Here we go again.
For the sixth consecutive season, archrivals La Salle (7-3) and St. Joseph’s Prep (9-0) will battle for top honors in the Catholic League big-school classification and the chance to move closer to statewide glory.
Last year, when the PIAA switched to six classes in football, St. Joe’s Prep cruised past La Salle, 35-14, for the 6A title. In 2015, the Explorers nipped the Hawks, 29-28, in a down-to-the wire thriller to earn the 4A crown.
This season’s championship matchup is set for 7 p.m. Friday at likely chilly and windy Northeast High. “We’ve probably been game-planning for each other for the last eight weeks,” St. Joe’s Prep coach Gabe Infante said.
The Hawks, who are riding a 23-game winning streak, have prevailed in eight of the teams’ last nine meetings. They won last month’s regular-season tilt, 28-14, at Widener.
La Salle’s bid to keep its season alive depends heavily on its ability to move the ball against an aggressive and experienced defense that has yielded an average of only 8.3 points per game.
Explorers quarterback Danny Solecki is questionable after being injured in the early going of last week’s 45-0 semifinal victory over Roman Catholic. He was a first-team all-Catholic Red Division pick.
If Solecki can’t suit up, Isaiah Jones is expected to replace him. “You have to be prepared for either one to play,” Infante said.
Jones, who doubles as a free safety, started at QB the first two games this season. An injury suffered during a loss at McDonogh (Md.) shelved him for four games.
La Salle’s offense also features halfbacks Manny Quiles and Octavious Carter, fullback Joey Burnham, receivers Troy Holland and Marvin Harrison, and tight end Liam Trainer.
“We’re going to have to be patient and take what they give us,” Explorers coach John Steinmetz said.
St. Joe’s Prep is spurred by QB Marquez McCray, halfbacks Kolbe Burrell and Marques Mason, and wide receivers Brandon Sanders, James Cherry, and Johnny Freeman.
McCray, Burrell, and Mason have combined to rush for 1,168 yards and 21 touchdowns. “We very much want to be balanced,” Infante said. “We don’t want the opposing defense keying on one guy.”
La Salle’s defensive charge is headed by stout linemen Garrett Zobel, Dan Kuznetsov, and Chris Maloney. Trainer and Austin Lemke are ball-hawking linebackers.
The Hawks defense is anchored by rugged linemen Ryan Bryce, Paul Hess, Jake Feehery, and Rayshad Wallace and hard-hitting linebackers Phil O’Connor and Bradley Cobaugh.
Game at a Glance
No. 6 La Salle (7-3) vs. No. 1 St. Joseph’s Prep (9-0) at Northeast, Friday at 7 p.m.
Twitter: Follow @ozoneinq for live updates.
History: The Hawks lead the overall head-to-head series, 50-36-5.
Up front: La Salle’s offensive line is headed by Garrett Zobel, Chris Maloney, Brendan O’Brien, and Colin Hirschmann.
Underclassmen: St. Joe’s Prep’s potent offense is bolstered by sophomore guards Casey Stephenson and Matt McGeary.
Strong legs: The Explorers and Hawks both have top-notch placekickers in Dan Karrash (seven field goals) and Anthony Tigano (five), respectively.
Pick: St. Joe’s Prep, 24-10.