After its offense wowed in the teams' first meeting last month, the St. Joseph's Prep defense headlined early Friday night against La Salle at Northeast High.
The Hawks' defense was stingy early, and the offense was excellent late en route to a 35-14 victory to clinch the Prep's third appearance in a District 12 championship game in the last four seasons.
The Hawks, who already clinched the Catholic League 6A Red Division championship with a blowout win against the Explorers in October, will face the winner of Saturday's game between Central and Northeast High in Class 6A Public League action.
Senior running back D'Andre Swift, who tied a Catholic League record with seven touchdowns in the Prep's 63-35 victory on Oct. 22, finished Friday with 177 yards and three more ground tallies on 18 carries (9.8 yards per attempt).
Among the defensive playmakers for the Prep were senior Chris Lowndes, junior Rayshad Wallace, junior Bradley Cobaugh and senior Jake Ballard, who recovered a third-quarter fumble.
Dawson DeIuliis, a junior, iced the game with a late interception.
Without question, the game's most electrifying offensive play was authored by Swift, a 42-yard burst down the right sideline, replete with a flip into the end zone with 4 minutes, 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The acrobatic celebration was flagged and the yardage assessed during the ensuing kickoff, but the Hawks (10-0) were still on their way to a sixth win out of seven tries against the Explorers.
Marquez McCray, a junior quarterback, added 163 yards and two scores in the air and 74 yards on 14 carries on the ground.
Early on, however, the Hawks' defense remained stout, while offensive miscues disrupted multiple scoring opportunities in the first half.
The Explorers (6-4) netted 101 total yards of offense in the first half with 98 of those yards coming on the ground, while 53 of them came on La Salle's first offensive possession.
Syaire Madden, who finished with 163 yards and two scores on 28 carries, led La Salle's offensive attack.
The Explorers' defense was also tough early, forcing a turnover on downs on the game's first possession and turning the resulting field position into a 7-0 lead after Madden ripped a 53-yard touchdown right down the right sideline after receiving a delayed handoff.
The Explorers were poised for another fourth-down stop at the Hawks 26-yard line, but Richard Carr pulled the ball down and ran on what appeared to be run-punt option play. Carr was later stopped on similar fourth down plays for costly losses.
After Carr's seven-yard gain on fourth-and-4, the Hawks parlayed the momentum into an eventual third-and-goal at the Explorers' 3-yard line.
The Hawks, however, fumbled, and Tre McNeil recovered for the Explorers. Undeterred, the Hawks' defense forced a punt.
Eventually, McCray hit Terrance Greene for a 32-yard score on fourth-and-4 with 7:41 left in the half.
Greene, a senior, finished with 83 receiving yards and two scores on seven receptions.
The Hawks' second score was also set up by its defense, which forced one of its four first-half punts. McCray hit Swift for a 27-yard gain down to the La Salle 1-yard line. Swift leapt for the score two plays later.
St. Joseph's Prep 0 14 6 15 - 35
La Salle 7 0 0 7 - 14
LS: Syaire Madden 53 run (Mike Wells kick)
SJ: Terrance Greene 32 pass from Marquez McCray (Anthony Tigano kick)
SJ: D'Andre Swift 1 run (Wells kick)
SJ: Greene 12 pass from McCray (kick failed)
LS: Madden 1 run (Wells kick)
SJ: Swift 1 run (Phil O'Connor pass from McCray)
SJ: Swift 42 run (Wells kick)