By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—Gabe Infante has done a number of things incredibly well in leading St. Joseph’s Prep to new terrain this season, reaching the PIAA Class AAAA state championship for the first time in school history.
But there is one thing the Hawks’ coach prides himself on above everything else and that’s been conditioning his team—on and off the field. One of Prep’s strengths this whole season has been its focus. The Hawks began the season ranked No. 1 in the state, stumbled there for a time, and have since regained their footing.
On Saturday, The Prep (11-3) faces a juggernaut in undefeated Pittsburgh Central Catholic (15-0) at 6 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium in the PIAA Class AAAA state championship.
Gateway is the only team that has scored more than 20 points against Central Catholic’s defense. The Vikings have seven shutouts and are giving up an average of 5.6 points a game. The stubborn Vikings’ defense has yielding a mere 120 yards of total offense a game over their six playoff victories, with an average of 49 yards on the ground per game. In smashing Lower Dauphin 45-0 in the state semifinals, Central Catholic held Lower Dauphin to 1 first down and 21 yards of total offense the entire game.
Those kinds of numbers would have any opposing team quake. Not Prep. No one on the western side of the state thinks the Hawks have any chance. The Hawks wouldn’t know. They don’t pay attention to things like that.
“We concern ourselves with what we have to do, and it’s a process that’s gotten us this far,” Prep standout junior defensive back John Reid said after the Hawks vanquished La Salle to win their first Catholic League title this year since 2005. “Our goal has always been getting to Hershey for the state championship, but I’ll tell you this, when we get there, we’re not going to be just happy to be there. We worked too hard all season toward winning a state title.”
Prep wasn’t supposed to get by Parkland in the state quarterfinals, then the Hawks upended the Trojans, 21-10. The Hawks followed that up with a great defensive effort against Neshaminy, winning last weekend in the state semifinals, 37-21, thanks to forcing two major turnovers.
But the X-factor will be Prep senior quarterback Chris Martin. With Martin under center, the Hawks are a dangerous, quick-strike team. Over the last two years, all Martin has done is win. He is 20-3 as a starter. He sliced up Parkland, completing 12 of 22 for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Martin then followed that up by throwing for 246 yards and two touchdowns against Neshaminy.
That’s going to be the key—whether or not Pittsburgh Central Catholic can keep up with the Hawks’ pace.
This here says the Vikings won’t.
Prediction: St. Joseph’s Prep 27, Pittsburgh Central Catholic 20
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.