Pa. Game of the Week: St. Joseph's Prep and La Salle set for battle

Photos – local – sprep12B
Quarterback Marquez McCray (14) and No. 1-ranked St. Joseph’s Prep host No. 2 La Salle on Friday night.

La Salle has won its four Catholic League Red Division games by a combined score of 163-20. St. Joseph’s Prep has accomplished the same by a margin of 156-20.

The road to victory is expected to be much rockier for the No. 2-ranked Explorers and the top-ranked Hawks when the bitter rivals square off at 8 p.m. Friday at Widener’s Quick Stadium.

La Salle, which has won five straight since a 21-9 loss at McDonogh (Md.) in Week 2, is seeking to end the undefeated Prep’s 20-game win streak.

Key for the Explorers is finding a way to move the ball against an experienced and opportunistic St. Joe’s defense that has yielded an average of only eight points.

“It’s an aggressive group,” La Salle coach John Steinmetz said. “They really get after you. We need to block well at the point of attack, take care of the ball and see what happens.”

The Explorers have likewise been solid on that side of the ball.

“Their front seven is legit,” Prep coach Gabe Infante said. “I hope the competitive schedule our kids have played has us prepared for them.”

Things looked rather grim for La Salle (6-1 overall, 4-0 division) when dual-threat quarterback Isaiah Jones went down with an injury against McDonogh. But Danny Solecki has showed considerable poise and grit since taking over the offense. The 6-foot, 165-pounder has connected on 85 of 125 passes (77.3 percent) for 1,078 yards and 13 touchdowns.

“He’s been real accurate and gets the ball out fast to the open guy,” Steinmetz said. “He’s also a running threat.”

The Explorers’ other top playmakers are halfback Manny Quiles, handyman Octavious Carter, and receivers Troy Holland, Brett Mallee and Marvin Harrison. Mallee sat out last week against Roman because of an injury and is doubtful to play Friday.

La Salle’s charge up front is headed by center Brendan O’Brien, tackles Chris Maloney and Colin Hirschmann, and guard Garrett Zobel. “I think our offensive line has played very well,” Steinmetz said.

The Hawks (6-0, 4-0) are directed on offense by second-year starter Marquez McCray. The 6-2, 220-pounder’s statistics — he has hit on 47 of 81 throws for 540 yards and four TDs — are modest because of limited second-half time in blowout wins.

The Prep has a strong one-two rushing punch in junior Marques Mason and sophomore Kolbe Burrell. McCray has receivers Brandon Sanders, James Cherry and Johnny Freeman at his disposal.

A young Hawks offensive includes a trio of sophomores: center Anthony Cerrutti and guards Matt McGeary and Casey Stephenson.

The Explorers defense is anchored by ends Maloney and Daniel Kuznetsov and tackles Zobel and Ronnie Ross. Support comes from linebackers Austin Lemke, Liam Trainer and Brennan Daly.

For the Prep, a nearly impenetrable unit is headed by tackle Ryan Bryce, ends Jake Feehery and Rayshad Wallace, and linebackers Phil O’Connor, Zach Snider and Bradley Cobaugh.

Game at a Glance

No. 2 La Salle (6-1) vs. No. 1 St. Joseph’s Prep (6-0) at Widener University, Friday at 8 p.m.

Twitter. Follow @ozoneinq for live updates.

Radio. Listen to the game at www.blogtalkradio.com/WSJP.

History. The Prep leads the head-to-head series, 49-36-5.

Back in action. After missing five games because of an injury, La Salle’s Isaiah Jones returned last week vs. Roman Catholic and played safety. He is available to play quarterback, his original starting position, if needed.

Last line of defense. The Prep’s secondary features cornerbacks DeJuan Dandrige, Zach Bougess and Devon Dickerson, and safeties Dawson DeIuliis and Myles Talley.

Powerful leg. The Explorers’ Dan Karrash, who has kicked five field goals and 30 extra points, is bound for Penn.

Future Pioneer? Hawks quarterback Marquez McCray picked up a scholarship offer from Sacred Heart on Wednesday.

Pick. Prep, 24-14.