LANCASTER, Pa. – For the La Salle High football team, Isaiah Turner’s absence in Friday night’s season opener was marked by more than just emptiness in the hearts and minds of players and coaches.
It was an actual void on the field, a missing athlete from the lineup during the Explorers' first offensive play in the game against Manheim Township in War Memorial Stadium.
La Salle lined up on offense for the first time in 2020 with just 10 players on the field, leaving a gap at left guard to honor Turner, a senior who collapsed and died after practice on Sept. 4.
Turner, a popular 17-year-old and member of both the football and basketball programs, was projected to play left guard for the Explorers after starting at defensive tackle as a junior.
“It was a great feeling, coming and trying to win this game for ‘Zay,’” said La Salle junior Sam Brown, who scored four touchdowns in a 35-27 victory on a cool, clear night. “We’re dedicating the whole season to him.”
Brown, one of the state’s top recruits in the class of 2022, scored on runs of 28, 20 and 67 yards and also on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Gavin Daly.
Tim Mehlmann added a touchdown run, and ends Tim Barrett and Paul Jennings and linebackers Abdul Carter and Christopher Thompson sparked the defense for La Salle, which will return to the field the weekend of Oct. 2 against Delaware Valley High.
“I thought we came out really great,” La Salle coach John Steinmetz said. "Give them credit. They battled back. But I was happy with our kids.
“I was a little concerned about the emotion. But these kids are really resilient, mentally strong.”
The event marked the first football game played this season by a Southeastern Pennsylvania high school, since every league has either suspended competition in fall sports or delayed the start because of the outbreak of the coronavirus.
For La Salle, it was the first football game in nearly 11 months, since the Explorers' 2019 season ended with a Nov. 9 loss to rival St. Joseph’s Prep in the Philadelphia Catholic League Class 6A playoffs.
The game was freighted with extra emotion for the Explorers since it provided another official opportunity to honor Turner, whose funeral services were held on the La Salle campus on Sept. 11.
The cause of Turner’s death still is under investigation, a spokesman for the Philadelphia medical examiner said on Friday.
There was a moment of silence in Turner’s honor before the game.
When La Salle took over after Manheim punted to end its first possession, junior guard Brendan Krug stayed on the sideline, leaving an opening at left guard. The Explorers' never snapped the ball, taking a delay of game penalty that Manheim declined.
“That was really special,” Krug said.
La Salle players wore two decals on their helmets to honor Turner – a No. 74 and a Chinese symbol that signified his initials. Turner, regarded by La Salle president Brother James Butler as “the stereotypical gentle giant,” was taking his fourth year of Chinese studies at the start of this school year.
“We know he’s watching over us and guiding us,” La Salle senior Ryan Wills said earlier in the week of Turner.
The game was played in a massive stadium without spectators, an extra precaution taken by Manheim Township school officials to minimize the risk of the spread of the coronavirus.
La Salle quickly seized command of the game, building a 28-6 halftime lead on Brown’s touchdown runs.
The Explorers broke the game open late in the second quarter, scoring twice in the final minutes on Brown’s 67-yard run followed by a three-yard burst into the end zone by Mehlmann following a blocked punt.
“They were really hungry to get on the field,” Steinmetz said of his players.
La Salle 14 14 0 7 -- 35
Manheim Twp. 6 0 14 7 -- 27
L: Sam Brown 28 run (Santiago Sturla kick)
M: Elijah Fonseca 45 punt return (kick fail)
L: Brown 20 run (Sturla kick)
L: Brown 67 run (Sturla kick)
L: Tim Mehlmann 3 run (Sturla kick)
M: Anthony Ivey 53 pass from Evan Clark (Matt O’Gorman kick)
M: Chris Negron 38 interception return (O’Gorman kick)
L: Brown 25 pass from Ryan Daly (Sturla kick)