St. Joe Prep leans on the line to beat Lincoln, 35-0, for the District 12 6A Championship
PHILADELPHIA, PA — It wasn’t a bad first run. There were a few areas that will be coached up, but for the first time together, the St. Joe’s Prep offensive line—the new version—looked pretty cohesive Saturday night in the PIAA District 12 Class 6A championship.
The Hawks are on their annual December trek again. The defending PIAA Class 6A state champions are about to enter that familiar pressure-packed terrain that comes along with tournament football.
They know, one loss and that is it—you are done.
It’s why the Hawks are doing something amazing at this stage of the season. St. Joe’s Prep has rearranged its offensive line at the most important time of the year. Left tackle Kevin Towns, left guard John Paul Schrieber, center Lakeem Steele, right guard Christian Leonard, right tackle Shane Toolan, and tight end Denzel Felder are learning as a unit in late November and their first crash test came on Saturday in the PIAA District 12 Class 6A championship against Public League champ Lincoln.
The Hawks won for the 10th straight time, 35-0, to advance to the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals next Saturday against District 11’s Nazareth at Northeast High School at 1 p.m.
If the Hawks plan on repeating, much of that will come from up front. Since junior left guard Kahul Stewart was ineligible to play in the postseason because of the transfer rules, Hawks’ coach Tim Roken moved right tackle Schrieber to left guard, between veteran stalwarts Towns and Steele, and moved tight end Toolan to right tackle, rotating with Felder.
“This was our first time together and I thought it went well,” said Towns, who has received offers from Fordham and Bryant and is gaining attention from FBS schools like the Army, Maryland, and JMU. “A lot of it came from our preparation and (Schrieber) made a great transition. A big part coming in this week was communication. We knew the same is the same goal—pounding the ball.
“There was a little communication glitch, but it is something correctable moving forward. We’ll go back to the basics and working with the guys and getting better to achieve our one goal and that’s to win another state championship.”
Towns transferred into Prep himself a year ago from Archbishop Wood, and saw his future on a basketball court, following his father, Kevin Towns Sr., a star at Strath Haven. Kevin Jr.’s basketball days have been cut short, but he plans on playing for the Hawks’ basketball team this season.
Towns and Steele have made life easier for everyone else up front because they call the line changes and come with state-title experience.
“Going into this week, we needed to make sure (Schrieber) was set with all the calls,” said Steele, who is committed to Merrimack. “There are always bumps and bruises along the way, but I feel confident that we’ll take care of business in these couple of weeks.”
Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Tom Sugden and Connor Clifton handle the Hawks’ offensive line. They knew the transition was coming and prepared in advance.
“That’s a credit to coach Roken, he knew what was coming down the line and we practiced months in moving guys around to be ready for different situations,” Sudgen said. “Losing Kahul was big. He’s going to be the best offensive lineman in the state next year. We have as many interchangeable parts where everyone is confident and comfortable if they get moved around. I liked what I saw tonight. Lincoln is a great program and they did a great job. We’re on to next week.”
As for the game, it went into the mercy rule with 4:52 left in the third quarter when Brandon Rehmann scored on a five-yard end around. Cincinnati-bound quarterback Samaj Jones scored Prep’s first two touchdowns, and the Hawks capped off the half with a 22-yard Erik Sanchez touchdown run and an Elijah Jones’ seven-yard TD pass from Samaj Jones.
Although Prep won handily, something needs to be mentioned about the incredible job Lincoln head coach Hakeem Cooper has done with the program. The Railsplitters won their first Philadelphia Public League championship since 1981. At times on Saturday, Lincoln gave St. Joe’s defense fits, with dual-threat senior quarterback Nayshawn Corley, playing in place of starter Gabe Smalley, who was ineligible to play due to the transfer rule, created plays from seemingly nothing. Senior Ziyyon Bredell is a special talent and a leader who intercepted a pass in the first half when the game was still competitive.
Lincoln, under Cooper, is a program still growing. The Railsplitters’ season ends this Thanksgiving against rival Father Judge.
Lincoln (6-6) 0 0 0 0-0
St. Joe’s Prep (10-1) 14 14 7 0-35
SJP – Samaj Jones 10 run (Skyler Sholder kick), 8:52
SJP – Jones 1 run (Sholder kick), 4:20
SJP – Erik Sanchez 22 run (Sholder kick), 1:34
SJP – Elijah Jones 7 pass from Samaj Jones (Sholder kick), :28
SJP – Brandon Rehmann 5 run (Sholder kick), 4:52
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 EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball.
Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball
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