By: John Knebels
Photos by: Kathy Leister
PHILADELPHIA – Twelve minutes of tentativeness. Twelve minutes of adjustment. Twelve minutes of perfection. Twelve minutes of perseverance.
Add it up, and La Salle High School did something that only two Catholic League teams have done in 10 years – defeat St. Joseph’s Prep.
Emerging from a 14-7 halftime deficit and then completely dominating with a 21-0 third quarter, the Explorers upended the Hawks, 28-21, on a splendid Saturday afternoon before an announced crowd of 10,000 at historic Franklin Field.
“It was all about the physicality,” said La Salle junior linebacker Sean McFadden. “Both teams were really, really physical. Our defense, that’s just how we are. You might be more talented than us, but we are going to be more physical than you.
“Our offense really showed up today. Sam Brown, Ryan Moore, those guys played like monsters. You love to see it. It’s awesome.”
Sam Brown, an All-Catholic running back, gained all 121 of his rushing yards in the second half. On the second play of the third quarter, the Rutgers University-bound senior took a handoff, turned right toward the sideline, and outran the Prep linebackers and secondary 82 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 14-14.
Less than six minutes later, Brown’s five-yard scoring run gave La Salle its first lead at 21-14. With 1:29 remaining in the third, senior quarterback Alan Paturzo scrambled five yards for yet another tally, sending the Explorers’ crowd into a frenzy as La Salle’s lead swelled to 28-14 heading into the final stanza.
“It’s exciting to do that, especially against a good team like St. Joseph’s Prep,” said Brown, referring to his career-long jaunt. “It all happened so fast. I just thank my fullback, my receivers, and my offensive line every game. It means a lot, especially for the senior class. I’m happy for our coaches.”
When the Prep (2-2 overall, 1-1 division) scored on the game’s first possession via sophomore quarterback Samaj Jones’ 20-yard scamper, there might have been a “here we go again” theme permeating the La Salle faithful. After La Salle tied the game on a four-yard touchdown connection from Paturzo to senior EJ Wentz early in the second quarter, the Hawks responded with a 25-yard scoring toss from Jones to sophomore David Washington.
Though behind by a touchdown, La Salle wasn’t worried.
“They got us a little warmed up,” said La Salle senior star linebacker Abdul Carter, whose aggressive style helped provide several bone-jarring hits near the Prep backfield. “It made us focus a little bit more and we stepped up. We just all have to do our job. Stay calm, stay poised, stay ready, but make plays.”
One of the game’s top playmakers was La Salle senior Ryan Moore.
A receiver on offense (130 scrimmage yards), a hawk on defense (game-clinching interception inside the final minute), and special team ace (his impromptu punt on a fourth down running play resulted in the Prep taking over at its own one-yard play, from where it never was able to even reach the 30-yard line, with less than three minutes left in the game), Moore was a force start to finish.
His personal favorite contribution was his interception inside the Prep 40-yard line after a desperate long pass. As Moore slid to the surface and raced to the sideline to share the special moment with his teammates, only 41 seconds separated the Explorers from their first win over the Hawks since the 2015 final, thus ending a nine-game losing streak against their archrivals.
“It felt really good knowing that it sealed the game and that the hard work we put in over the last couple months is paying off,” said Moore. “Knowing that we had a lot of doubters saying we couldn’t win the game pushed us to work even harder, and knowing that the interception had definitely proved them wrong was a great feeling.
“But that would have never happened if it weren’t for the defense making play after play to lead up to that final play. Everybody did their assignment, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
The Explorers’ offense was the first Catholic League unit to score more than two touchdowns against the Prep since La Salle lost to the Hawks, 63-35, on October 22, 2016. The last Catholic League team to outlast the Prep during the regular season was Archbishop Ryan, 27-14, in 2013.
“This is what you live for, to play in big games like this,” said Paturzo. “This is why I came to LaSalle – to beat those guys. I’m happy for the coaches and the players. They have been waiting a long time for this.”
Now at 6-0 overall and 1-0 in the league, the Explorers would clinch the Catholic League Red Division championship with wins over Roman Catholic, Father Judge, and Archbishop Wood.
In order to advance to the PIAA Class 6A state tournament, the Explorers would still need to defeat the Prep again on November 13 at neutral site Cardinal O’Hara.
“We slayed a giant today,” said Carter. “We gotta do it one more time.”