PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) —There was a scary underlying theme to the most successful football team in the area this season: No one ever really saw them play their best game. They finished 14-0—breaking school records and smashing quality teams. They took out three of this area’s top 10 teams by a combined score of 176-98. They mercy ruled a state runner-up that was averaging 55.6 points a game during the state playoffs, holding them to one measly touchdown.
It’s a pretty easy choice as to CBS Philly’s Team of the Year for the 2016 season: The St. Joseph’s Prep Hawks.
The Prep has had many great teams and many super senior classes. But no senior class has ever been as successful as this group: Three state championships in four years and a combined 45-10 record against some of the best programs on the East Coast and nationally during that time. Prior to this season, no Prep team had ever won 14 games in a season as this team had, going 14-0. The Hawks made more history as the first 6A state champion under the state’s new high school sports classification system, winning the previous two state titles as a 4A team (large schools).
Hawks coach Gabe Infante had a feeling this senior class would do some special things two years ago.
The 2016 Hawks could be the all-time best in Prep’s illustrious history.
This season, Prep was so good that it stumbled over itself with costly turnovers and penalties and still won big. Saturday night’s crushing 42-7 victory over Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the 6A state title game at Hersheypark Stadium was the closest picture to what Infante envisioned. Central Catholic had beaten its three previous state playoff opponents by a combined 167-49, winning by an average of 43.3 points a game.
But Central Catholic hadn’t faced a team like Prep.
“I always tell people we’re focused on performance and not outcome, and it’s the focus on performance and not outcome that has allowed us to be consistent,” Infante said. “We’re not wowed by scores, nor do we get discouraged by the scores we see. If I was being true to myself and what we do, I have to ask, is there room for improvement, and I believe, yes, there was this season.
“I think we were a very good football team, but look at the players that we had this season. I knew two years ago what we had coming up, but the focus still had to be about performance and not projecting. I knew we were going to have great talent, and we fell short last year, which I really, really regret. But we needed to lose. We have great players on this team, like D’Andre Swift, and part of their development was going through that experience. D’Andre took that very, very hard. It left a scar.”
It scarred everyone, especially Swift, who repaid in kind the loss he felt by tearing through archrival La Salle, the team that ended Prep’s season last year in the Catholic League championship. Swift erupted for a St. Joe’s Prep-record seven touchdowns in the Hawks’ 63-35 win over the Explorers in October. In that game, Swift rushed for 277 yards and six touchdowns, and caught three passes for 20 more yards and another touchdown.
“This wasn’t a one-way street, I drew so much inspiration from this group of kids as I hope they drew from me,” Infante said. “How can you not be fired up when you see D’Andre break off a long run, or James Johnson make a sack, or Carter Lynch pancake someone? We weren’t losing that state championship game. I spoke to them before the title game about how they’ve always been champions. We spoke about love and trust. They are a special group of kids. I told them that before the title game. We spoke about playing without fear and they did. They’re my heroes.”