ST. JOSEPH'S PREP 35, PITTSBURGH CENTRAL CATHOLIC 10
HERSHEY, Pa. - St. Joseph's Prep faced a wide range of competition, including local heavyweight Archbishop Wood and out-of-state powers Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) and Jesuit College Prep (Tx.), while advancing to Chocolate Town.
So, as it showed in Sunday night's PIAA Class AAAA state final against District 7's Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Gabe Infante's squad was prepared for just about any kind of opponent.
This time, the Hawks gradually solved a run-first attack, exposed the flaws in what had been a near lights-out defense, and stormed to statewide glory with a 35-10 triumph at frigid HersheyPark Stadium.
Afterward, Infante, who came to 17th and Girard from North Jersey four years ago, celebrated with his players and took a congratulatory phone call from Mayor Nutter.
"From the day I got here, I said we would be champions," the coach said. "And that's what we did."
In claiming the program's first state title, the Prep (12-3) exploded for four second-half touchdowns. They held the previously undefeated Vikings, who came in averaging 43.8 points, scoreless over the final 27 minutes.
"There's no better way to go out," Hawks senior quarterback Chris Martin said. "This is the ultimate goal coming into the season. It's about believing in yourself and in each other."
Martin, who returned from a left-knee injury in a state-quarterfinal win over District 11's Parkland, completed 13 of 21 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns.
"The coaches wanted me to be careful after coming back," the captain said, "but if it was going to be the difference between us winning and losing I couldn't do that."
With the Prep trailing by 10-7 at intermission, Martin, who plans to have off-season surgery and play football at Johns Hopkins, connected with wideout John Reid and tight end Joe DuMond for scores of 59 and 14 yards, respectively.
"He was an unbeliever leader on this team," said Prep senior linebacker Ryan McNulty of Martin, who passed for more than 2,200 yards and 27 TDs this season.
Central Catholic (15-1) managed 191 yards rushing on 45 attempts, but only found the end zone on quarterback J.J. Cosentino's 1-yard, first-quarter keeper. "We stacked the box, focused on stopping the run," McNulty said.
Scoring runs by D'Andre Swift (35 yards) and Vince Moffett (16) put the finishing touches on the convincing victory.
"We knew all year that we had a chance to do this," Moffett said. "We went game by game, followed the process. No game was more important than the other."
The Vikings lost Cosentino, who also serves as a punter, to a left-lef injury in the third quarter.
The Prep's defense was led by linebacker Tom Johnson (eight tackles), McNulty (seven) and Shaun Harris. Strong safety Dillon DeIuliis and Jake Strain were next in line were stops apiece.
DeIuliis blocked a third-quarter punt that Jawan McAllister recovered but fumbled into the end zone on his return along the sideline.
The Hawks overcame three turnovers, including two interceptions, and nine penalties for a total loss of 50 yards.
Pittsburgh Central Catholic 7 3 0 0-10
St. Joseph's Prep 7 0 7 21-35
SJP: Vince Moffett 27 pass from Chris Martin (Pat Walsh kick)
PCC: J.J. Cosentino 1 run (Mitchell MacZura kick)
PCC: FG MacZura 29
SJP: John Reid 59 pass from Martin (Walsh kick)
SJP: Joe DuMond 14 pass from Martin (Walsh kick)
SJP: D'Andre Swift 35 run (Walsh kick)
SJP: Vince Moffett 16 run (Walsh kick)