It’s not true that St. Joseph’s Prep played a perfect first half in Saturday night’s showdown with La Salle High.
It only seemed that way.
The Hawks committed three penalties. They had a negative-yardage play. They allowed four first downs.
But minor miscues aside, St. Joseph’s turned the Catholic League opener for both teams on a warm evening at Wissahickon High into a tour de force that highlighted its status as a national-caliber program.
Scoring five touchdowns on five first-half possessions, St. Joseph’s built a 35-0 lead at the break and cruised to a 44-13 victory in front of a huge crowd that filled bleacher sections on both sides of the field.
“We wanted to break out early,” St. Joseph’s junior quarterback Kyle McCord said. “We wanted to establish that we’re back and we haven’t dropped off from last year."
McCord, an Ohio State recruit, was 13-for-19 passing for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. Senior running back Kolbe Burrell ran 14 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns, all in the first half.
The Hawks’ offensive line set the pace, clearing the way for Burrell and providing McCord with the time to find Marvin Harrison, Anthony Rightley, and Sahmir Hagans with scoring throws.
“I gave the game ball to the offensive line,” St. Joe’s coach Tim Roken said. “They set the tone for us up front.”
Senior offensive tackle Casey Stephenson held the game ball aloft after the imposing victory over the Hawks’ top league rival.
“Our motto is ‘Honest work,’ ” Stephenson said of the offensive line. “We’re going to play our brand of football, whether we’re playing IMG [Academy] or La Salle.”
If there was any doubt – and there shouldn’t have been after St. Joseph’s opened the season with three competitive games against nationally-ranked opponents – the victory confirmed that the Hawks are the team to beat in the Catholic League, the city, and the state Class 6A playoffs.
St. Joseph’s (2-2), the No. 1 team in the Inquirer Southeastern Pennsylvania Top 10, was out of the area in the season’s first month, playing the opener in Marietta, Ga., and then facing St. John’s College (Washington D.C.) and IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) at Rutgers.
“It was nice to get back in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Roken said.
While St. Joseph’s was on the road, La Salle (4-1) was rising to No. 3 in the rankings on the strength of victories over area powers Imhotep Charter, North Penn, and Malvern Prep.
But the Explorers couldn’t keep pace with the Hawks in what likely was the first of two meetings. The teams could meet again in the Catholic League playoffs, and the Explorers can take solace from the knowledge that they played the Hawks much more competitively in the rematch last season.
“The last three games, we were playing some of the top teams in the country,” McCord said. “It was huge for us to come back home and start the Catholic League schedule this way.”
Burrell, a University at Buffalo recruit, scored the game’s first two touchdowns on runs of 8 and 11 yards.
McCord hit Harrison with a 15-yard scoring pass on the first play of the second quarter for a 21-0 lead. McCord’s 10-yard strike to Rightley, who made a strong catch in traffic, made it 28-0. McCord lofted a 15-yard strike to Hagans just 18 seconds before halftime for a 35-0 lead.
Junior linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and junior backs Zavier Atkins and David Watson sparked St. Joseph’s defense.
“We have some things we have to clean up,” Roken said. “But it was a great way to start our Catholic League schedule.”
St. Joseph’s Prep 14 21 3 6 -- 44
La Salle 0 0 0 13 -- 13
SJP: Kolbe Burrell 8 run (Antonio Chadha kick)
SJP: Burrell 11 run (Chadha kick)
SJP: Marvin Harrison 15 pass form Kyle McCord (Chadha kick)
SJP: Anthony Rightley 10 pass from McCord (Chadha kick)
SJP: Sahmir Hagans 15 pass from McCord (Chadha kick)
SJP: Chadha 25 FG
L: Sam Brown 2 run (Jake Gandolfo kick)
L: Mao Howell 38 pass from Gavin Daly (kick fail)
SJP: Josh Barlow 80 run (run fail)