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FOOTBALL: PCL Football Begins Anew With Series of Non-League Openers

By John Knebels Photos/ Zack Beavers, Kathy Leister & Mark Zimmaro, 08/31/23, 2:15PM EDT



(Photos/videos by Zack Beavers, Kathy Leister & Mark Zimmaro)

OCEAN CITY, N. J. – It’s only one game.

Regardless of the outcome, but emphasized more following a defeat, that fundamental mantra bounced off the lips of every football coach when addressing fatigued troops following season-opening football games this past weekend at various venues near and far.

The most celebrated contest among Philadelphia Catholic League squads featured defending PIAA Class 6A state champion and nationally 10th-ranked St. Joseph’s Prep taking on fourth-ranked Florida powerhouse IMG Academy Saturday night down the shore in Ocean City.

Unable to overcome rare sluggishness on offense and hurt by several inopportune penalties, the Hawks lost by a misleadingly close 17-14. The main culprit behind the Prep’s meager output of 114 total yards of offense was IMG’s aggressive, ferocious defense. At various points, it appeared as though IMG knew in advance as to what play the Prep planned to run.

On the positive side, the Hawks displayed their own mettle on defense. They held one of the nation’s top scholastic running backs, Texas University-bound senior Jerrick Gibson, to a miserly 63 yards on 23 carries. Only nine of his rushes resulted in gains of more than two yards, with six resulting in negative yardage.

SJP vs. IMG. (video/ John Knebels for PSD)

Down 17-0 in the closing seconds of the third quarter, senior Erik Sanchez swatted a punt and junior Rameir Hardy returned the block 32 yards for a score, thus igniting a heretofore bored Prep crowd that might have considered calling it an early night to frequent the establishments along the Jersey Boardwalk.

Only 1:21 into the fourth, sophomore Alex Haskell forced a fumble that was returned 11 yards for a touchdown by junior Anthony Sacca. Down by a field goal, the Prep’s defense held tight the rest of the night, but the offense was unable to get on track.

While addressing his disappointed team post-game, Coach Tim Roken focused on two messages – one, appreciation that the Hawks never gave up even though prospects appeared bleak after falling behind 17-0 in the third quarter; two, reminding them of an important life lesson.

“Just because you work hard and give it everything you have,” said Roken, “success is never guaranteed.” 

SJP head coach Tim Roken kept a rare loss in perspective with riveting post game chat with his players. (video/ John Knebels for PSD)


A torrid all-around effort lifted La Salle past host North Penn, 34-3. Sophomore quarterback Gavin Sidwar (13-for-18, 321 yards, three touchdowns), junior Julian McFadden (three catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns), and senior Stevie Davis (7 rushes for 91 yards and a score) paced the offense while junior Dylan Clair and junior Jack Leuthe combined for five tackles and nine assists for a defense that registered three sacks.

In a truly crazy battle between two PCL teams from different divisions, Archbishop Wood survived a 37-34 decision against visiting Archbishop Ryan.

The Vikings had led 23-0 at halftime before the Raiders eventually seized the lead in the fourth quarter, only to fall late.

Wood’s offense (junior quarterback Karon Shedrick 11 of 12 passing for 204 yards and three touchdowns in addition to 65 yards rushing on nine carries; senior Joey Scarpello eight catches for 177 yards and three TDs; junior Yasin Lowry 16 rushes for 123 yards and two scores) barely overcame Ryan’s highlight-reel foursome of quarterback Frankie Mawson (29 of 39, school record 447 yards, four passing touchdowns, one TD rush), junior Damien Morgan (school-first 12 receptions for 194 yards and a touchdown), junior Bryce Werner (9 catches for 148 yards and two TDs), and Nick Rogers (three catches for 75 yards and a score).

“So the biggest thing for us was to just keep our heads up and keep fighting,” said Mawson, who credited chemistry with his wide receivers along with “all of the adjustments our coaches made during the game” for the Raiders’ startling 34-point second half. “Our whole team knew what we were capable of, and once we starting building up momentum, we just kept it all going." 

Archbishop Wood vs. Archbishop Ryan - PSD Highlights by Kathy Leister

Though disappointed with the loss, Morgan admitted that Ryan’s offensive display was still worth celebrating.

“Going into the game, I knew I had a lot to do because they were a good team,” Morgan said. “I had no idea about any stats once the game was over. My wide receivers coach texted me and told me congrats and it was a pretty good feeling although we lost. I was happy I got to contribute to the team and give it my all on the field, but I couldn’t have done it without everyone buying in in the second half. The O-line held their blocks and the defense made multiple key stops.”

Roman Catholic upended Wilson High, 49-14, as sophomore quarterback Samaj Beals completed 11 of 22 passes for 269 yards and five touchdowns – two of them to junior Tayden Mines (three catches, 100 yards) – while senior Dazhaun Hopkins reached 110 yards on 13 carries along with scoring on a run and reception. Lou Gaddy pulled down an interception for the Cahillites.

Lansdale Catholic’s 36-14 victory over High School of the Future involved huge performances by senior quarterback Cole Meehan (11 of 13 for 159 yards and three touchdowns) and junior Jacahi Streeter (11 rushes for 96 yards, three receptions for 41 yards, three TDs via a rush, reception, and fumble return. Junior Chris Ulmer picked off a pass.

“It is always great to start the season off well, but I am always looking for stuff to work on and getting ready for next week,” said Meehan. But the team win was awesome and gave great energy. “I love spreading the ball around to my playmakers. We all really have a great connection and we understand each other very good so, we just have to stay consistent.”​​​​​​​

In a 24-7 loss to Holy Spirit (NJ), Conwell-Egan’s Sam Cooper rushed for 95 yards and the Eagles’ lone score. Teammate Colin Walker collected a combined 12 tackles and a sack.

“I was really hoping we could get it together, but that’s why we got to work hard this week and go crazy this coming Friday,” said Cooper, referring to the Eagles home opener against Kensington. “We just got to learn from our mistakes and practice twice as hard as we did last week to get ready.”

Father Judge lost a 13-10 defensive battle against Central Bucks South despite senior Tyler Yerkov connecting with senior Nymeir Appling (four catches for 123 yards) for a touchdown pass . . . Cardinal O’Hara dropped a forgettable 50-6 decision against Springfield Delco, with senior Keon Powell’s touchdown run breaking SD’s shutout bid . . . Senior Khari Reid scored touchdowns on a reception and kickoff return, but Neumann-Goretti was defeated by Elder High, 35-14 . . . Archbishop Carroll fell to Springfield Delco, 24-6.


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