Malik Cooper is used to catching passes, not throwing them.
He snared just one on Saturday night, and that was the game ball tossed his way by St. Joseph’s Prep coach Tim Roken.
“I was really nervous,” said Cooper, a junior wide receiver pressed into action at quarterback by the absence of injured star signal-caller Kyle McCord.
Cooper ran for two touchdowns, avoided turnovers, and sparked a comeback victory, as St. Joseph’s Prep rallied for a 43-26 victory over host Northeast in the Class 6A city championship game at Charles Martin Memorial Stadium.
“He was calm, cool, and collected,” Roken said of Cooper. “He was composed out there and took care of the football.”
Without McCord, an Ohio State recruit who is nursing a knee ailment, St. Joseph’s leaned heavily on senior running back Kolbe Burrell and the offensive line.
Burrell carried 26 times for 212 yards and three touchdowns, as the Hawks (9-2) won their fourth city title in a row and advanced to face District 11 champion Nazareth Area in the state quarterfinals next weekend.
“The offensive line was amazing,” said Burrell, a Buffalo recruit. “I couldn’t do anything without those guys.”
St. Joseph’s closed the game in emphatic fashion, winding nearly seven minutes off the clock on 14 running plays covering 87 yards. Burrell finished the methodical march with a 5-yard touchdown run with just 1 minute, 41 seconds to play.
“They had some momentum, and we wanted to crush it," Burrell said.
Northeast (11-2), which had won eight games in a row, lost on this stage for the fourth straight year to St. Joseph’s. But this was far and away the Vikings’ most competitive effort, after dropping the previous three games by a combined score of 124-20.
Northeast burst to a 14-0 lead and stayed in contention with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Senior quarterback Charles Britt was 11-for-22 passing for 287 yards and two touchdowns, and junior running back Jon-Luke Peaker carried 16 times for 127 yards, including an 85-yard burst to the end zone on the Vikings’ first possession.
Cooper rallied St. Joseph in the second quarter, scoring both of his touchdowns. The second came after a dazzling 36-yard scramble to the 1-yard line.
“I knew my teammates had my back,” Cooper said.
Big plays on special teams helped the Hawks’ cause, as Anthony Rightley blocked a punt to set up a score, and Sahmir Hagans returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown.
“Hard times brings this team closer together,” Roken said.
The coach said McCord, who has thrown 31 touchdown passes, was “day-to-day.” McCord was in street clothes on Saturday night, serving as an unofficial quarterback coach.
“He helped me so much,” Cooper said.
Cooper was just 3-for-8 passing for 20 yards. But the speedy junior ran 14 times for 103 yards.
“Malik Cooper is a star,” said Rightley, a versatile senior. “We always knew it. Now the world does too.”
St. Joseph’s Prep 7 22 0 14 – 43
Northeast 14 0 0 12 – 26
N: Jon-Luke Peaker 85 run (Massi Mohli kick)
N: Timir Jones 35 pass from Charles Britt (Mohli kick)
S: Kolbe Burrell 5 run (Antonio Chadha kick)
S: Burrell 3 run (Zavier Atkins run)
S: Malik Cooper 1 run (Chadha kick)
S: Cooper 1 run (Chadha kick)
N: Will Lawrence 7 run (pass fail)
S: Sahmir Hagans 85 kickoff return (Chadha kick)
N: Tyreek Chappell 80 pass from Britt (pass fail)