HERSHEY, Pa. - La Salle faced another snowstorm, a flurry of penalties, and a first-half injury to its leading rusher. But resilience and another stellar defensive effort yesterday enabled the Explorers to make history for their program, the Catholic League, and District 12.
La Salle rushed for 257 yards, limited State College to a mere 99 yards on the ground and 24 by air, and captured the PIAA Class AAAA state championship with a 24-7 romp over the Little Lions at HersheyPark Stadium.
In the Catholic League's second year in the PIAA, the Explorers became the first league and District 12 team to claim statewide glory on the gridiron. Archbishop Wood and West Catholic came close last season, but Wood finished as the runner-up in Class AAA and West Catholic in AA.
"It just means so much," La Salle senior quarterback Drew Loughery said. "We brought the first state football title to the city. We'll go down in history for that."
While La Salle is in Montgomery County, District 12 primarily comprises teams from Philadelphia.
Two weeks ago, in a state quarterfinal against Easton on snow-covered Banko Field in Bethlehem, Pa., Loughery and company overcame an early 14-0 deficit and triumphed on Mike Bennett's 35-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
"Because of that game, we knew what to expect as far as playing in the snow," Loughery said. "We kind of knew what gloves to wear, how to prepare."
Despite being penalized eight times for 72 yards, the Explorers never trailed. State College's running game never gained traction. The Little Lions, with a spread-option scheme, were held under 100 yards rushing on 31 attempts.
Down by 24-0 with four minutes left in the third quarter, the District 6 champions managed their only score on Alex Kenney's 96-yard kickoff return.
La Salle (14-1) played the second half without junior tailback Jamal Abdur-Rahman. He injured his right knee on fullback Tim Wade's 8-yard touchdown run, which made it 17-0 with 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining before the break.
Even before Abdur-Rahman went down, the Explorers, with the snow steadily falling, turned often to Sam Feleccia. And the 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior, normally a wideout, delivered in emphatic fashion.
Feleccia, who missed the first three games of the season with a high ankle sprain, carried 22 times, mostly out of the Wildcat formation, for 167 yards. In the third quarter, he darted off the left side and went 55 yards for his team's last score.
"I think the conditions probably dictated" calling Feleccia's number so often, head coach Drew Gordon said. "I mean, we didn't want to get Loughery killed. With Sam, if you get that horse going, man, he's tough to tackle. He really is."
Said Feleccia: "Before the game, the coaches pretty much said to me, 'Hold on to the ball, and get it done.' "
Loughery completed 5 of 11 passes for 108 yards. "The first few were a little off," he said. "After that, I just buckled down, got the snap, concentrated, and sometimes took a slower drop-back to make sure I got the ball right where I wanted it."
With a stout across-the-board effort, the Explorers' defense forced two turnovers and held State College (12-3) to 123 total yards. Kenney, a slotback and cornerback bound for Penn State, rushed five times for 15 yards.
In the first half, Bennett's 37-yard field goal and Abdur-Rahman's 22-yard dash right through the middle gave La Salle a 10-0 advantage.
State College 0 0 7 0 - 7
La Salle 3 14 7 0 - 24
LS: FG Bennett 37
LS: Abdur-Rahman 22 run (Bennett kick)
LS: Wade 8 run (Bennett kick)
LS: Feleccia 55 run (Bennett kick)
SC: Kenney 96 run (Khayat kick)