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No. 1-ranked St. Joseph’s Prep avoids pandemic pitfalls to reach state title game for fifth straight year

The Hawks know there's more to keeping a season alive than just beating opponents. It's avoiding coronavirus shutdowns, too. They've played just five games, but they've dominated.

St. Joseph's Prep's Marvin Harrison (8) and Sahmir Hagans (2) celebrate a touchdown by Maurice Clark (1) in the second quarter of the Hawks' 51-43 win over Souderton in the PIAA Class 5A state semifinals on Saturday.
St. Joseph's Prep's Marvin Harrison (8) and Sahmir Hagans (2) celebrate a touchdown by Maurice Clark (1) in the second quarter of the Hawks' 51-43 win over Souderton in the PIAA Class 5A state semifinals on Saturday.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

There have been plenty of anxious moments in the St. Joseph’s Prep football team’s drive to its fifth straight appearance in the state championship game.

It’s just that most of them were unrelated to anything happening on the field.

The Hawks advanced to the PIAA Class 6A state final with a 51-43 victory over Souderton in the state semifinals Saturday at Cardinal O’Hara. The final score is misleading, as St. Joseph’s Prep took a 51-7 lead when Temple-bound senior Malik Cooper returned the second-half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown.

Souderton scored the game’s final 36 points after officials started a running clock because of PIAA “mercy rule” guidelines.

It was the fourth straight game, all against Southeastern Pennsylvania opponents, in which the Hawks played with a running clock in the second half because they held a lead of 35 or more points.

But that doesn’t mean coach Tim Roken, his assistants, and the players haven’t broken a sweat since a 41-24 win over Life Christian Academy in the Oct. 10 season opener. Every day has been nerve-racking for the Hawks and every other team in every other sport — a constant case of worry that a positive coronavirus test will result in a postponement or cancellation.

“Just to have a chance in this whole pandemic with teams getting canceled left and right all around the state and the country, just to have an opportunity to go out and play for another state championship is just a blessing, honestly,” St. Joseph’s Prep senior quarterback Kyle McCord said.

St. Joseph’s Prep (5-0) is scheduled to face Central York (10-0) in the PIAA Class 6A state final Saturday night at HersheyPark Stadium.

The Hawks’ record says it all. They’ve managed to play just five games, tiptoeing through October and November while holding their breath that they don’t get dreaded news — an untimely text, a tweet that lands like a bomb — that has sidelined so many other teams.

Roken has stressed to his team the importance of not taking for granted the opportunity to play when so much of life has been disrupted by the pandemic.

“Because of the ups and downs and the roller coaster and the stop and go, it’s really become for us one day at a time, make the most of our opportunities, and continue to find ways to stay together,” Roken said. “That’s what we have one more week of, and we’re grateful for that and we have to try to continue to protect ourselves from this virus and continue to find ways to get better so we can give our best effort next week.”

Here’s the new Top 10 in Southeastern Pennsylvania football, with last week’s rankings in parentheses:

1. St. Joseph’s Prep (1) 5-0

With six touchdown passes Saturday vs. Souderton, Kyle McCord unofficially tied former La Salle star Brett Gordon for first place on the city’s all-time list for career touchdown passes with 84. McCord needs 302 yards in the state final to eclipse Gordon’s all-time city mark of 6,837 yards. St. Joseph’s Prep wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. unofficially set the city mark for career receiving yards with 2,551. He needs two touchdown catches to set the city record in that category, currently held by former Ben Franklin star Javier Buffalo with 36.

2. La Salle (2) 5-1

Senior Justin Machita was the Explorers’ top receiver this season with 16 catches for 358 yards (22.3-yard average) and four touchdowns. La Salle’s season is complete.

3. Malvern Prep (3) 4-0

Senior all-purpose Lonnie White Jr. has rocketed up the recruiting ranks. White, a Penn State recruit as a wide receiver, jumped from No. 311 in the nation to No. 71 in 247Sports’ rankings. He now is the No. 10 wide receiver in the class of 2021. Malvern Prep’s season is complete.

4. Souderton (4) 7-1

Sophomore Shaun Purvy caught 12 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the Big Red’s loss to St. Joseph’s Prep. Senior quarterback Evan Kutzler sparked Souderton’s second-half rally and finished with 226 yards and three touchdowns passing as well as a rushing touchdown. The season is complete for Souderton, the District 1 Class 6A champion.

5. Garnet Valley (5) 5-0

Alex Nicolaides returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown and Shane Reynolds and Brian Bradley led the ground game as the Jaguars beat Haverford, 39-8, in a showdown between the Central League’s last two undefeated Class 6A teams. Quarterback Kevin McGarrey ran for two touchdowns for Garnet Valley, which is scheduled to play Marple Newtown (5-0) in the Central League title game Wednesday night.

6. Pennridge (6) 6-1

The Rams are scheduled to meet old rival Quakertown (5-2) in a renewal of a Thanksgiving Day series that began in 1930. Pennridge, the District 1 Class 6A runner-up, has won four in a row against Quakertown and nine of the last 11.

7. Bonner-Prendergast (7) 3-0

The Friars’ swarming defense features four players with five tackles for losses in Nasim Rhodes-Nelson, Derrick Jackson, David Kpeglo, and David Washington. Bonner-Prendergast, which hasn’t played since a 34-0 win over Lansdale Catholic on Oct. 30, is scheduled to host No. 9 Archbishop Wood on Wednesday night.

8. Coatesville (8) 4-1

In his last game for the Red Raiders, senior all-purpose Abdul-Sabur Stewart caught a touchdown pass and had an interception in a 36-33 loss to Pennridge in the District 1 Class 6A semifinals.

9. Archbishop Wood (10) 3-3

Ryan Woertz returned an interception for a touchdown and Kaelin Costello ran for two scores as the Vikings beat Conwell-Egan, 41-7. Joe Amati added a touchdown catch and an interception for Archbishop Wood, which is scheduled to visit No. 7 Bonner-Prendergast on Wednesday night.

10. Upper Dublin (9) 6-2

The Cardinals forfeited the PIAA Class 5A state semifinal vs. Cathedral Prep, a game scheduled for Friday night at Hollidaysburg High in Blair County, because of COVID-19 concerns. Senior fullback/linebacker Jacob Rossman led Upper Dublin this season with a team-high 289 rushing yards and four touchdowns and a team-high 39 tackles.

Under consideration (listed alphabetically): Abington (3-2), Bishop McDevitt (4-2), Bishop Shanahan (4-0), Downingtown East (2-3), Downingtown West (2-2), Germantown Academy (3-1), Marple Newtown (5-0), Neshaminy (5-1), North Penn (4-1), Pope John Paul II (3-0), Spring-Ford (6-1), West Chester Rustin (4-2).