Gabe Infante says St. Joseph's Prep's first three games went a long way to the squad claiming its third PIAA state championship in four seasons.

The Hawks traveled across the country and blasted Oaks Christian (Calif.), 49-17, in Mission Viejo; they took down North Jersey power Don Bosco Prep, 35-24, at Widener; and, in front of a nationally televised audience, pulled away from Archbishop Wood, 43-24, at William Tennent.

"The schedule we play early on is criticial," Infante said. "It toughens us up, gives us a sense for the areas we need to improve on as a team."

The battle-tested Prep capped an impressive and undefeated campaign by hammering District 7's Pittsburgh Central Catholic, 42-7, in the Class 6A final at HersheyPark Stadium.

The Hawks went 14-0, won the Catholic League 6A and District 12 titles, and outscored foes by a margin of 563-219.

For its overall dominance, the talent-filled Prep is the Inquirer's Southeastern Pennsylvania football team of the year.

Four Prep players - running back D'Andre Swift, offensive linemen Jackson Evans and Carter Lynch, and wide receiver/defensive back Richard Carr - were selected to the Class 6A all-state team by Pennsylvania football writers.

Infante, who has compiled a 65-21 record (.756 winning percentage) in seven seasons at 17th and Girard, was named 6A coach of the year.

Coach of the year

Mike Ricci guided Garnet Valley, which pretty much flew under the radar in the Central League during the regular season, to an 11-3 record, the District 1 Class 6A final, and the area's No. 6 ranking.

The No. 10-seeded Jaguars hit the road in districts and knocked off No. 7 Central Bucks South, 21-14; No. 2 Neshaminy, 42-14; and No. 3 Perkiomen Valley, 44-27; to reach the championship game against undefeated North Penn.

Garnet Valley bowed to the host Knights, 48-38, falling just short of its first district crown, won in Class 3A, in 2007.

In 30 years with the Jaguars, Ricci, an English teacher at the school, has posted a record of 205-119-1 (.633).

Rookie of the year

Freshman Ricky Ortega (right in photo) was strong at quarterback while leading Coatesville to an 11-2 record, the Ches-Mont League National Division title, and the District 1 Class 6A semifinals.

Ortega, the son of Red Raiders boss Matt Ortega, connected on 155 of 229 throws for 2,238 yards and 25 TDs.

Comeback player of the year

After suffering a torn anterior cruciate at the end of the 2015 season, Central Bucks South fullback and linebacker Nate Norris worked his way back to top form.

The 6-1, 220-pound senior notched 99 tackles, with a team-high 66 solos, in 11 games. He rushed 65 times for 344 yards and eight scores.

Rally of the year

Trailing West Catholic by 26-8 in the third quarter, visiting Haverford School stormed back for a 37-34 nonleague triumph in Week 3. It was the Fords' 21st straight victory.

@ozoneinq