By Joseph Santoliquito
Week of Sept. 14, 2012
1. Downingtown East (Record: 2-0. Previous Week: 1. Weeks Rated: 3.)
2. La Salle (Record: 2-0. Previous Week: 3. Weeks Rated: 3.)
3. North Penn (Record: 1-1. Previous Week: 5. Weeks Rated: 3.)
4. Archbishop Wood (Record: 1-1. Previous Week: 2. Weeks Rated: 3.)
5. St. Joseph’s Prep (Record: 2-0. Previous Week: NR. Weeks Rated: 1.)
6. Neshaminy (Record: 2-0. Previous Week: 6. Weeks Rated: 3.)
7. Imhotep Charter (Record: 2-0. Previous Week: 7. Weeks Rated: 3.)
8. Roman Catholic (Record: 1-1. Previous Week: 4. Weeks Rated: 3.)
9. Central Bucks South (Record: 2-0. Previous Week: 9. Weeks Rated: 2.)
10. Garnet Valley (Record: 2-0. Previous Week: 10. Weeks Rated: 2.)
Gabe Infante is beginning to see the shining light he envisioned for the St. Joseph’s Prep program when he took it over three years ago. Infante had a rather harsh introduction when he replaced popular, successful former Prep coach Gil Brooks. But when the school opted to go in another direction, they tapped North Jersey native Infante.
Infante dealt with unjustifiable criticism and some defections in transfers when he arrived. His diligence won out. Gradually, Infante has turned the Prep program around in two short years.
The Hawks are 2-0 overall traveling to tough places to get there, beating Cocoa Beach (Fla.), 16-7, in Florida, and Gonzaga (Baltimore, Md.), 28-14, at the Patriot Classic at Navy last weekend with a team comprised of primarily sophomores and juniors.
Up next is North Penn, which pulled off a slight upset when the Knights beat defending PIAA Class AAA state champion Archbishop Wood 24-10 last week and snapping Wood’s 15-game winning streak.
If it were up to Infante, he would like Southeastern Pennsylvania to continue looking elsewhere as his team rises. That’s not going to happen. What seems more likely is that the young Hawks will continue to improve.
“We had some challenges in the beginning and everyone wants instant gratification but we stuck to the plan to create a certain type of culture,” Infante said. “These seniors were my sophomores when I took over and they bought in. It’s all part of the plan and we’re getting there. I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’re getting close.”
Infante’s message to his players is keeping a narrow focus. All of the superfluous things, ratings, talk on website message boards and social media, the attitude that Prep “wasn’t Prep anymore,” has fallen by the wayside.
“We really don’t care about that other stuff,” Hawks’ junior quarterback Chris Martin said. “As a team, we don’t notice. We need to keep playing the way we have been playing. Success doesn’t really bother us. I think we all set goals to win the Catholic League and our team really thinks we can accomplish that; we all really believe it.”
The scary part is Infante isn’t pleased. Prep got off to a great start against Gonzaga and looked on the verge of winning a blowout. But it didn’t happen. The Hawks are still young. Mistakes were made. Correctable mistakes.
“We didn’t play very well on Saturday, and that’s not to take anything away from Gonzaga,” Infante said. “We did some goodthings. We kind of got lucky. But I wasn’t happy with the way we played. We’re still a work in progress.”
Beating a physical powerhouse North Penn will mean another step in that progression.
“You have to give North Penn the nod; they’re an established program and they’re used to playing in big games,” Infante said. “That’s a tall order for us. They’re big and physical up front. They play sound defense. They’re well coached and where they need to be all of the time. They’re everything you’re trying to build as a program.”
St. Joseph’s Prep (2-0) at North Penn (1-1), 7 p.m. Friday night: St. Joe’s Prep coach Gabe Infante is pleased with how his team has matured this season and there may not be a better test than visiting North Penn this Friday to see where that stands.
No. 3-rated North Penn defied probability by beating No. 2-rated Archbishop Wood last week, 24-10, and ending the Vikings’ 15-game winning streak. Knights’ coach Dick Beck is not afraid to play anyone. Neither is Infante, whose nonleague schedule is the best and most demanding in Southeastern Pennsylvania (Cocoa, Gonzaga, North Penn, Wood, Roman Catholic and La Salle). That’s a high school murder’s row.
North Penn will rely on senior tailback Kyle Mayfield, who rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the Wood victory. The Knights, however, will need to put the clamps on St. Joe Prep tailback Olamide Zaccacheus, who’s had two good weeks, and junior quarterback Chris Martin who’s led the Hawks to two road victories.
Expect this game to be a tug-of war. North Penn will try pounding it, and Prep plays a speed game and spreads the ball in space.
Last year, Prep put up 51 points against the Knights in a 51-33 victory.
Here’s a lean toward the experienced team in what could be a possible game of the year.
Prediction: North Penn 21, St. Joe’s Prep 20
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.