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Charting La Salle's march to title

Malvern Prep and West Catholic were among first obstacles the Explorers hurdled.

La Salle earned a spot in Saturday night's PIAA Class AAAA football championship game at HersheyPark Stadium against State College with an impressive 35-7 romp over Ridley in the state semifinal on Saturday.

And that road to the championship went through some interesting twists and turns during the previous 14 games.

Today, tomorrow, and Friday, we look at six of those games and try to shed some light on how they helped form the team that will end its season - with victory or defeat - on Saturday.

Today: Sept. 11 vs. Malvern Prep and Sept. 18 vs. West Catholic

Sept. 11, La Salle, 28, Malvern Prep 7. Ranked No. 1 in Southeastern Pennsylvania by The Inquirer to start the season, the Explorers were coming off a 56-0 whitewash of Plymouth Whitemarsh in their season opener.

The defending Class AAAA Catholic League champions kept that momentum going by spoiling Kevin Pellegrini's debut as coach at Malvern Prep. Pellegrini was taking over for his father, Gamp, and the Friars had beaten La Salle in each of the previous two seasons.

Not this year. In heavy rain, the Explorers got a pair of 1-yard touchdowns from tailback Jamal Abdur-Rahman and jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

Malvern cut the lead to a touchdown in the second quarter, but backup running back Tim Wade scored two more short touchdowns, and the Explorers improved their record to 2-0.

On defense, Pat Resch and Kevin Forster came up with interceptions for La Salle, and tackle Matt DiGiacomo had three tackles.

La Salle quarterback Drew Loughery completed 10 of 16 passes for 120 yards, and Abdur-Rahman finished with 152 yards rushing on 26 carries.

However, Abdur-Rahman injured his left knee late in the third quarter and would miss the next two games.

Sept. 18, La Salle 16, West Catholic 14. A week after the win over Malvern Prep, La Salle needed a 22-yard field goal on a rain-slicked field at Springfield (Montgomery County) by senior kicker Mike Bennett to nip the Burrs.

With Abdur-Rahman out with the knee injury he suffered against Malvern Prep and key wide receiver Sam Feleccia also injured, Loughery was forced to shoulder the workload. The senior completed 10 of 18 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, and also scored on a 3-yard run.

Tied 6-6 at halftime, La Salle took a 9-6 lead on Bennett's field goal. Loughery scored on the ground in the fourth quarter, and West made things interesting when it scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion by Brandon Hollomon with 4 minutes, 31 seconds to play.

When La Salle took over on the ensuing kickoff, Loughery hit Wade for a 35-yard completion. Three plays later, he connected with Kevin Forster on a third-down pass for 12 yards.

Although the completions did not result in points, they ate up key minutes. Then, with La Salle, protecting a two-point lead, the defense sacked West quarterback Jarred Evans to end the Burrs' final threat.

If there was any question before that, Loughery proved he was a clutch quarterback.

"Your big-time players have to step up" in big games, West Catholic coach Brian Fluck said. "And he's a big-time player."

Coming tomorrow: Sept. 26 vs. St. Joseph's Prep and Nov. 20 vs. St. Joseph's Prep.