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Swift leads Prep to state title victory

Sophomore D'Andre Swift scores four touchdowns as Hawks successfully defends PIAA, Class AAAA championship.

THE GAME didn't always belong to St. Joseph's Prep sophomore D'Andre Swift, but by the fourth quarter of the Class AAAA championship game there was little doubt who had stolen the show.

In fact, in the press box high atop Hersheypark Stadium, a college scout pulled out his cellphone during a break in the action.

"Hey, you gotta see this kid from this Philadelphia school," he exclaimed. "He's a 5-9, 200-pound running back. His name is D'Andre Swift."

Earlier, after Swift flashed some third-quarter panache, another scout asked for details about No. 7 in crimson and white.

"Wait, he's only a sophomore?" he asked.

By now, those tardy few know Swift already has offers from Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and several others (with more assuredly on the way).

On a field loaded with ace-high collegiate talent that put forth record-setting performances, Swift was the ultimate trump card in the Prep's back-to-back championship bid.

In the Hawks' 49-41 triumph against District 7 Pine-Richland on Saturday, the Northeast Philly resident finished with 220 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries. He also added 56 yards and a score on four receptions.

The sequence that had scouts and fans in a tizzy came after Prep (11-3) received the ball after a 14-all tie at intermission.

On the fourth play from scrimmage, Swift darted a shade right before muscling away from at least three defenders and speeding 58 yards to glory.

After senior Prep kicker Nick Bill fortuitously recovered the ensuing kickoff, a trick-play immediately followed that gave Swift room to riff for a 48-yard score down the left sideline, diving headlong over a defender for the final 4 yards.

The play, Swift said, was called "mayhem" and was installed a few weeks ago. Initially, junior quarterback Jack Clements (217 yards, three touchdowns) handed the ball to Swift, who gave it to senior wide out Justin Montague, who flipped it back to Clements, who tossed it to Swift. The score gave the Hawks a 28-14 advantage.

Olamide Zaccheaus (34 yards on 10 carries) extended the lead with a 4-yard rush with 3:49 left in the third. The teams then exchanged touchdowns with Swift scoring on a 1-yard run to give the Prep a 42-21 lead.

But, P-R (15-1) scored three touchdowns within the final 9:25 and came within an extra point (42-41) of tying the game after senior quarterback Ben Dinucci (Penn) hit D'Ondre Gastion for 31 yards with 2:15 left.

However, the Rams failed on the ensuing two-point conversion after junior defensive back Shaun Harris harried Dinucci into an intercepted end-zone heave.

Swift responded after a brief injury (he missed the last 1:38 of the third but returned around 11:40 in the fourth). His 48-yard score from the wildcat formation with 1:49 left was the final touchdown.

Postgame, the sophomore waxed humbly about his coaches, blockers and seniors as Prep supporters flooded the field. However, Swift's teammates were much more effusive.

"Monster," said Zaccheaus, who also had three catches for 123 yards, "[He's a] monster. He makes plays. Can't speak about him enough. I mean, he's a great player."

"That's my little brother" said senior James Bell, who caught a 28-yard TD. "I love him. It was just one of those days. He was feeling it. I expected it. This is what he does."

"Day in and day out he's definitely one of the hardest workers on the team," said senior Jake Strain. "Always gives us everything he's got. He's great. He's so talented and he gets the job done every time."

Swift added: "I was just trying to play for these seniors, man. Today was a big day for them. I just wanted to send them out with a big win."

Zaccheaus, who will play at the University of Virginia next year, has no doubts about Prep's future.

"The program's in good hands," he said. "I mean, there's not much more to say."

Squib or not to squib

Prep senior kicker Nick Bill had his orders after D'Andre Swift gave the Hawks a 21-14 lead early in the third quarter. However, a funny thing happened as he approached the ball.

"It was crazy! It was . . . I really couldn't tell you," said a smiling Bill as he shrugged his shoulders. "I went up . . . they said to squib it, but I came up short and I didn't know what to do after that so I just ran after it and recovered it!"

As media types immediately lauded Prep coach Gabe Infante's gumption in attempting an onside kick in that position, Bill copped to his miscue afterward.

"No, they said squib it left and I hit it short. It popped up and I had to go recover it. It helped, it helped a lot. I wouldn't want it any other way, honestly."

Bend, don't break

If Hollywood gets the movie rights, whoever plays Jake Strain will make an impassioned, inspirational speech as the Hawks' defense saddles up with 1:45 left for one last championship stand.

However, the real-life version went something like this: "We all knew the situation and what had to be done, so that was about it."

Eventually, Olamide Zaccheaus ended the game with an interception of Ben DiNucci's desperate pass near the Prep 35.

The up-tempo Pine-Richland offense started slowly, but eventually amassed 594 total yards - a Class AAAA title and all-time Class AAAA single-game record, according to the PIAA.

DiNucci (46 attempts) set championship records for completions (32), TD tosses (four) and passing yards (383). He also became the state's first player to reach 4,000 passing yards in a season.

Other championship records: P-R senior Mike Merhaut's 14 receptions and D'Ondre Gastion's two TD receptions set a Class AAAA championship game records.

Prep's defensive leaders were: Nick Vandevere (interception, 14 tackles, 11 solo), Jake Strain (nine, eight solo), Shaun Harris (sack), Justin Montague (seven, six solo), Alec Dirks and Dillon DeIuliis (five apiece) and Benny Walls recovered a fumble forced by Thomas Johnson.

In the end, Zaccheaus cradled the championship-clinching interception in the end zone as he teammates piled on.

"They almost suffocated me at the bottom of the pile!" he said, "but it's a great way to go out as a senior."