 against the Red during the regular season, the Hawks have defeated the Explorers in eight consecutive regular-season battles. The last time La Salle beat the Prep was a 29-28 thriller in the Catholic League championship in 2015.
“The Prep,” lamented a La Salle fan, leaving the field, “is in a different league.”
With the Prep coming off a 1-2 non-league chapter, albeit against nationally recognized competition, and La Salle a perfect 4-0 against stiff local competition, there was a tangible tone leading up to the game that the Explorers might be the favorites.
Four plays into the game, the mood changed drastically.
The Prep drove right down the field and grabbed a 7-0 lead on an eight-yard run by Kolbe Burrell. The senior’s jaunt to the end zone proved to be a harbinger. Seven minutes later, he scored again from 11 yards out – untouched – to increase the Prep’s lead to 14-0.
The defending state champion Hawks were just getting started. A torrid second quarter included three touchdown passes from junior phenom Kyle McCord to junior Marvin Harrison (15 yards), senior Anthony Rightley (10), and junior Sahmir Hagans (15), respectively.
Ahead 35-0 at halftime, a “mercy rule” running clock would help the final two quarters tick away with fewer interruptions.
“La Salle never gives up,” said first-year Prep coach Tim Roken. “They have a great staff they prepare those guys right. You saw them fight to the last second. If we wind up seeing them again, we expect the same thing.”
During the post-game celebration, Roken and his coaches presented the offensive line – namely senior left tackle Matt Lombardi, senior left guard Matt McGeary, junior center Max Fisher, senior right guard Casey Stevenson, and sophomore right tackle Brad Harris– with the traditional game ball.
It was well deserved.
Along with blocking for McCord (13 of 19, 268 yards, three touchdowns), the unit opened holes for Burrell (14 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns) and sophomore Josh Barlow (eight carries for a career-high 112 yards and his third varsity touchdown, an 80-yard haul late in the fourth quarter that finished the scoring).
“I have to give credit to all of our guys,” said Lombardi. “They found the holes. Kyle was chucking it. Our receivers caught the ball. Kolbe and all them, they were running hard. So I gotta say that I’m proud of our guys for making all of our hard work, work.”
As for the pre-game hysteria, the Hawks respectfully refused to buy in.
“We treat every game the same,” said Rightley, a starter at both wide receiver and defensive back. “It’s important because it’s the next game. We treat every game as the same and that’s how we got this done.”