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Samaj Jones ends epic career by leading St. Joe’s Prep to second-straight 6A state title by plowing North Allegheny, 45-23

Written by: on Sunday, December 10th, 2023. Follow Joseph Santoliquito on Twitter.


Photos by Matt Topper

MECHANICSBURG, PA — It started by accident. Samaj Jones was part of the clean-up crew, tasked with combing the field to pick up cones, and nets, and stray footballs after practice for his youth league football team. There was a ball on the far side of the field.

So, instead of walking the ball over to his coach, Jones threw it. Jones’ coach exclaimed, “Who threw that!” Jones thought he was in trouble, before sheepishly admitting he did.

The ball flew 40 yards. Jones was 10.

That’s what led him to become a quarterback. That was the root of what led to St. Joe’s Prep winning its second-straight PIAA Class 6A state championship, 45-23, over District 7 champion North Allegheny Saturday night at Chapman Field at Cumberland Valley High School.

It was the Hawks’ eighth state title, the most of any large school in the history of Pennsylvania. It was their eighth state title in the last 10 years and fifth in the last six years. In the process of continuing its legacy, St. Joe’s Prep also handed North Allegheny its first loss in a state championship game.

The Cincinnati-bound Jones led the way, scoring three touchdowns, throwing for two, and possibly cementing his legacy as the best quarterback in Hawks’ history.

He entered the game as the Hawks’ all-time leading yardage leader. After completing 14 of 17 for 232 yards, while rushing for 115 yards in the championship, he finishes with 7,813 career total yards and 108 career touchdowns. He ends his career with 5,725 yards passing, second only to Kyle McCord (6,887 yards and 88 touchdown passes), completing a career 356 of 560 with 64 touchdown passes.

Two years ago, Jones walked off the field after losing to Mount Lebanon in the state title game as a sophomore with his head down embarrassed. The last two years he returned to the state championship with a vengeance, putting his personal stamp on the Hawks’ consecutive championships.

“It’s hard to explain,” Jones said. “I’m grateful to these guys and the hard work these guys put in. Yeah, it’s a long way for a kid who threw a ball one afternoon and thought he was trouble. God put me in that situation to get where I am now, and that game (against Mount Lebanon), I’m so grateful for that game because it built so much energy.

“Losing forced me to grow up. I had no choice. I was forced to grow up.”

The 2023 Hawks could arguably be the greatest team in program history. They closed their season with a 13-game winning streak after opening with a 17-14 loss to national powerhouse IMG Academy. This was a team that was dominant on both sides of the ball, scoring 579 points this season, while giving up just 120. The 2023 Hawks averaged 41.3 points a game, while giving up an average of 8.5 points a game.

They were dominant. They were suffocating on defense. They were explosive on offense.

They impressed North Allegheny coach Art Walker, who was very classy in defeat, saying, “Not what we expected, we wanted to be in it, we wanted to fight, we wanted to battle. I’m proud of my guys not giving up. I’m proud of them continuing to fight the whole game, but we gave up some big plays. They’re good everywhere.

“It’s a tough team to prepare for. I haven’t seen anyone run zone-read (like Jones) and pull it that late in a long time. He’s darn good at that. We had the back dead to rights, and all of a sudden, I don’t know how he got the ball out. He’s good. He’s a physical downhill runner. He’s the best runner we’ve seen. He’s a special guy.

“It’s hard to cover everything at once. You can’t take it all away.”

The mercy rule came when Jones scored his third rushing touchdown and topped that by finding the falling Elijah Jones in the end zone for the two-point conversion for a 45-10 Prep lead with 5:45 left in the third quarter.

With 7:08 left in the game, Samaj got his curtain call, leaving the field the last time wearing a St. Joe’s Prep uniform.

“I’ll remember how relentless this team was, as much as we challenged them every day,” said Hawks’ coach Tim Roken, who got a little emotional talking about this team and Samaj. “They showed up every single day to work. They went through some good adversity, especially in this senior class.

“This isn’t easy for me. I love this group of seniors and this coaching staff. It’s not easy seeing this group go. They trusted one another, they loved one another, and they led one another. It’s the most rewarding thing for a coach to see.

