Story & Videos By: John Knebels
Photos: Kathy Leister & Mike Nance
SPRINGFIELD, PA – Don’t blink.
If there is one piece of advice that may come in handy before watching the St. Joseph’s Prep football team play offense, that’s it – don’t look away. Stop all conversations. And don’t dare grab a snack from a concession stand, or even think about retrieving something from the parking lot – you might miss a few touchdowns.
Ignited by near textbook execution on offense and a hovering, ultra-aggressive defense that barely allowed their formerly undefeated opponent enough time to begin their blocks, the Hawks defeated rival La Salle, 38-14, on October 17 at Cardinal O’Hara High School.
Usually recognized as a Catholic League victory but classified differently this fall because the coronavirus COVID-19 has squelched traditional league standings and ultimate playoffs, the result put the Prep one step closer to ultimately qualifying for the PIAA Class 6A tournament about a month from now.
The Prep, which is ranked among the nation’s top five teams by most pundits, improved to 2-0; La Salle dropped to 3-1.
“It’s the way we practice,” said Prep quarterback Kyle McCord. “We practice with high intensity and try to apply game-like situations into practice, and I definitely think that showed tonight for how well we’re conditioned.”
Highlighted by his lone touchdown pass, a 56-yard strike to Temple University recruit Malik Cooper (three coaches for 114 yards), the Ohio State University-bound senior completed 11 of 17 passes for 230 yards in only one half before watching the second half from the sidelines.
McCord had moved the Prep into scoring position on the second play of the first quarter, a 44-yard connection with fellow future Ohio State teammate Marvin Harrison, Jr. that moved the ball to the La Salle 22. Five plays later, senior Noble House bullied home (no pun intended) from the one-yard line.
“We expect every single play to be run to perfection,” said McCord. “That’s just the standard we have and the standard we’ve set for the last few years. Honestly, it goes to show how we prepare during the week.”
On La Salle’s first possession, junior Dan Daly recovered an Explorer fumble inside the Prep five, thus setting up House for his second short TD. So with only 3:21 having elapsed, the Hawks already led, 14-0.
Despite the early dominance, the Hawks maintained the same intensity throughout. They built a 17-0 lead before the second quarter on junior Antonio Chadha’s 21-yard field goal. A third one-yard touchdown plunge by House, the aforementioned TD pass from McCord to Cooper, and an 11-yard scoring haul by junior Blaine Bunch increased the Prep’s lead to an insurmountable 38-0 and necessitated a running clock for the entire second half, which took a little more than 30 minutes to complete.
In the final two quarters, young substitute Hawks had a chance to play against most of La Salle’s first team, which made the score respectable with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“La Salle’s a very well-coached program, and we know we have been in these battles before where if we take the foot off the pedal, they’re going to come storming back,” said Prep coach Tim Roken. “It’s about playing four quarters for us. We continue to play every series like the scoreboard says ‘zero.’ We’re trying to play to a certain standard.”
In a spirited post-game speech, Roken presented the game ball to House. Usually a wide receiver but with significant backfield experience, House was filling in for injured junior starter Josh Barlow.
Noble’s congratulatory teammates surrounded the affable House, who said he had averaged about three touchdowns in Pop Warner ball but had “never expected” such an individual performance at the high school varsity level.
“I was just anxious to get out there and ball with my brothers,” said House. “It’s definitely harder down at the goal line. That’s where all of them are rushing in. I was just trusting my blockers and making sure the holes were there and running right through them.”
Although the entire starting defense provided its own contributions, particular highlights came from senior Harvard commit Nick Yagodich and sophomore Josiah Trotter. The former constantly disrupted La Salle’s ball carriers while the latter engineered two sacks and several quarterback hurries.
As hard as the Hawks worked to secure the Prep’s 31stconsecutive victory over a Catholic League squad, said Yagodich, it paled in comparison to what the team does from Monday through Friday.
“We practice every day three hours,” said Yagodich. “We bring everything we’ve got and, quite honestly, our practices are harder than any game we play. We just bring it all week, and when it comes to game day, we’re all ready.”
Yagodich said he never worried about the Hawks softening their approach as their lead swelled early and often.
“I think it’s a lot of our senior leadership on our defense,” he said. “We have four captains this year, and it’s just really us all screaming, telling everyone, ‘Game’s not over. Keep the foot on the pedal and keep grinding.’ We just try to stay motivated and keep pushing the entire game.”
For Trotter, playing alongside his brother – senior star Jeremiah Trotter, Jr., who next year will play at Clemson University – continues to be his favorite aspect of high school football. Not only are the two starting linebackers, they are also key blockers in goal-line formation.
“It’s a real blessing to be able to play with him,” said Trotter. “It’s very fun just to be able to play with him by my side. I just want to take advantage of this last year with him.”