The “Pick Six” - a turning point for a defensive unit, a wrench for the offense. PSD’s “Pick Six” highlights personal achievements, team highlights and unbiased turning points of our weekly Philadelphia Catholic League teams in their previously played games.
Photos/Videos: John Knebels, Lennie Malmgren & James Quinn
By: John Knebels
After losing to Roman Catholic a month ago, La Salle’s expectations for a championship season took a minor hit. Faced with the challenge of regrouping, the Explorers responded with aplomb, overpowering host Father Judge, 52-14, and then, on Saturday afternoon, dominating visiting Archbishop Wood, 20-0, at Wissahickon High School.
The result? La Salle’s first Philadelphia Catholic League championship since 2015 and a number-one seed in the PIAA Class 6A semifinal playoffs that begin this weekend. The Explorers will have a chance to avenge their only loss when they take on Roman Catholic Saturday.
“It was a wake-up call,” said La Salle coach John Steinmetz of the loss to Roman. “It’s a really good league and anybody can beat you any day. It focused us. We’re looking forward to playing them again.”
Coming in with a 2-1 record in the Red Division and an earlier win over St. Joseph’s Prep, the Explorers took full advantage of owning their own destiny. They scored three touchdowns on offense and held the Vikings’ offense to 165 total yards.
La Salle is now 8-1 overall and finished 3-1 in the Red. A win over four-seed Roman Catholic would secure a spot in the 6A final against the winner of two-seed St. Joseph’s Prep vs. three-seed Archbishop Wood. The championship is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. November 13 at Cardinal O’Hara High School.
Only up by a touchdown at halftime, La Salle needed a spark.
Senior Sam Brown lit the match.
In the opening seconds of the third quarter, Brown took a handoff, darted left, and raced 65 yards for a touchdown. The tally seemed to deflate the Vikings for the rest of the way.
“It felt really good,” said Brown, who finished with 112 yards on 18 carries. “I knew things would open up later in the game. I had to trust my offensive line and my receivers, and they made great blocks.”
Senior Ryan Moore added two touchdown runs – the game’s first and last – and amassed 55 yards from scrimmage.
“It feels awesome,” said Moore. “Everybody on the team knew we could get it done. The O-line played great. Just had to make some cuts and get in the end zone.”
On its first possession, Archbishop Wood started strong. Utilizing a strong run game mixed with some short passes, the Vikings ate 7:57 off the clock and advanced to the 19-yard line.
La Salle junior Del Jackson, however, anticipated where the Vikings would go next, and his spot-on read produced his first career varsity interception at the 12-yard line.
“The play before that, the wide receiver was wide open,” said Jackson. “I jammed the man in cover-two and I caught the pick.
“It was crazy. That was my first one. That was just crazy. But it went by so fast and it was only the first quarter. We still had three quarters to play.”
The longer a football opponent goes without scoring, the hungrier the defense becomes to finish with a shutout.
With La Salle a minute away from its third whitewash of the season, a long pass moved Archbishop Wood to the 20-yard line. Although the victory was assured, La Salle’s defense refocused as though it were a tie game.
With La Salle’s crowd suddenly facing a small case of the jitters, the Explorers presented them with one final highlight when junior Sean McFadden intercepted a pass at the seven-yard line and returned the theft to midfield.
“All I can say about that play is, ‘Wow!’” said a psyched McFadden. “I was super excited to end that game that way. We really wanted to shut those guys out for a second year in a row. That drive was very long and very fast paced. I knew they wanted to get the ball to (Wood receiver) Markus Dixon in crunch time, so I stayed close to him throughout the play.
“Me and my teammate, Ryan Moore, were both in the zone, so if I hadn’t jumped it, I wholeheartedly believe that he would’ve. He’s an incredible football talent. After I had jumped the route, my blocks were set up perfectly, so I just turned the speed on and got as many yards as I could. I was honestly a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t take it to the house. To be that elite level talent I aspire to be, I gotta make those plays.”
When a pair of winless teams prepare for battle, the game might feel like a pseudo-playoff.
On Saturday, a late touchdown and key defensive stop propelled visiting Lansdale Catholic to a 13-7 win over Archbishop Carroll in a Blue Division season finale. The Crusaders’ first win provides momentum heading into Saturday’s PIAA Class 3A final against Neumann-Goretti.
“The tough losses were always hard, but we were always able to build off of those mistakes and get better week by week,” said LC senior Jake Lesher. “I really think that’s the reason we were able to win.
“Winning this game was a huge, especially to end out the regular season on a win and have a confidence boost going into playoffs. The plan is for this confidence to travel over to next year so the guys can win some more games.”
After both teams traded touchdowns – Carroll on senior Devon Southern’s touchdown run, which helped him finish with a season-best 103 yards; Lansdale Catholic on a scoring pass from sophomore quarterback Cole Meehan to freshman Jacahi Streeter (six catches for career-high 131 yards) – the contest moved to the closing minutes tied at 7-7.
Exercising precision, the Crusaders embarked on a two-minute drill. Receptions by junior Matt Daly (six catches, career-high131 yards), who doubles as a safety, led to a short touchdown run by junior Efrain Quiles with 30 seconds remaining. Carroll’s ensuing drive was halted when senior cornerback Tyler VanOsten intercepted a pass.
Victory formation . . . finally.
“It was big for us to finally get one in the win column,” said VanOsten. “We came out and executed our game plan and played some nasty defense and got the ‘W.’ We’re bringing it all week in practice to get the same result again. I’d say we’re even more hungry for a win than ever now.”
With the last regular-season Catholic League weekend in the books, several teams bid adieu to the 2021 season. That is not the case for Neumann-Goretti.
With senior quarterback Marqui Adams orchestrating five touchdowns – three through the air and two on the ground – and junior Jayden Sumpter gaining 112 yards and a touchdown on only seven carries, the Saints defeated West Catholic, 40-6, and completed a perfect record in the Blue Division. Neumann-Goretti had already wrapped up the Blue title last week and will face Lansdale Catholic for the PIAA Class 3A title Saturday morning at the South Philadelphia Supersite.
Conwell-Egan won its fifth straight, squeaking past Archbishop Ryan, 20-13. The Eagles (8-2 overall, 5-2 division) rushed for 231 yards while their defense continued its strong play. They have surrendered only 34 points during their winning streak. The Eagles will face West Catholic Friday at Truman High School for the Class 2A title.
Bonner-Prendergast raised its record to 8-2 overall and finished with a 6-1 Blue Division record after recording a 31-12 win over Cardinal O’Hara. Senior running back Mason Peterson continued his torrid pace, scoring three touchdowns for the fourth week in a row. He now has 21 TDs for the season and is only eight yards shy of 1,500.
In a rain-soaked Red Division contest, St. Joseph’s Prep defeated Father Judge, 21-13 despite Judge senior quarterback Mike Van Horn rushing for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
The Prep will face Archbishop Wood in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals Friday night; as the only 5A team in the league, Father Judge received an automatic bye to the district final.
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)