HERSHEY, Pa. - In a preseason scrimmage against Pennsbury, La Salle receiver Sam Feleccia, preparing for a reception-filled senior season, suffered a high ankle sprain that cost him the first three Explorers games and four overall.
But Feleccia, a driven competitor who has the knack for making the big catch, worked his way back into the lineup and into La Salle's drive toward the PIAA Class AAAA state championship.
It was fitting that Feleccia's stick-to-it-iveness paid off in yesterday's title game vs. State College, with La Salle in need of a clutch playmaker after quick-footed junior tailback Jamal Abdur-Rahman went down with a knee injury late in the second quarter and never returned.
Feleccia welcomed the extra load. The wideout-turned-running back carried the ball 22 times for a career-high 167 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown, to spark a 24-7 waltz over the Little Lions at snow-covered HersheyPark Stadium.
"We turned to the big guy," La Salle quarterback Drew Loughery said. "He took on the role, ran so tough in the second half. He was tough to stop."
Indeed, he was. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound workhorse netted 120 of his 167 yards in the second half as La Salle, with a 17-0 halftime advantage, eased to statewide glory and became the first football program in District 12's six-year history to capture the gold.
Feleccia had been used here and there in the team's last two playoff victories but his effectiveness in the white stuff against Easton led head coach Drew Gordon to call his number yesterday.
"We ran [the Wildcat formation] a lot in practice," Feleccia said. "And then when the snow came, I kind of figured we would we run a lot."
Of Abdur-Rahman's injury, Feleccia said, "Jamal is a great player and he's a great teammate. Him being out hurt us, but he knew we'd get it done for him."
With four minutes left in the third quarter, Feleccia, positioned at tailback, found a left-side opening and slip-slid his way for a 55-yard tally. Game over!
"I'm not used to running for that long," he said with a laugh. "The hole was wide open, the line did a good job, and I just went through it and ran as fast as I could."
In the fourth quarter, the Explorers put together a 14-play, 81-yard drive that kept the ball away from Penn State recruit Alex Kenney and the Little Lions. In that series, Feleccia rushed 10 times for 67 yards.
Afterward, one La Salle supporter appropriately labeled Feleccia a "Beast."
Feleccia was aware of the win's historic significance. "I feel like everyone in the Catholic League and in Philadelphia must be happy about this," he said.
Feleccia also made two catches for 43 yards. His 17-yard grab in the first quarter led to Mike Bennett's 37-yard field goal, a record in a Class AAAA state final. In the second quarter, his 26-yard reception paved the way for Abdur-Rahman's 22-yard TD burst and a 10-0 lead over the District 6 champions.
Of his rushing style, Feleccia said, "I just try to run north-to-south, pick up 4 or 5 yards each time."
Of his heroics yesterday, nearly four months after the ill-timed injury, Gordon said, "It's well-deserved. He certainly earned it. He worked really hard."