CHESTER, PA- Marques Mason fielded the ball at the 10, started to his right, and ended up in the end zone 90 yards later. Just 17 seconds into the game, St. Joseph’s Prep had drawn first blood.
It might as well been over right there.
Using a dominant first half, St. Joseph’s Prep rolled to a 49-12 victory in a Catholic League Red Division opener Friday night at a packed Widener University. The two-time defending Catholic League champion Hawks were simply too much for a young La Salle team that figures to be much better in the near future.
For now, however, the Prep is the best team in the Catholic League, if not the state.
“We just wanted to play our best game,” said Mason, a senior running back. “We worked really hard in practice. We challenge each other.
“(Scoring on the opening kickoff) was a great feeling. It looked so wide open. I just took it and after that it was all speed, and it felt great. You always think about coming out strong; set the tone for the rest of the game.”
It did indeed.
Mason’s second career kickoff-return touchdown was shortly followed by a 14-yard scoring execution from a pair of sophomores – quarterback Kyle McCord and wide receiver Marvin Harrison. Less than seven minutes later, junior Kolbe Burrell plunged home from the two, and the undefeated Hawks (3-0) led by 21-0, and the second quarter had not even begun.
Just 37 seconds into the second quarter, McCord (11 for 15, 234 yards, two touchdowns) and Harrison (five catches for 125 yards, two touchdowns) connected again from 33 yards out. With 7:28 remaining before halftime, junior Bryheem Barr converted a fourth-and-goal touchdown rush – his career first – from the two-yard line. The Hawks led, 35-0, and were prepared to establishing a mercy-rule, running clock starting in the second half.
La Salle (1-4), however, answered with a touchdown to make it 35-6, an absolutely brilliant one-handed snare in the end zone by interfered-with senior Kahlil Diarrah off an eight-yard flip by senior quarterback Sean Daly. Undaunted, the Prep scored 57 seconds later when Burrell (7 carries, 41 yards) raced 23 yards for a score, thus allowing the aforementioned running clock – and the installation of numerous backups – over the final two stanzas.
“We just play as a team,” said junior offensive lineman Matt McGeary. “We study their film. We play as brothers and we just do our assignments and execute. Us and La Salle always have a historic rivalry. It’s always physical. Love paying against those guys. It’s a pleasure playing against them.”
Prep senior Nicholas Bikah was one of several Hawks who stood out on defense, especially in the first half.
“We watched a lot of film,” said Bikah. “We prepared well. Coaches made the right calls. We just trust each other that everybody is going to do their jobs. That really helps. When you trust each other, you make big plays. Nobody is worried about each other.”
Wearing a Superman shirt as he enjoyed a post-game tailgate courtesy of the Prep parents, junior defensive lineman Anthony Leneghan insisted that the Prep did not consider the win as anything special just because it came at the expense of the rival Explorers.
“It was just like a regular game,” said Leneghan. “Every game is important to us. The most important game is the next one.”
One person who was pleased with the result but not particularly impressed with the overall execution was SJP coach Gabe Infante.
“We missed multiple blocked punt opportunities,” said Infante. “We failed to make defensive adjustments after timeouts that we had specifically covered. And the list goes on. They are things that maybe don’t matter when you’re up 35-6 or 42-12, but they will matter when it’s 42-41.”
Infante was asked about the spark that Mason’s opening kickoff touchdown return provided the Hawks.
“The opening kickoff gave us a chance to grab momentum, which we didn’t relinquish,” he said. “I am more impressed with that.”
In other words, the Prep isn’t going to rest on its laurels – undoubtedly among the many reasons why the Hawks have captured three state titles in five years and are focused on making it four out of six.