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St. Joe’s Prep overcomes a host of mistakes to claim fourth state title in six years

Written by: on Sunday, December 9th, 2018. Follow Joseph Santoliquito on Twitter.

 

In the end, it was a matter of believing. It’s about trusting in themselves, in their talent, in the system, in each other.

It’s the culture that St. Joseph’s Prep coach Gabe Infante instituted when he took over the program.

And now, it’s flourished to produce four PIAA state championships in six years—with the promise of many more in the coming years. The young talented sophomore nucleus could make up the best high school team in the country by the time they are seniors.

For now, the Hawks are four-time state champions, overcoming the most adversity they ever had. In this state championship game, they overcame three lost fumbles, one pick-six, two missed extra points and a blocked field goal attempt to prevail over District 3 champion Harrisburg, 40-20. It doesn’t belong in the pretty class, but the Hawks, who have now won state titles in 2013, 2014, 2016 and now 2018 during Infante’s nine-year tenure (he’s 91-22 overall, for a 81-percent winning percentage), will take it and finish the season 13-0.

But this certainly goes down as the toughest state title Infante and his team have won. The Hawks turned the ball over on their first two possessions in the first and second halves. They trailed, 7-0, and were slapped with eight penalties for 74 yards in the game. They also had to corral Harrisburg’s dangerous quarterback, senior Kane Everson, who twisted and turned to find time and openings in the Hawks’ defense for 201 yards passing and a touchdown.

“We’re resilient. We don’t go away. We battle and stay together,” Infante said. “We worked too hard to fold and the kids picked each other up. We had guys playing out of position. We overcame a tremendous amount of adversity. Our whole coaching staff did a masterful job, and they did it while facing an extreme amount of adversity. Harrisburg is a very good football team, and I can’t say they didn’t cause some of that adversity.”

After fumbling away the first possession and throwing a pick-six on the second series, the Hawks then proceeded to score on their next four drives, giving them a 27-14 halftime lead. Hawks’ sophomore quarterback Kyle McCord was 16 of 23, with one interception, for 198 yards and two touchdowns over the first two quarters.

Marques Mason played his omnipresent role for the Hawks as receiver, kick returner and running back, amassing 122 all-purpose yards by halftime.

The first half was a case of fast-break football. Neither team was able to stop the other.

By halftime, the teams had combined for 546 yards of total offense over 80 plays (St. Joe’s: 39-311, Harrisburg: 41-235), which averaged out to 6.8 yards a play.

The Hawks were hurt by turnovers. Harrisburg was hurt almost every time St. Joe’s Prep didn’t turn the ball over. The Cougars’ Jai Burney scored on the pick-six, going 27 yards with 8:58 left in the first quarter. That came after Kolbe Burrell fumbled the ball away on the Hawks’ first series, which happened to be recovered by Burney, but it didn’t turn into anything. Burney was responsible for all four Prep turnovers, with the pick-six and three fumble recoveries.

When the Hawks did keep the ball, they were simply too fast and too powerful for Harrisburg, scoring on drives of 53, 80, 71 and 59 yards.

But the opening of the second half brought more of the same. A Marvin Harrison Jr. fumble produced a 25-yard TD pass from scrambling Everson to Donte Kent with 7:38 left in the third quarter. Burrell fumbled a second time, which went back to the Hawks with 5:45 left in the third, when Anthony Leneghan recovered a Jahmir Plant fumble.

The Hawks’ Marques Mason put the game away with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Hawks never allowed Harrisburg past the St. Joe’s 45 again in the last quarter.

“A win is a win, and it wasn’t easy,” Mason said. “It’s better to be on this side of the scoreboard than the other. When stuff went wrong, we stayed together. They were going to come out to do whatever they had to do to win, and we were going to come out and do everything that we had to do to win.”

A telling stat: Harrisburg picked up only 72 yards and four first downs in the second half, while Prep finished with 509 yards of total offense (198 yards and nine first downs in the second half).

 

Saturday, December 08, 2018 1 2 3 4 Final
Harrisburg 7 7 6 0 20
St. Joseph’s Prep 20 7 0 13 40

 

1st Quarter

H – Jai Burney 25 yard interception return (John McNeil kick) 8:58

SJP – Johnny Freeman 13 yard TD pass from Kyle McCord (Antonio Chadha kick) 7:02

SJP – Kolbe Burrell 59 yard TD run (Antonio Chadha kick) 4:10

SJP – Anthony Rightley 13-yard TD pass from Kyle McCord (Antonio Chadha kick) :27

2nd Quarter

H – Jahmir Plant 1-yard TD run (John McNeil kick) 8:11

SJP – Kyle McCord 1-yard TD run (Antonio Chadha kick) 5:40

3rd Quarter

H – Donte Kent 25-yard TD pass from Kane Everson (Donte Kent pass failed) 7:38

4th Quarter

SJP – Marques Mason 4 yard TD run (Antonio Chadha kick failed) 10:54

SJP – Marques Mason 4 yard TD run (Antonio Chadha kick) 2:31

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