A Closer Look: No. 1 St. Joe's Prep vs. No. 6 La Salle

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Sophomore running back Nick Rinella and La Salle will battle Catholic League Class AAAA archrival St. Joe's Prep at 7 p.m. Friday at Plymouth Whitemarsh. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff)


La Salle struggled last week, falling behind Father Judge by 16-0 before escaping, with a touchdown pass and extra point in the late going, with a 17-16 victory.

St. Joseph's Prep overcame a slow start against Archbishop Wood. With 24 unanswered points, the Hawks posted a 31-21 triumph over the previously undefeated Vikings.

La Salle's eked-out win and the Prep's major turnaround against a powerhouse has many listing the Hawks as a clear favorite against the Explorers in Friday night's showdown between Catholic League Class AAAA rivals.

Prep boss Gabe Infante is not buying into such thinking going into the 7 p.m. contest at sure-to-be-packed Plymouth Whitemarsh.

"They've got a collection of really good football players," he said. "On offense, they're very, very balanced. They're running and throwing the ball effectively."

This could be the first of two season meetings. As was the case last year, they could square off again in the Catholic League playoff final.

Here is a closer look at Friday's contest.

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TV. Live on The Comcast Network.

Projected starters. Go to http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/rick-obrien/227325722.html

Rankings. The Prep (4-1 overall, 1-0 Catholic League AAAA) is ranked No. 1 in Southeastern Pennsylvania by The Inquirer; La Salle (5-1, 2-0) is No. 6.

History. The Hawks lead the overall series, 42-35-5. The Explorers have won six of the last seven meetings and eight of the last 12.

Last season. In a Week 7 contest marred by 12 turnovers, the Hawks, aided by Olamide Zaccheaus' 198 rushing yards, prevailed, 24-16.

Round 2. A month later in the league final, La Salle survived, 28-27, in overtime. The Hawks, down by 14-0 at intermission, rallied to force an extra session.

On the go. The Prep's no-huddle, spread offense is fueled by quarterback Chris Martin and a number of dangerous backs, including Zaccheaus, Vince Moffett, and freshman De'Andre Swift.

Passing fancy. La Salle's Kyle Shurmur has connected on 94 of 169 passes for 1,377 yards and 13 TDs. "The thing that scares me is his quick release," Infante said. "And he spreads the ball around. He's not targeting one kid."

Front four. The Prep's improving defensive line features ends Armen Ware and David DellaPorta, and tackles Joe DuMond and Jake Strain.

Pass catchers. Shurmur's primary targets are Jimmy Herron, Levi Hardy, and Charles Headon. Jordan Meachum and Nick Rinella are receiving threats out of the backfield.

Open-field terrors. With their quickness, Zaccheaus, Swift, handyman John Reid, and wideout Jawan McAllister are home-run threats.

Stalwart. Syracuse commit Zaire Franklin serves the Explorers as a hard-hitting middle linebacker and offensive tackle.

Quiet leader. For the Prep, Martin has hit on 56 of 85 throws for 711 yards and seven scores. He is also a running threat.

Analysis. La Salle, even after sputtering in recent weeks, can't be counted out. But the Prep's offensive weaponry - and overall speed - spells a comfortable win for the Hawks.

Pick: Prep, 31-17.