By: Rich Flanagan
Photos/Videos: Kathy Leister, Mike Nance & Rich Flanagan
HERSHEY, PA –As Kyle McCord disappeared into the pile with his teammates during a postgame photo, a small smirk appeared on his face. Once the cameras stopped flashing, that smirk transitioned to a stern or business-as-usual look.
McCord had just led St. Joseph’s Prep to its third straight PIAA Class 6A football championship with a 62-13 drubbing of Central York at Hersheypark Stadium, a venue that has become all too familiar for him and his teammates. This title cemented the Hawks program as potentially one of the greatest to grace the Pa. gridiron when considering three consecutive state titles but also continuing a trend of dominance not seen in recent history. Saturday night was St. Joe’s Prep’s fourth title in five years and sixth since 2013.
St. Joseph's Prep Hawks - 2020 PIAA 6A State Champions - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
In a season marred by uncertainty and questions about how it would eventually finish, McCord’s demeanor was confident yet humble for the opportunity.
“I think it’s a combination of work I’ve put in over four years,” McCord said. “It’s been an up-and-down journey, especially not knowing if we were going to play this year. Having the opportunity to come out here one more time and get this done with my brothers, I think that’s pretty special. There isn’t another way I would want to go out.”
McCord, an Ohio St. commit, cemented his own legacy with his second state crown as the Hawks starting quarterback (and third overall). He was a backup behind Marquez McCray (Sacred Heart) as a freshman and that season St. Joe’s Prep fell to Pine Richland in the state final. Since he has taken over the starting role, the Hawks have only lost two games. The 6-foot-3 signal caller completed 20-for-27 for 318 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers and put himself into the record books in the process.
He finished his career with 6,887 passing yards and 88 touchdown passes, both Philadelphia Catholic and city records for a quarterback. He averaged 263.7 passing yards per game this season, also a city record. While McCord leaves the Hawks (6-0) program as the most storied passer in history, he will be the last one to tell you those numbers are indicative of himself as a player but more on those who helped him get to where he is today.
“I owe a lot of it to my teammates motivating me at practice and making sure I know what I’m going to get out there on Friday and Saturday nights,” McCord said. “I know I’m going to go down in the record books but I think it’s a reflection of the coaching staff and my teammates, and everything they’ve done for me in my career.”
The Hawks struck first, going 38 yards in 13 plays on their opening drive to set up a 39-yard field goal by placekicker Antonio Chadha and it was 3-0 at the 6:42 mark of the first quarter. After two consecutive three and outs by the Panthers, St. Joe’s Prep began to open things up. McCord found Duke commit Sahmir Hagans (seven catches, 142 yards) three times on one drive and also found fellow Ohio St. commit Marvin Harrison Jr. (74 receiving yards) for a 22-yard connection. Four players later, running back Noble House took a handoff from the goal line for the game’s first touchdown and it was 10-0 with 1:36 remaining in the first.
Two drives later, McCord found Harrison in the left corner of the end zone for his 36th career touchdown reception, which set a new Philadelphia record.
The Hawks defense, as it did for much of the night, stifled Penn State commit Beau Pribula and the Panthers (10-1) offense by forcing back-to-back turnovers: first, an interception by Zavier Atkins, then a sack on Pribula on fourth down by Nick Yagodich. The Ohio St. commits found one another again, this time on a 45-yard seam down the middle of the field to extend the Hawks lead to 24-0 with 6:42 left before halftime.
Harrison, the son of the former Roman Catholic standout and NFL Hall-of-Famer, finished his career with 144 catches for 2,624 yards and 37 touchdowns, all of which are Philadelphia Catholic League and city records.
While Harrison and McCord have established numbers not seen by a QB-WR tandem in a long time, there is the possibility they could add to these impressive accolades at the next level. It’s certainly a reality but Harrison noted that each guy made their own independent decision when choosing the Buckeyes.
