By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — This looks like the year of the repeat. Perhaps no area in the state has as potent a one-two power punch of teams as does Southeastern Pennsylvania in St. Joseph’s Prep and Archbishop Wood.
The Prep will be going for its second-straight Class AAAA state title and Wood its second-straight Class AAA crown and third-straight trip to the state finals.
But you won’t find either program thinking that far ahead. Because there are teams capable of dumping the plans Wood and St. Joe’s have for Hershey in mid-December, and there are a few local teams capable of doing it.
First, Prep will need to get by La Salle and Kyle Shurmur twice, including a probable meeting in the Catholic League Class AAAA championship. Then there is a potential game of the year candidate when Prep faces Malvern Prep on Saturday, Oct. 4 in a game that won’t count in any standings but could count for supremacy of the area.
Wood doesn’t have it any easier locally, having to climb past North Penn, Bonner-Prendergast, Archbishop Ryan, which beat both The Prep and Wood last year, and possibly down the line a very explosive Imhotep Charter team.
There is one thing Prep and Wood do bear out—that the best high school football is not always relegated to Western Pennsylvania.
Here’s a look at the inaugural Top 10 for Southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014.
1. St. Joseph’s Prep
The Hawks are in a word “loaded.” They return the majority of their nucleus that finished 12-3—capturing the first state title in school history last season. The Hawks crushed an undefeated Pittsburgh Central Catholic team that had outscored its three state playoff opponents by a combined 120-14—before losing to The Prep, 35-10. The Hawks begin 2014 nationally ranked, at No. 18 by CBS MaxPreps. With John Reid, Jon Daniel Runyan, Olamide Zaccheaus, D’Andre Swift, Jake Strain, Tom Johnson and Shawn Harris all returning, plus transfer Benny Walls, the Hawks have a strong chance to repeat as PIAA Class AAAA state champions. Much will depend on senior quarterback Jack Clements. He replaces a true leader in Chris Martin. Hawks’ coach Gabe Infante and his team has confidence Clements will make a seamless transition. There may not be a better coach in the area, on or off the field, than Infante.
2. Archbishop Wood
Prep is the overwhelming No. 1 team in the area—and the state. Right behind are the Vikings, who finished 13-2 and will be going for a second-straight PIAA Class AAA state title. The Vikings return a great nucleus from a state championship team, topped by the Penn State pair of Ryan Bates and Jake Cooper, and tailback Jarrett McClenton, who rushed for a team-high 1,705 yards, according to Tedsilary.com. Expect bigger things from 6-4 junior quarterback Tom Garlick this year.
3. Malvern Prep
The Friars have a dynamic new coach, Aaron Brady, who inherits a team that finished 8-2 overall and a great situation from former head coach Kevin Pellegrini, with Pittsburgh-bound quarterback Alex Hornibrook and Miami-bound Jayden Mahoney returning. Brady previously coached at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., where he led the Eagles to a 29-16 record and four Washington Catholic Athletic Conference playoff appearances.
4. La Salle
If Prep has an obstacle in its way toward another Philadelphia Catholic League title it’s the Explorers and mad scientist coach Drew Gordon. The Explorers will once again feature an amazing passing game, behind centerpiece Kyle Shurmur, the best quarterback in the area who threw for over 2,400 yards as a junior. The Vanderbilt-bound Shurmur has a great target in senior receiver Jimmy Herron, who caught a team-high 48 passes for over 700 yards. Scoring won’t be a problem—though stopping a team like Prep could be.
5. North Penn
The Knights reached the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA championship, losing to Neshaminy. A lot returns for coach Dick Beck, beginning with bulldozer tackle Frank Tranzilli and lightning-fast junior tailback Nyfease West, one of the most dangerous open-field players in Southeastern Pennsylvania. West rushed for 1,432 yards and scored 11 touchdowns as a sophomore. Expect the Knights to do what they always do—pound the ball with West, play great defense and make few mistakes.
