High School Top 10: State Playoff Semifinal Previews
Week of Dec. 6, 2013
1. Imhotep Charter (Record: 11-2. Weeks Rated: 15.)
2. Archbishop Wood (Record: 11-2. Weeks Rated: 15.)
3. Neshaminy (Record: 13-1. Weeks Rated: 15.)
4. St. Joseph’s Prep (Record: 10-3. Weeks Rated: 15.)
5. North Penn (Record: 10-4. Season over.)
6. Pennsbury (Record: 10-2. Season over.)
7. Perkiomen Valley (Record: 10-3. Season over.)
8. Malvern Prep (Record: 8-2. Season over.)
9. La Salle (Record: 8-3. Season over.)
10. Academy Park (Record: 10-3. Season over.)
By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — The goal has been there. It was just a matter of getting there. And this year, St. Joseph’s Prep has broken through the threshold and for the first time is playing into December.
It’s a vision Hawks’ coach Gabe Infante had for the program ever since he took over for Gil Brooks in 2010. Each season, the Hawks have gotten better. In Infante’s first season, Prep finished 4-7 in ’10. The following year, 7-4 and the Catholic League semifinals. Last year, 10-1 and reached the Catholic League championship.
This year, the Hawks are 10-3. They won the Catholic League championship for the first time since 2005 and the city championship for the first time since 1977. But on a larger scale, this is the deepest Prep has gone in the PIAA Class AAAA state playoffs, reaching the state semifinals against District 1 champion and area powerhouse Neshaminy (13-1), which will be played Saturday at 3 p.m. at Northeast High School.
Infante has ruled out any talk of making history, or state titles. He’s kept his team focused on improving each week. It’s why even after victories he’s been somewhat steamed.
“It’s a process and it’s something we live by,” Infante said. “I want us to get better with each week, and the kids in the program understand that. It’s play to play, quarter to quarter, stage by stage. It’s why at times you might see me a little disappointed even after we win, because we could have played better than we did. The kids that have been with me see that and you see them taking ownership of that same attitude.”
Prep has daunting task ahead in Neshaminy, which whipped up on North Penn in the District 1 championship, 42-7. The Knights were quite possibly the hottest team in Southeastern Pennsylvania entering the game and the Redskins deflated them.
Neshaminy junior tailback D’Andre Pollard may be tiny—but he’s lightning fast in the open field. The Redskins outmuscled North Penn and plowed over the Knights for 325 yards on the ground—237 came from Pollard.
Prep, meanwhile, traveled to beat up Parkland, 21-10. The game marked the return of senior quarterback Chris Martin, who’s been a real difference maker for the Hawks. According to TedSilary.com, Martin has thrown for 1,770 yards and 22 touchdowns. As a starter, he’s 9-2 this season and overall, 19-3 as the Hawks’ signal caller.
“People underestimate Chris, but we certainly don’t, we know all the good things he does and what he means to us,” Infante said. “He doesn’t make mistakes. And you can’t rattle him.”
Neshaminy-St. Joseph’s Prep could potentially be the best game in Southeastern Pennsylvania this year.
Archbishop Wood (11-2) vs. Berwick (14-0), PIAA Class AAA state semifinals Friday, Dec. 6 at J Birney Crum Stadium in Allentown at 7 p.m.
This is the first meeting between two state powers. Over the last three years, Wood has lost only once to a Class AAA team, and that came in last year’s state champion to Erie Cathedral Prep, 24-14. Otherwise, no Class AAA team in the state has been able to hang with the Vikings.
Berwick, where Ron Powlus and Jake Kelchner played, could pose some problems. The Bulldogs are led by legendary coach George Curry and are undefeated this season.
On a computer screen, both teams look evenly matched up. According to an in-depth stats package put together by EasternPAfootball.com, Wood is averaging 40.1 points a game to Berwick’s 40.8, while Berwick is giving up 10.6 points to Wood’s 11.5.
Wood’s opponents were a combined 88-62 (59.4%), to Berwick’s 89-69 (56.3%).
According to EasternPAFootball.com, the Bulldogs were 2-2 last year when they allowed opponents to score 20 points or more. This year, they were 3-0 when that happened. Berwick has gained 200 or more yards rushing as a team in six of their last seven games.
Berwick is 7-3 in Eastern Final (PIAA Class AAA state semifinals) history. The Bulldogs haven’t been to the Eastern Finals since 2004. Wood has been to the last five Eastern Finals, going 3-2.
Berwick will have issues with Wood’s offense and defense. The Bulldogs may not have the manpower to deal with massive 6-5, 280-pound junior offensive tackle Ryan Bates and in stopping 6-foot-2, 226-pound junior linebacker Jake Cooper.
Berwick is going to rely on taking chances and trying to cause turnovers. Wood is not the kind of team that implodes easily. It’s a young veteran group that should be able to deal with anything crazy, and Curry is crazy enough to throw everything at them.
Prediction: Wood 45, Berwick 20
Imhotep Charter (11-2) vs. Berks Catholic (14-0), PIAA Class AA state semifinals Saturday, Dec. 7 at Governor Mifflin High School in Shillington at 3 p.m.
Imhotep is the favorite to win the Class AA state title and no team should really pose a threat to the Panthers. They’re mammoth, fast and don’t make mistakes.
Imhotep Charter faces an undefeated Berks Catholic team. It won’t matter. The Panthers keep rolling.
Prediction: Imhotep Charter 48, Berks Catholic 18
PIAA Football Playoffs
Class A semifinals
At Hazleton High School
Old Forge vs. Steelton-Highspire, 7 p.m.
At DuBois’ E.J. Mansell Stadium
Clarion vs. North Catholic, 7 p.m.
Dec. 13 at Hersheypark Stadium, at 1 p.m.
Class AA semifinals
At Slippery Rock’s Mihalik-Thompson Stadium
Hickory vs. South Fayette, 1 p.m.
At Governor Mifflin High School
Berks Catholic vs. Imhotep Charter, 3 p.m.
Dec. 14 at Hersheypark Stadium, 12-noon
Class AAA semifinals
Archbishop Wood vs. Berwick, 7 p.m.
At Clearfield High School
Cathedral Prep vs. Bishop McDevitt, 7 p.m.
Dec. 13 at Hersheypark Stadium, 7 p.m.
Class AAAA semifinals
At Northeast High School, Philadelphia
St. Joseph’s Prep vs. Neshaminy, 3 p.m.
At Altoona High School
Pittsburgh Central Catholic vs. Lower Dauphin, 1 p.m.
Dec. 14 at Hersheypark Stadium, 6 p.m.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.