St. Joseph's Prep totaled 283 yards rushing on 33 attempts while handing La Salle a 49-24 defeat last month.
The Explorers defense, with an extra emphasis in practice on counter plays and screens, held its archrival to 139 yards on the ground on 24 tries in Saturday afternoon's Catholic League Class AAAA final.
"We spent a lot of time, especially in our bye week, on those things," said La Salle's first-year head coach, John Steinmetz.
The improved unit, which registered a pair of crucial stands, helped pave the way for a thrilling, 29-28 victory over the stunned Hawks before a packed crowd at Plymouth Whitemarsh.
The Explorers, who ended the Prep's two-year league and state reign, earned their first crown since 2012 and sixth in the last eight years. They will take on Public League champ Simon Gratz (10-2) for the District 12 AAAA title at noon Saturday at Northeast.
Excluding Benny Walls' scoring jaunts of 44 and 55 yards, La Salle (7-3) limited the Prep to 40 rushing yards. The Hawks (7-3) completed 7 of 14 passes for 78 yards.
The Prep's D'Andre Swift, a dynamic junior tailback and blue-chip recruit, managed only 18 yards on 12 carries. His longest run from scrimmage was 4 yards.
La Salle linebacker Jared Walls erased the Hawks' 14-0 lead when he returned an interception 49 yards in the last minute of the first quarter.
Swift returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards to put the Prep at the Explorers' 27. But Walls and company turned the Hawks away, with end Anthony Piscopo recovering a fumble at the 27 on fourth and 6. On third and 2, sophomore end Connor Maloney stopped Swift for a loss.
The second huge stand set the stage for Nick Rinella's winning 24-yard touchdown catch with 49 seconds remaining.
After Syaire Madden's 3-yard run trimmed the Hawks' advantage to 28-23 with 7 minutes, 59 seconds to go, La Salle forced a three-and-out. On third and 3 near midfield, Jared Walls and fellow linebacker Corbin Melle tackled Swift after a 1-yard gain.
With 5:42 left, the Explorers mustered a 13-play, 71-yard drive to triumph. Chris Ferguson completed passes to Winston Eubanks (15 yards) and Charles Headen (8) in the series. Overall, Ferguson was 12 for 23 for 185 yards and two scores.
Piscopo and Maloney (six tackles) were joined up front on defense by Matt McDermott, Garrett Zobel, Jim Morrissey, and Ryan Schutta. On Prep's final possession, McDermott sacked sophomore QB Marquez McCray, who was filling in for injured starter Kevin Shaw, for an 8-yard loss on first down.
Walls, who added a third-quarter fumble recovery, patrolled the middle with Austin Lemke, and Kohler Setley. Melle was used when La Salle went with a 4-4 package.
Rinella and Headen were the cornerbacks. Isaiah Jones, whose third-quarter hit resulted in a fumble recovery by Walls; Tom Flavin; and Tre McNeill were the safeties.
Madden and Jones, a speedy handyman who rotates in at QB, combined for 134 yards rushing on 29 attempts. Eubanks (five catches for 76 yards) and Headen (four for 67, TD) were the leading receivers.
PIAA District 1 Class AAAA Semifinals
No. 13 seed Neshaminy at No. 9 North Penn, 7.
No. 15 Pennsbury at No. 3 Upper Dublin, 7.
PIAA District 12 Class AAAA Final
La Salle vs. Simon Gratz, at Northeast, noon.
PIAA District 12 Class AAA Final
Archbishop Wood vs. Imhotep Charter, at Northeast, 4.
PIAA District 1 Class AAA Final
No. 2 Upper Moreland vs. No. 1 Academy Park, at Plymouth Whitemarsh, 7.
PIAA Class AA First Round
West Catholic vs. New Hope-Solebury, at Plymouth Whitemarsh, 1.
PIAA Class A First Round
Marian Catholic vs. Bishop McDevitt, at Northwest Philly Super Site, 7.