The Falcons were going to be a very good team with or without quarterback Breon Clark returning. But Clark and his family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where Clark will attend St. Frances Academy. Pennsbury, which hasn’t lost a Suburban One National Conference game in two years, still returns one of the best players in the area in Rutgers-bound senior Charles Snorweah. Coach Galen Snyder will look towards junior Robert Daily or senior Cody Tabeek at quarterback to handle the Falcons’ complex, though dangerous Wing-T attack. Austin O’Neill, a 5-11, 260-pound senior, will play a big role, moving from left tackle to left guard.
7. Imhotep Charter
The Panthers, who went 13-3 last year, make the move up one classification to Class AAA this season—and will try to erase the nightmare of a 41-0 PIAA Class AA state championship loss to a very good South Fayette team. It’s a team with a collective chip on its shoulder, and a team that returns a healthy dose of skill position players, beginning with Maryland commit D.J. Moore, who caught 39 passes for 827 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, according to TedSilary.com. The Panthers also have back juniors Tyliek Raynor and Mike Waters. Senior quarterback Andre Dreuitt-Parks also returns, after throwing for over 1,600 yards last year. Junior tight end Naseir Upshur is one of the best in the country, getting looks from a number of major Division I school. Imhotep Charter outscored their opponents by almost 30 points a game last season (41.3 to 12.8), but had trouble when it counted most. Look forward to a possible November showdown between Imhotep and another beast, Archbishop Wood. The Panthers may get a chance to undo what happened to them last December.
8. Upper Dublin
With almost everyone returning, the Cardinals, who finished 9-2 overall last year, could be the favorites in the Suburban One American Conference. Junior inside linebackers Jack Rapine and Henry Winebrake lead the defense after starting as sophomores last year. Winebrake could emerge as one of the better LBs in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Add junior defensive backs Mike Sowers and Ryan Stover, head coach Bret Stover’s son, and Upper Dublin is a District 1 contender. Senior outside linebackers John Lee and Tim Rasmussen, and senior nose tackle Tamir Bailey are also back. Ryan Stover bears watching. The 6-3, 190-pound junior could have started at quarterback last year, but Bret Stover honored a senior who was committed to the program. As for motivation, the young Cardinals carry the sting of being thumped 55-25 by Abington in the first round of last year’s District 1 Class AAAA playoffs. Upper Dublin plans on showing its better than that this year.
9. West Chester Rustin
The Knights, defending Ches-Mont League American champions, return a boatful of prime players from last year. Topping the list is explosive senior tailback Terry Loper, who rushed for 1,734 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. Behind a stacked offensive line that returns four starters in Phil Vecchiolli, Matt Hosking, Christos Moscharis, and 6-6, 300-pound man-child Ray Bordley, expect more from Loper in 2014. Quarterback could come down between junior Evan Wlock or senior Andrew Chobany. The Knights also have a little motivation stirring them. They finished 10-1, but entered the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA playoffs undefeated as the No. 2 seed, only to see their season dashed against a 26-6 upset loss to No. 15 seed Perkiomen Valley.
10. Downingtown West
The Whippets went 8-3 overall and are the defending Ches-Mont League National Conference champions. Coach Mike Milano had a young team last year that matured quickly, closing the regular season on a seven-game winning streak and earning the No. 5 seed in the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA playoffs, before being upended by No. 12 seed Spring-Ford, 43-21, in the first round. Milano returns eight starters on offense, topped by senior quarterback Tyler McNulty, who shared time last year with Nick Pagel. Junior offensive linemen John West and Jackson Hale started as sophomores and senior Sam Drill returns at guard. Defensively, the Whippets will be anchored by linebackers Lucas McMahon and Brandon Myers, who have a combined five years of experience.
Honorable mention: Neshaminy, Plymouth-Whitemarsh, Garnet Valley, Bonner-Prendergast, Abington, Archbishop Ryan, Downingtown East, Academy Park, Council Rock North, Central Bucks South, Coatesville, Haverford School, Episcopal Academy, Interboro.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.
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