Article and Videos by St. Joe's Prep Jr. Reporter and WSJP Co-President - John Leuzzi @JohnLeuzzi9
ALTOONA, PA –It has been 355 days since St. Joseph’s Prep (12-0) took a 41-21 loss to Pine-Richland (11-3) in the 2017 PIAA Class 6A State Championship game. Following a Hawk’s win over Bethlehem Freedom and Pine-Richland’s win over State College in the quarterfinal games the week prior, the Hawks date for revenge was set, but this time it would be in Altoona, PA in the 6A west bracket semifinal game and not under the lights in Hershey.
“Last year our seniors didn’t get a championship because we lost to this team, so we wanted to win it for them,” said Prep junior running back Kolbe Burrell.
From the moment they entered the stadium during pregame ceremonies, the Hawks looked locked in and ready to make some damage as they had that extra edge on their shoulders. The Hawks won the toss and RB Marques Mason ‘19 was getting ready to return the opening kick from Rams kicker Zach Waryanka ‘21.
Waryanka and the Rams had other plans as they elected to execute a perfect onside kick, which was recovered by Pine-Richland. Continuing the Rams momentum from the State College win, their offense led by sophomore dual-threat QB Cole Spencer, who is in his first year as a starter following the graduation of Phil Jurkovec now at Notre Dame, brought the ball all the way into to the Prep red zone committing to the run game early on.
On a fourth-and-goal on the Prep 15-yard line, Spencer looked into the end zone for WR Eli Jochem ‘21. The pass was broken up by Hawk’s DB Nick Rios ‘19 leading to an early turnover on downs putting the ball into the hands of the Hawk’s offense who came into this game averaging 44.1 PPG.
Nick Rios #22 celebrates an interception - Photo courtesy of SJP team photographer Gil McGlynn
Despite dealing with constant rain throughout the game, Hawk’s sophomore QB Kyle McCord did not allow it to affect his game and the Hawk’s pass game as he drove his offense 86-yards on their opening drive. He connected to Mason on a screen pass for a 43-yard Prep touchdown to put the Hawks on the board first.
That is all the Hawks needed, as there was no looking back from that point.
In the remainder of the first half, the Hawks would score two more touchdowns on two carries by Burrell, a 3-yard and a 2-yard TD, and a 32-yard field goal by freshman kicker Antonio Chadha to head into halftime up 23-0 against Pine-Richland.
The Prep would continue the domination in the second half, scoring two more touchdowns as McCord would connect with receivers Anthony Rightley ‘20 and Tyriq Jones-Garland ’19, both for 9-yard touchdown receptions en route to their 37-0 win. McCord completed 21 of 30 passes for 305-yards and three touchdowns. The Mount Laurel native also surpassed former Prep quarterback Frank Costa’s all-season record for most passing yards in a season. The leading receiver was Johnny Freeman ‘19 who had five receptions for 96-yards on the day.
The Hawk's defense celebrates a turnover on downs - Photo courtesy of SJP team photographer Gil McGlynn
“My teammates and I watched a lot of film and got ready for them (Pine-Richland) as best as we could. We had that fighter mentality in us. We played like it was our last game together knowing that if we lose, we would never play with our brothers again so when we got a chance we took it and ran with it so we could have one final week together,” said Burrell who led the team in rushing with 19 carries for 88-yards and two touchdowns, including a big 62-yard run that sealed the game.
The defense for the Hawks showed why they are one of the most dominant and fearful defenses in the State of Pennsylvania. They limited a run heavy offense of Pine-Richland to just 123 yards on 34 carries. Linebacker Cooper Kim ‘19 was the team leader in tackles with 9.5 and also had a sack on the day. Sophomore LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr. ‘21 finished second in tackles with 6.5. The Hawk’s defense also forced three turnover on downs, two interceptions from Zach Bouggess and Rios and recorded three sacks on the day.
“The defense performed very well due to the scout team preparing us all week for what we would see on Saturday. They (Pine-Richland) had a high powered offense but it was our preparation that helped us dominate them in the run and pass game,” said Bouggess, who has committed to play at Princeton next year.
Prep head coach Gabe Infante celebrates the 37-0 win with his team - Photo courtesy of SJP team photographer Gil McGlynn
The win for the Prep this weekend also clinched head coach Gabe Infante’s 100th win of his career. In his nine years at 17th and Girard, Infante holds a record of 90-22, three state championship titles, five Catholic League titles and multiple Catholic League Coach of the Year Awards. In the last few years, Infante has brought the Prep football program national attention, having the program finish in the Top 25 in the MaxPreps.com Excellent 25, HS Football America and the USA Today High School rankings every year.
The Hawks next game will be this Saturday, December 8 at 6 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, PA against Harrisburg. Harrisburg (District 3) upset Coatesville (District 1) 27-24 in the other semifinal game that was played this past Saturday.
“We treat every opponent the same. We started watching film and preparing for them (Harrisburg) right after Saturday’s win. We are going to do everything we can do to come out on top,” said Kim.
The Hawks will look for their fourth state title in six years on Saturday as they go against another dominant defensive team known as the “Darkside” who consists of Jeffrey Chisholm-Wilkerson, Saquon Carter-Barton, Rynell Gantt and Andre White Jr.
Can’t make the trip up to the game? St. Joe’s Prep Student Broadcasting Club, WSJP, has you covered. You can hear the call of the game on 990 AM Radio beginning with kickoff at 6 PM. Follow @SJPrep_Sports @SJPBroadcasting and @PHSportsDigest on Twitter for score updates and stats of the game. The game will also be televised on PCN.