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FOOTBALL: Philadelphia Sports Digest's Catholic League Pick 6 (Week 11/6)

By John Knebels - Photos: Kathy Leister, Lou Rabito, Krystal Williams & Mark Zimmaro, 11/12/21, 5:45PM EST


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: Lou Rabito, Krystal Williams, Mark Zimmaro & Kathy Leister

By: John Knebels

Pick One: Burrs Make Most of Second Chance

PHILADELPHIA – Maybe it was because they were such an underdog and had nothing to lose. Perhaps it was because their opponent overlooked them.

Regardless of the reason, as West Catholic celebrated an unlikely 18-13 District 12 Class 2A playoff victory over Conwell-Egan on Nov. 5, it was difficult to remember that the same Burrs squad had been flummoxed by the Eagles, 36-0, just 27 days earlier.

“We finally played West Catholic football,” said Burrs coach Brian Wood. “We left all the distractions back at home and locked in for a battle. It was definitely a great team win to move on to the next round of the playoffs.”

While improving its record to 3-7 overall after posting a 2-5 record in the Catholic League Blue Division, West Catholic defeated a Conwell-Egan squad that had had entered with a record of 8-2, had gone 5-2 in the Blue, and carried a five-game winning streak.

Didn’t matter. Senior quarterback Zymeen Howell rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown on only eight carries while junior teammate K’saan Greene gained 94 more and tallied two touchdowns on 21 hauls. The Burrs’ defense did the rest.

Naidir Hilliard picks up a huge first down for the Burrs in victory vs. Conwell-Egan - Video by Mark Zimmaro

“We knew we had to stop the run,” said Wood. Ethan Brown and Isiah Franklin led the attack and set the tempo. We also moved Naidir Hilliard to safety to give us more of a tackling presence at the second level.”

Hilliard, a senior, appreciated his coach’s confidence.

 “I was honestly excited to play free safety,” said Hilliard. “It gives me the opportunity to show that I can play more than one part of the field.”

For those who think West’s victory was a fluke, Hilliard said to think again.

“We came into the game with a lot of energy and prior to the win we worked very hard in practice and were locked in,” he said. “It’s always hard to beat a team twice in one season, especially when you studied them down to the bone. Going into that game, you couldn’t tell me we were gonna lose. We had that mindset that’s it was gonna be a dogfight.”

Pick Two: Playing Quarterback? Piece of Cake

A huge factor of that aforementioned West Catholic win over Conwell-Egan was the performance by quarterback senior Zymeen Howell, who utilized his legs to make the most of his first start at quarterback after having played running back, wide receiver, and strong safety this fall. 

It wasn’t just his eight rushes for 104 yards and a touchdown on eight carries that impressed his coach.

“He’s a leader and multi-talented athlete who can play anywhere we need him,” said Brian Wood. “He took the lead and his peers followed. He brought a dynamic that Conwell Egan didn’t see from us.”

Howell said having played quarterback last year helped his confidence level. That was unfortunate for Conwell-Egan. With the game scoreless in the third quarter, Howell raced 56 yards for a touchdown.

West Catholic vs. Conwell-Egan - PSD Game Highlights by Mark Zimmaro:

“I ran right up the middle and squeezed through a couple defenders and then there was nothing but field left,” said Howell. “This was a very exciting and important game for me and the team.”

Pick Three: Neumann-Goretti Simply Too Strong

Outside of one struggle, Neumann-Goretti has had little difficulty with Catholic League Blue Division competition. That trend continued Friday night.

Behind senior quarterback Marqui Adams (9-for-17 passing, 259 yards, three touchdowns), senior Ahmir Batts (three catches for 95 yards and a touchdown), senior Rysheem Johnson (career-long 75-yard touchdown catch), senior Colton Callueng (60-yard touchdown catch), junior Jayden Sumpter (79 yards and a score on seen carries), and a dominating defense, the Saints stopped Lansdale Catholic, 46-6.

With their stifling defense intercepting two passes, the Saints earned a berth in the District 12 final against Public School representative Kipp DuBois 12:00 Saturday at the South Philadelphia Supersite.    

The Saints’ defense intercepted two passes and has allowed a miserly 25 points in the past five games.

“I think our defense is one of the best in the state,” said N-G junior defensive tackle Chris Bressi, part of a unit that has allowed a miserly 25 points over the past five games. “We have so many talented players and we are very well coached.”

Pick Four: While La Salle’s Defense Becomes More Stingy . . .

Three weeks earlier, La Salle’s season of seasons had been derailed by underdog Roman Catholic, 27-20. On Saturday in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals and in full revenge mode, the Explorers engineered a nearly flawless 180-degree turn.

With their defense allowing only 182 yards from scrimmage and their offense scoring at will, the Explorers overwhelmed the Cahillites, 45-0, and will next face St. Joseph’s Prep in the District 12 qualifying final 2 PM Saturday at Franklin Field. Now a sparkling 9-1, La Salle has shut out two straight opponents and four altogether while holding six different opponents to eight points or fewer.

“Coming back and getting a shutout was an amazing feeling, but to be honest, it just goes to show how great we can be when everything is on the line,” said La Salle senior defensive tackle Darold DeNgohe. “We worked too hard to come out and disappoint. We try to get one percent better every day, so we approach everything with our full focus and go out and give it our all in order for us to accomplish our goal.”

La Salle vs. Roman Catholic - PCL 6A Semifinal - PSD Game Highlights by Kathy Leister:

Pick Five: . . . the Explorers’ Offense Becomes More Greedy

Leading by 38-0 midway through the third quarter, La Salle’s PIAA Class 6A semifinal victory over Roman Catholic had already been clinched. It was simply a matter of seeing how the backups would perform.

They had big cleats to fill. 

Basic smash-mouth football and creative execution punctuated La Salle’s 45-0 win.

Among the highlight-reel entertainment was senior running back Sam Brown rushing for two touchdowns and throwing his first-ever varsity touchdown pass, a 25-yard score to junior Ryan Sorge, who out-leaped his defender near the back of the end zone.

On the first play of the third quarter, Sorge caught a 58-yard catch-and-run scoring toss from senior quarterback Alan Paturzo.

“The first touchdown was a great play drawn up by Coach Wade (offensive coordinator Joe Wade), and Sam delivered a great pass,” said Sorge. “I just went up to make the catch. The second touchdown was a perfect pass by Alan, and all I had to do was outrun the defender. It felt great scoring both of those touchdowns in front of my friends and family.”

If the Explorers plan to orchestrate more trick plays, Brown volunteers his services. 

“It was really cool getting to throw one because it showed off my other ability of being able to throw rather than always running or catching touchdowns,” said Brown. “I tried playing quarterback growing up but I didn’t really enjoy it. So it was a good feeling getting the chance to do something else and making a play.”

Pick Six: Late Field Goal Prevents Prep Upset

A heavy favorite in the Catholic League Red Division semifinals, St. Joseph’s Prep survived a major scare against pesky Archbishop Wood.

After a Prep fourth-quarter touchdown and two-point conversion tied the game at 14-14, a last-minute field goal by senior Antonio Chadha pushed the Hawks past the Vikings, 17-14, and into a much-anticipated battle with rival La Salle 2:00 PM Saturday at Franklin Field.

Prep senior quarterback Dane Picariello scored on a touchdown run and also fired a scoring pass to sophomore Elijah Jones.

(Contact John Knebels at or on Twitter @johnknebels.)