St. Joe’s Prep blows out Garnet Valley for a chance to fourpeat as PIAA 6A champions
What was supposed to be a showdown wasn’t.
It took about a quarter, but once the maroon and silver hammer came down, it smashed everything in its wake Saturday night, as three-time defending PIAA Class 6A state champions St. Joseph’s Prep pounded a good Garnet Valley team, 49-13, in the state semifinals at Ridley’s Phil Marion Field.
Sophomore quarterback Samaj Jones scored four touchdowns and threw for three more in leading the Hawks (11-2), who will play District 7 champion Mt. Lebanon (14-0), 49-28 winners over State College, next Saturday at 6 p.m. at Hershey Park Stadium for the chance to fourpeat as Class 6A state champions.
This marks St. Joe Prep’s eighth trip to the state finals in the last nine years. The Hawks ranked No. 1 in Southeastern Pennsylvania by EasternPAFootball.com, could become the first four-time state champion at the 6A level since Pennsylvania moved to the 6A level in 2016. In fact, The Prep has appeared in each 6A state championship game since the 6A system has been implemented.
A big reason why the Hawks are here is Jones.
“Samaj is a young man who puts in a lot of work at practice and these guys trusted him,” Hawks’ coach Tim Roken said. “He shows up every day and practices with a purpose. These guys believe in him. Our staff was unbelievable for how much time they put in for this team to prepare, and it’s up to this team to go out and do it.”
The Prep coaching staff tightened the screws this week during practice. A few months ago, the reaction may have been pouts. In this last month, it’s a team that wants to be challenged, that likes to be challenged, that wants one more rep, and one more rep after that.
“It’s a team that loves and appreciates the grind,” Roken said.
At the hub, it seems, is Jones.
He was up and down at times this season, looking amazing one moment and looking harried the next. It comes with being a sophomore learning the speed of the high school varsity level.
On Saturday night, it’s the best Jones has looked this season.
“With a lot of stuff off the field, with me and injuries, our team didn’t miss a beat and I couldn’t let these guys down,” said Jones, who completed 10 of 14 passed for 145 yards, including touchdown passes of 7, 30 and 16 yards, while rushing for 83 yards on eight carries. “That’s the great thing I loved to see. I knew when I got in, we could be more explosive.
“I loved being doubted. I knew it didn’t come from my coaching staff or my team, it came from the outside noise. No one thought we would score more than 10 points (against Garnet Valley). It’s the best thing. I listened to the doubt with one ear and let it out the other.”
Apparently, it was the whole Prep team.
“From our two losses earlier this season, our practices have been hell—and we love it,” Hawks’ staller sophomore corner Omillio Agard said. “We worked hard and matured so had. No one is late to practice and everyone is one point. I can’t wait to go back to Hershey. Everyone thought they were going to whip us.”
A key moment came early in the second quarter. St. Joe’s Prep freshman safety Anthony Sacca, the son of former Penn State quarterback Tony Sacca, made a bold to step in front of a Garnet Valley received to intercept a pass at midfield and returned it to the Garnet Valley 5-yard line. One play later, Jones scored to put the Hawks up 14-0.
The Hawks bolted out to a 21-0 lead before Garnet Valley could get on the board.
By halftime, St. Joe’s Prep led 35-7, holding the Jags’ potent offense to 136 yards of total offense—50 coming on the ground. Prep, meanwhile, had 209 yards of offense.
Jones completed his last six passes, including a 30-yard score to sophomore Brandon Rehmann and a 16-yard scoring pass to another sophomore, Elijah Jones, late in the third quarter.
“Losing to La Salle and Milton (Ga.) were real wake-up calls for us earlier this year, because a lot of guys on this team never lost before,” Hawks’ junior center Julian Cervantes said. “We really matured over the season and we had our best week of practice this past week. We didn’t play our best football. We can still play better.”
Garnet Valley (14-1) shuts down a historic season. The Jaguars won their first PIAA District 1 6A championship and won 14 games for the first time in a season. It was a send-off for legendary coach Mike Ricci, who announced his retirement from coaching after 35 years before the season began.
“I have loved every moment of this season and I just told our guys the true measure of any team is when you get the most out of the ability level that you have,” Ricci said. “This team certainly got the most out of the ability level it had. The senior leadership has been spectacular. I told our guys that we’re going to choose to celebrate the awesome season that we had and focus on that. We’re going to walk out of here with our heads held up high.
“It was an uphill climb right from the beginning. They’re so explosive and they made plays that were top level. The better team today. My emotions right now are for the kids on this team and how they invested so much of themselves into becoming the best team that they could.”
“If we’re talking in terms of this being my last year, to have that kind of effort, and that kind of cohesiveness, that kind of brotherhood and love shared, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
St. Joe’s Prep (10-2) 7 28 14 0-49
Garnet Valley (14-0) 0 7 0 6-13
SJP – Kahseim Phillips 7 pass from Samaj Jones (Antonio Chadha kick), 2:11
SJP – Jones 5 run (Chadha kick), 10:51
SJP – Jones 4 run (Chadha kick), 9:23
GV – Ndozi Okolo 37 pass from Max Busenkell (Zach Liberatore kick), 6:49
SJP – Josh Barlow 5 run (Chadha kick), 4:56
SJP – Jones 4 run (Chadha kick), 9:23
SJP – Brandon Rehmann 30 pass from Jones (Chadha kick), 1:56
SJP – Jones 1 run (Chadha kick), 4:30
SJP – Elijah Jones 16 pass from Samaj Jones (Chadha kick), 2:56
GV – Trevor Sacomandi 27 run (kick failed), 3:51
Joseph Santoliquito is an 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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