ST. JOE'S PREP 37, NESHAMINY 21
With Neshaminy running the ball at will and on the brink of a go-ahead score in Saturday's PIAA Class AAAA state semifinal, several St. Joseph's Prep assistant coaches threw out suggestions to Gabe Infante on how to stop the bleeding.
"I turned to them and said, 'Guys, stop! At this point, players have to make plays,' " the Hawks boss said.
With that, sophomore outside linebacker Shaun Harris stripped Neshaminy's Denny Lord, grabbed the ball off the carpet and raced 95 yards for a momentum-shifting touchdown.
Boosted by that third-quarter stunner, the Prep, which neatly spread the wealth on offense, downed the scrappy Redskins, 37-21, at Northeast and moved to within a victory of the program's first state crown.
"We work on the strip-and-score drill every day in practice," Harris said. "I worked the elbow in there, got the ball out, picked it up, and just ran. I was just hoping my teammates would block for me."
The Hawks (11-3) will take on Distinct 7's Pittsburgh Central Catholic (15-0) for top honors at 6 p.m. next Saturday at HersheyPark Stadium.
Central Catholic crushed District 3's Lower Dauphin, 45-0, in Saturday's other AAAA semifinal.
In knocking the ball from the hands of Lord, who was trying to break free from a gang of defenders along the sideline, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Harris said it was a play he had "always dreamed of making."
Trailing by 19-14 at intermission, Neshaminy (13-2) had moved the ball from its own 22 to the Prep 4 on 10 rushing plays. That's when Harris and Lord, trying to find pay dirt around left end, collided.
"It was surreal," Infante said of watching Harris running toward the opposite end zone. "Time stops. It feels like that play took three hours to happen."
After Lord answered back with a 44-yard TD rumble that trimmed the gap to 25-21, the Hawks responded with an eight-play, 79-yard scoring series. Chris Martin set up his 7-yard keeper with a 48-yard bomb to John Reid on the previous play.
With 4 1/2 minutes to go, following Reid's interception at the Prep 42, Martin's 18-yard toss to Justin Montague clinched a trip to Chocolate Town.
Martin, who last week returned from a left-knee injury that hadsidelined him for two games, connected on 12 of 20 throws for 243 yards.
The Redskins, leaning heavily on D'Andre Pollard (28 carries for 131 yards) and Lord (nine for 104) out of the Wildcat formation, netted 248 rushing yards on 40 attempts.
"I'm just so proud of our kids," Neshaminy coach Mark Schmidt said. "They hung together, kept fighting. I think the Prep knows it went through a football game."
Neshaminy 7 7 0 7-21
St. Joseph's Prep 13 6 6 12-37
SJP: Jawan McAllister 67 pass from Chris Martin (kick failed)
N: D'Andre Pollard 16 run (Dylan McDonald kick)
SJP: Olamide Zaccheaus 32 run (Pat Walsh kick)
SJP: Vince Moffett 2 run (pass failed)
N: Denny Lord 9 run (McDonald kick)
SJP: Shaun Harris 95 with fumble (kick failed)
N: Lord 44 run (McDonald kick)
SJP: Martin 7 run (pass failed)
SJP: Justin Montague 18 pass from Martin (kick failed)