“Then you have Samaj, a young man of great character. He did a lot of growing up here. He showed up every single day with a smile on his face, the determination to lead this program, and understanding the responsibilities he has as that leader of this program. It hasn’t been easy for him, and it won’t be easy for us to watch him go.”

Prep had the game under control by halftime. The Hawks got out to a 24-0 lead, scored on their first five possessions, and were well ahead, 37-10, by intermission—despite being flagged 10 times for 85 yards. Prep had doubled North Allegheny’s output, gaining 323 yards of total offense to the Tigers’ 161 yards, averaging 11.54 yards a play to North Allegheny’s 4.88 yards a play.

By then, Jones had rushed for 68 yards and two touchdowns and completed 11 of 14 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yarder to Elijah Jones.

Samaj’s second touchdown came off a great play fake, pulling the ball at the last second from Erik Sanchez, making the Tigers’ defense bite, then tearing through a gap on the right for a 41-yard score with 4:15 left.

The Hawks started quickly, taking the opening kickoff 72 yards over 12 plays, ending with Samaj scoring by bulling through North Allegheny’s James Donaldson and Liam Flaherty, who met him at the goal line with a crunch.

Huge plays on the opening series came in Jones’ 19-yard connection to Brandon Rehmann on a third-and-18 at the Tigers’ three. The Hawks also converted a second-and-13 on the drive, with Jones dialing up Rehmann again for 21 yards.

As everyone was filing off the field after the game, Hawks’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Tom Sugden made sure he gave Samaj a long embrace.

Sugden has had a more intimate relationship with Jones than anyone on the St. Joe’s coaching staff. He used to drive by his house and wake him up in the morning when he overslept and was constantly on him during his sophomore and junior years about time management and discipline.

Sugden, Roken, the entire Prep community, saw a specialness in Jones that for a few years, he did not see in himself.

That came to fruition this season.

Saturday night was the culmination of realized expectations.

“Samaj is special, and it would frustrate us that he didn’t see it, but our job as coaches is to bring those things out in people and we stuck with Samaj,” Sugden said. “Seeing Samaj meet his potential is one of the neat things about St. Joe’s Prep. It’s why we stay here and coach here. Samaj is living proof.”

Scoring Summary

North Allegheny (13-2) 0 10 0 13-23

St. Joseph’s Prep (13-1) 14 23 8 0-45

1st Quarter

SJP – Samaj Jones 2 run (Skyler Sholder kick), 7:45

SJP – Jones 41 run (Sholder kick), 4:15

2nd Quarter

SJP – Isaiah West 22 run (Sholder kick), 11:53

SJP – Sholder 41 FG, 9:17

NA – Logan Kushner 5 run (Nick Van Winkle kick), 6:04

SJP – Elijah Jones 80 pass from Samaj Jones (Sholder kick), 5:52

NA – Peter Notaro 33 FG, 2:23

SJP – Brandon Rehmann 13 pass from Samaj Jones (kick failed), 1:07

3rd Quarter

SJP – Samaj Jones 4 run (Elijah Jones pass from Samaj Jones), 5:45

4th Quarter

NA – Daniel Sellers 1 run (run failed), 7:40

NA – Khiryn Boyd 52 pass from Kushner (Van Winkle kick), 5:17




RUSHES-YARDS (NET) 25-116/33-243


Passes Cmp-Att-Int 12-29-1/14-17-0


Fumble Returns-Yards 0-0/0-0

Punt Returns-Yards 0-0/2-42

Kickoff Returns-Yards 5-106/3-102

Interception Returns-Yards 0-0/1-0

Punts (Number-Avg) 3-39.3/1-36.0

Fumbles-Lost 0-0/2-0

Penalties-Yards 6-40/13-115

Possession Time 23:35/24:25

Third-Down Conversions 5 of 12/3 of 6

Fourth-Down Conversions 0 of 1/0 of 0

Red-Zone Scores-Chances 3-3/3-4

Joseph Santoliquito is a hall-of-fame, award-winning sportswriter who has been covering high school football since 1992 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter @JSantoliquito []. Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball [].

Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball

Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball

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