By Joseph Santoliquito
PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa., (CBS) — They know all of the steps. They’re deeply ingrained, beginning way back in what seems like light years ago in August, before anyone puts their shoulder pads and helmets on.
It’s the process that St. Joseph’s Prep coach Gabe Infante preaches. Step by step, game by game, no one game bigger than the other. It’s why Infante was able to stand there on the sideline prior to his team’s game against five-time defending Catholic League champ La Salle, looking straight in the face of history with the same placid expression he opened the season with.
St. Joe’s Prep took a mighty step on a chilly Friday night at Plymouth Whitemarsh, winning the Catholic League championship for the first time since 2005 with a 30-20 victory over La Salle before 8,000.
The Hawks, now 8-2, will play the Public League champion, either Frankford of George Washington, next Saturday at 4 p.m. at Northeast High School for the District 12, or City Championship.
Prep beat La Salle behind some stellar defense, and three touchdown passes by senior quarterback Chris Martin.
“I think we were able to do this because, honestly, we felt all along that this was just another game,” said Martin, who injured his left knee late in the game. “This feels great, and it’s great to win a championship, but this is a team that wants to play in December [for the state title]. It’s all about taking steps in the process.”
A process everyone knows.
St. Joe Prep defensive end Jake Strain was a one-man wrecking machine. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior had seven tackles, four for minus-10 yards in losses, including a sack.
“This was Step 10, and our goal isn’t to stop here at the Catholic League championship,” Strain said. “All week it was hard not to buy into the hype of this game and playing for the Catholic League championship against La Salle. We heard from everyone, all of our friends in school, from everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to bring the league championship home, but our focus will continue to be on ourselves and what we have to do.”
What Prep needs to do is continue to play the way it did against the Explorers.
Before La Salle knew what happened, St. Joe’s was up 10-0, thanks to an opening drive that led to a Pat Walsh 25-yard field goal with 8:31 left in the first quarter. Walsh figured prominently again in the Hawks’ second score, when he recovered a La Salle fumble.
The Hawks went right for the jugular on the next play, when Martin lofted a 30-yard touchdown strike to an open Jawan McAllister with 8:17 remaining in the first quarter. And just like that, Prep was up, 10-0.
La Salle responded on its next possession, when junior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, son of Eagles’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, engineered a 10-play, 63-yard drive. A big play in that series was when Prep jumped offsides on a fourth-and-five at the Hawks’ 25. The play gave the Explorers a fresh set of downs, and eventually led to Shurmur pouring into the end zone from a yard out, making it 10-7 with 1:49 left in the first quarter.
Junior Dillon DeIuliis’ blocked punt early in the second quarter put Prep in prime position to add to its lead. It didn’t take long for Martin to find the end zone again, this time hitting John Reid for a 9-yard TD pass and a 16-7 Prep lead.
Olamide Zaccheaus sealed it with a 12-yard TD run with 9:49 to play, which gave Prep a 30-7 lead. La Salle added a few cosmetic scores, but the Explorers never led and were never in the game after halftime.
“This was great, but we’re looking at the big picture,” Zaccheaus said. “We’re at Step 10. Everyone on this team knows all of the steps.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.