They are in pursuit of more than a third straight state title.
They also are chasing history.
For the stacked senior class on the St. Joseph’s Prep football team, there’s more on the line in the PIAA Class 6A championship game against Central York on Saturday night than another trophy for the program’s crowded case back at the school at 17th and Girard in North Philadelphia.
There’s the chance to cement the legacy as the Hawks’ best-ever class — and the first to win three consecutive state titles.
“I know this senior class, we definitely have been looking forward to being the first team in history to do this,” senior wide receiver Sahmir Hagans said. “So we finally got the chance and we’re going to end up going out with a nice little bang.”
Hagans caught three touchdown passes in the 51-43 victory over Souderton in the state semifinals last Saturday at Cardinal O’Hara.
That was the warm sunny afternoon when senior quarterback Kyle McCord threw six touchdown passes in the first half to tie former La Salle star Brett Gordon’s city mark of 84 career scoring throws.
That also was the afternoon when senior wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. took over first place in city history in career receiving yards with 2,551 and caught his 35th career touchdown pass, one shy of former Ben Franklin star Javier Buffalo’s city mark.
There’s no shortage of individual accomplishments for St. Joseph’s senior class, from the statistics generated by McCord and Harrison to the status of senior linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., a Clemson recruit.
Senior wide receiver Malik Cooper, a Temple recruit, will live forever in program lore as the guy who saved the 2019 championship season as an emergency quarterback when McCord went down with an injury. Cooper’s remarkable fourth-down touchdown pass to Harrison in the state semifinal against Pittsburgh Central Catholic in Altoona stands as perhaps the most memorable play in school history.
Hagans is a dynamic Duke recruit. Safety Julian Talley, who covers like a shutdown corner and hits like an inside linebacker, is a Penn recruit. Defensive lineman Nick Yagodich, who specializes in disruption, is bound for Harvard.
The list goes on and on, from the solidifying work up front of unsung heroes such as center Max Fisher and tight end Cade Rooney to the dependable ball-carrying of running back Noble House to the playmaking of defensive standouts such as linebacker Trey Doyle and backs David Watson, Xavier Atkins, and Sean Walker, among others.
But it’s as a group that these seniors can truly make their mark.
“That’s been the vision ever since sophomore [year] when this whole group got together,” said McCord, an Ohio State recruit. “To win three straight, that’s been the standard and the goal we’ve been aiming at.”
Said Harrison, also an Ohio State recruit: “That’s been the goal since the beginning of the season. We’re just very grateful for the opportunity just to make it this far with coronavirus and everything, so we’re grateful to have this opportunity and hopefully we can cash it in.”
It’s been the strangest of seasons, with the Hawks playing just six games, regardless of the outcome Saturday night. And many of the seniors spent most or all of the second half of the last four games on the sideline, since the team’s lead of 35 or more points has instituted a running clock under the PIAA’s “mercy rule” guidelines.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” Harrison said. “I love these guys, my teammates and especially our class.”
Said Hagans: “Knowing I won’t ever touch the field with them again, it’s sad to think about that. But I’d rather go out with a win.”
The Hawks have the chance to win their third state title in a row, their fourth in five seasons, and their sixth since 2013. They also can become the first school to win three straight crowns in the state’s largest classification since Central Bucks West in 1997-99.
“It’s ridiculous, just thinking back that I remember coming into the Prep as a freshman and it seems like that was last week,” McCord said. “Now I’m getting ready to play my last game. That was my message to the team when we were breaking down, just to capitalize on every opportunity — practice every single day, the meetings, just being around each other is something we need to cherish this week for sure.”