Ed Gallagher knows that some folks' skepticism about the strength of the Souderton football team is based on perception of the quality of the Big Red’s competition.
That won’t be an issue Saturday.
Souderton (7-0), newly crowned District 1 Class 6A champion, will meet two-time reigning state champion St. Joseph’s Prep (4-0) in the PIAA state semifinals at noon at Cardinal O’Hara.
Fresh off a 31-17 win over top-seeded Pennridge on Friday night that secured the program’s first district title, Souderton takes its shot at the consensus No. 1 squad in the state as well as one of the top teams in the country.
“They’re a great football team, obviously,” Gallagher said, standing on the Helman Stadium field after his team’s victory over host Pennridge. “I don’t even know what to say. I honestly don’t care because we’re district champs and we beat Pennridge. The season could end now.”
It would be tough duty for any District 1 champion to play St. Joseph’s Prep in the state semifinals. But the Hawks also are coming off a bye, having last played in a 42-0 win over Roman Catholic on Nov. 7.
Still, it’s all gravy for Souderton. Nobody outside of the most die-hard Big Red fans expects the team to be able to hang with the high-powered Hawks for four quarters, so it can play without any pressure or expectations.
“That’s a little different animal there,” Gallagher said. "We’re going to do the best we can do. They took apart some really good teams this fall. We’re going to line up and give it our best shot. That’s the way it goes.”
One theme for Big Red players and coaches before and after Friday’s victory was a perceived lack of respect, based largely on the notion among some outsiders that Souderton’s schedule isn’t as challenging as the slates faced by some other Class 6A programs in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
“That’s all these kids have been hearing for the last three weeks: We don’t play anybody,” Gallagher said.
Said senior star running back Jalen White: “Everybody said we had a cakewalk to the playoffs.”
The Big Red faces an enormous challenge in St. Joseph’s Prep, which features Ohio State recruits in quarterback Kyle McCord and wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and a Clemson recruit in Jeremiah Trotter Jr., as well as several other future NCAA Division I players.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Gallagher said. "Our kids know. They watch these kids. They idolize those kids just like every other high school kid does.
“It’s going to be tough to get them off that pedestal.”
Here’s the new Southeastern Pennsylvania Top 10, with last week’s rankings in parentheses:
1. St. Joseph’s Prep (1) 4-0: Senior quarterback Kyle McCord is 67-for-105 passing (63.8 completion percentage) for 1,055 yards and 11 touchdowns. St. Joseph’s Prep has won 39 in a row vs. Southeastern Pennsylvania opponents since the start of the 2016 season. With a win over Souderton, the Hawks would advance to the PIAA Class 6A state final Nov. 28 at HersheyPark Stadium vs. the winner of the McDowell-Central York game.
2. La Salle (2) 5-1: Junior linebacker Chris Thompson leads the Philadelphia Catholic League in tackles with 50, per research by Ed “Huck” Palmer. Senior quarterback Gavin Daly finished the season with 697 yards passing and seven touchdowns and 173 yards and four touchdowns rushing. La Salle’s season is complete.
3. Malvern Prep (4) 4-0: Penn State recruit Lonnie White ran for two touchdowns and Jake Brownley registered his second pick-six of the season in a 28-14 win over No. 10 Archbishop Wood. The Friars' defense generated three interceptions and recovered a fumble. Malvern Prep will play Roman Catholic (1-4) on Saturday.
4. Souderton (9) 7-0: Senior quarterback Evan Kutzler was efficient enough as a passer Friday night to keep Pennridge from completely keying on the Big Red running game. Kutzler was 4-for-8 for 39 yards and also saw an apparent 10-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Bob nullified by a holding penalty.
5. Garnet Valley (6) 4-0: Quarterback Kevin McGarrey passed for 146 yards and running back Brian Bradley scored three touchdowns on the ground as the Jaguars rolled to a 44-0 win over Ridley. Garnet Valley has outscored four opponents by an aggregate of 200-18. The Jaguars will visit Haverford High (4-0) on Friday in a matchup of the Central League’s top teams.
6. Pennridge (3) 6-1: Dillon Powles ran for 113 yards on just 11 carries in the loss to Souderton in the District 1 Class 6A final. The Rams have one game left on the schedule, the annual Thanksgiving battle with rival Quakertown (5-2).
7. Bonner-Prendergast (7) 3-0: Junior Mason Peterson has 300 rushing yards on just 42 carries (7.1-yard average) with three rushing touchdowns. He also has scored on a fumble return for the Friars. Bonner-Prendergast will return from a two-week shutdown Monday and is scheduled to play Philadelphia Catholic League rival Archbishop Carroll (3-3) on Friday.
8. Coatesville (5) 4-1: Senior Damonte Reason caught six passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns in the 36-33 loss to Pennridge in the District 1 Class 6A semifinals. Coatesville’s season is complete.
9. Upper Dublin (NR) 5-1: Sophomore quarterback Colin O’Sullivan passed for 218 yards and a touchdown as the Cardinals beat West Chester Rustin, 29-8, to capture the District 1 Class 5A title. Upper Dublin’s defense came up with three interceptions and three sacks in helping the Cardinals capture their third district crown in six seasons. Upper Dublin is scheduled to play Cathedral Prep (6-2) of Erie in the state semifinals Friday night at Hollidaysburg High in Blair County.
10. Archbishop Wood (8) 3-3: Quarterback Trey Holsman passed for one score and ran for another for the Vikings in the loss to Malvern Prep. Archbishop Wood is scheduled to play Conwell-Egan (2-3) on Friday.