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St. Joe’s Prep collects fourth state football crown by turning back resilient Harrisburg

Gabe Infante's Hawks triumphed, 40-20, for the PIAA Class 6A championship.

St. Joseph players hold up the trophy high after winning the PIAA Class 6A Football Championship in Hershey, Pa., Sat. Dec. 8, 2018. For the Inquirer/Kalim A. Bhatti
St. Joseph players hold up the trophy high after winning the PIAA Class 6A Football Championship in Hershey, Pa., Sat. Dec. 8, 2018. For the Inquirer/Kalim A. BhattiRead moreKalim A. Bhatti

HERSHEY, Pa. – The final score may indicate otherwise, but St. Joseph’s Prep had its hands full with underdog Harrisburg until the fourth quarter.

“Any team that reaches the state championship game is a great team,” Prep senior Marques Mason said. “They came out and gave everything they had.

“The difference was that we stuck to our game plan, handled the highs and lows, and made the plays when we needed to make them.”

With Mason producing a pair of 4-yard touchdown runs in the last frame, the Hawks pulled away from the Cougars and triumphed, 40-20, Saturday night to earn top PIAA Class 6A honors at frigid Hersheypark Stadium.

The Prep was ahead by 27-14 at intermission and seemed to be on the verge of breaking the game open.

But Harrisburg kept alive its bid for the program’s first state crown, making it 27-20 on Kane Everson’s 25-yard pass to Donte Kent midway through the third quarter. Everson hit on 17 of 27 throws for 201 yards.

Prep coach Gabe Infante echoed what Mason, a running back and receiver, had to say about the District 3 champs.

“That’s a very good football team we played,” Infante said. “They beat some talented teams, including Coatesville a week ago, to get here. They were not a team to be taken lightly.”

The Hawks (13-0) captured their fourth state title in six seasons. They regained the first-place hardware after losing to District 7’s Pine-Richland, 41-21, in last year’s snowy final.

“Losing last year really hurt,” sophomore quarterback Kyle McCord said. “All the underclassmen got together and we promised each other that it would never happen again.”

McCord, a first-year starter, showed again why top-flight colleges from across the country are recruiting him.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder, who already has scholarship offers from the likes of Michigan and Penn State, completed 26 of 37 passes for 284 yards and two TDs.

After Harrisburg (13-2) grabbed an early lead on Jai Burney’s 25-yard pick-six, the Prep answered with three straight scores. McCord’s 13-yard passes to Johnny Freeman and Anthony Rightley sandwiched a 59-yard jaunt by Kolbe Burrell.

Burrell, overcoming two fumbles, carried 17 times for 147 yards. Mason was next in line with 90 yards on 18 attempts.

McCord’s primary targets were Marvin Harrison (eight catches for 76 yards), Mason (six for 72), Sahmir Hagans (five for 37), and Johnny Freeman (four for 61).

Rightley, who doubles as a free safety, made three interceptions to go along with his TD grab. Also dominant on defense were linebackers Myles Talley (12 tackles, eight solos), Jeremiah Trotter (12, seven), and Cooper Kim (eight, five).

The Prep’s other state titles came against Pittsburgh Central Catholic in 2013 and 2016 and Pine-Richland in 2014.

Infante has compiled a 91-22 record (.805 winning percentage) in nine seasons.

Harrisburg 7 7 6 0 - 20

St. Joseph’s Prep 20 7 0 13 - 40

H: Jai Burney 25 interception return (John McNeil kick)

SJP: Johnny Freeman 13 pass from Kyle McCord (Antonio Chadha kick)

SJP: Kolbe Burrell 59 run (Chadha kick)

SJP: Anthony Rightley 13 pass from McCord (kick blocked)

H: Jahmir Plant 1 run (McNeil kick)

SJP: McCord 1 run (Chadha kick)

H: Donte Kent 25 pass from Everson (pass failed)

SJP: Marques Mason 4 run (kick failed)

SJP: Mason 3 run (Chadha kick)