“He made his own choice and I made my own, too,” Harrison said. “I’m happy we’ll be at the same school and it’s something we talked about briefly but at the end of the day it was a decision for each of us.”
Pribula threw his lone touchdown of the contest on a nine-yard swing pass to running back Jahmar Simpson to cut the deficit to 17 points with a little over two minutes to play in the first half. The 6-2 junior quarterback finished 14-for-37 for 144 yards and a pair of interceptions.
St. Joe’s Prep orchestrated their third touchdown drive in less than three plays in that quarter alone as McCord found last year’s hero Malik Cooper (Temple) for a 79-yard strike. On the ensuing drive, Cooper, who started at quarterback when McCord went down with a leg injury and led the Hawks to the 2019 PIAA 6A title, took a pitch and found Hagans for a 51-yard touchdown to give his side a commanding 38-7 lead heading into the locker room.
McCord did not sugarcoat how Cooper’s play was a focal reason why this St. Joe’s Prep team will go down in history as one of the best to don the Hawks logo on its uniform.
“Malik saved us last year,” McCord said. “The way he stepped up and played in those games, he played out of his mind. He definitely saved the season last year. For him to do what he did tonight, scoring three touchdowns in all three phases of the game, that just says a lot about him. He’s a special player and can play anywhere on the field. He showed you that tonight and we’re just happy to have him on the team.”
St. Joe's Prep head coach Tim Roken secures state title in his first year coaching the Hawks - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Cooper put the game out of reach with a 55-yard punt return touchdown following the Panthers opening drive of the second half and the lead was pushed to 45-7. A year after lifting the Hawks to its second straight state title, Cooper recorded a passing, receiving and punt return touchdown to give St. Joe’s Prep its third consecutive crown.
Head coach Tim Roken has been on hand for every state title the Hawks have won. He was an assistant on title wins in 2013-14, 2016 and 2018 then took the reins from Gabe Infante, now an assistant at Temple University, and has been at the helm of the last two titles. The Hawks have had unprecedented success that extends beyond the state tournament. Since Infante guided St. Joe’s Prep to its first state title seven years ago, the program has compiled an 88-12 with six Philadelphia Catholic League titles, ranging from classification to Red Division.
The 2021 class went 31-2 alone in the last three years and Roken has been instrumental to driving that success.
“Obviously, Gabe moved on and did an unbelievable job preparing us to be ready to take over,” Roken said. “It was a great and resilient bunch last year to finish the way we did. That was the same junior class that are seniors now. We faced a lot of ups and downs throughout this offseason and to get separated from those guys for months was horrible. We’re family and looking at each other through [Zoom calls] was tough. We took it a day at a time and I’m just extremely grateful to be here tonight and finish this out in the middle of the pandemic. People will look at their stats and records but it’s an unbelievable group of young men who have a great appreciation for the game and how it’s played.”
McCord’s final touchdown of his illustrious career went to tight end Cade Rooney then Noble House (59 rushing yard) scored the Hawks last score of the season and pushed the lead to 62-7 with 5:42 left to play.
Roken was doused in Gatorade after the game. Cooper did backflips while the head coach rounded up the players for game balls and pictures. One of those game balls went to Jeremiah Trotter Jr., the Clemson commit and son of the former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker, who had missed his second straight state title game with an injury.
It was a run that may never be duplicated again and Roken understands that keeping a team as talented as this one together is not an easy job.
With so much talent at multiple positions, finding ways to maximize that talent is something he has excelled at, both as an assistant and head coach, and, once more on the field in Hershey, he celebrated this senior class and a historic run.
“Every year is a different team and each team has a one-year life expectancy,” Roken said. “A new group of seniors need to become leaders and sophomores becoming juniors need to step up and become upperclassmen. That’s something that, as a senior group each year, it’s important for them to carry themselves a certain way so these younger guys understand what it’s like to handle themselves as upperclassmen. They continue to pass down that tradition. I have assistants who have won state titles here and they want to see that tradition continue.”