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Big plays lift St. Joe's Prep into state final

Shawn Harris' 95-year fumble return for a touchdown fuels St. Joe Prep' 37-21 victory over Neshaminy.

IT WAS the play of the game before the play of the game. On the opening possession of the second half, Neshaminy High was matriculating, slow and steady, down the field against the St. Joseph's Prep defense.

An 11-play, 73-yard expedition already had seized momentum just before halftime, and Neshaminy seemed poised to capitalize, down by just five points.

However, the 11th play of the drive ended with Prep sophomore Shawn Harris forcing and returning a fumble for a 95-yard touchdown. But it was play No. 10 that made it possible.

On the cusp of breaking a 21-yard score that would have stolen the lead, Neshaminy running back D'Andre Pollard was caught from behind by John Reid at the 6.

Harris picked Denny Lord's pocket a play later and with some good downfield blocking, returned it for glory. The only missed assignment? The piano that hopped on Harris' back around the 30.

"It was definitely longer than 100 meters," Harris said, laughing. "I was tired, but I held in there."

A track guy? Well, not since sixth grade, but . . .

"I stopped running track, but I need to start running again," he said between more laughter.

Veteran or youngster, a balanced attack netted Prep a 37-21 win Saturday in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals at Northeast High, and a trip to Hershey for a chance at its first state championship. At 6 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium, the Hawks (11-3) will face Pittsburgh Central Catholic (15-0), which blew the doors off Lower Dauphin, 45-0.

"In our program, when you step on the field there are no excuses," said Reid, a junior. "At the end of the day, nobody cares if you're hurt, if you're a junior or freshman, there are no excuses. You have to do right by those seniors on the field and all your brothers on the field. I don't really recognize whatever my class is, honestly. I don't think most of the players on our team do, either."

Reid, who was named a captain this season, added six tackles (five solo) and a late interception. Offensively, he was on the business end of a gorgeous ball delivered high in the air by senior quarterback Chris Martin, who one-upped his career passing high from last week.

Reid said later of the pass, "It was in the air forever."

"A lot of focus, especially in that moment," he continued. "It's a big play but you have to block everything out when that ball is in the air . . . it's just a great feeling, honestly."

Martin passed for 243 yards (besting last week's 235 in the quarterfinals). He added TDs to senior Jawan McAllister (67 yards) and junior Justin Montague (18 yards). A 7-yard solo run gave him three scores for the day. Senior Vince Moffett and junior Olamide Zaccheaus also added touchdowns.

Defensively, Thomas Johnson and Ryan McNulty each had nine tackles. Moffett added eight and Harris had five.

So, who was presented with the game ball with all that production?

Coach Gabe Infante symbolically tossed it into the kettle of Hawks just before a chant of "Hershey, Hershey, Hershey" broke out.

"It's a big deal," Reid said. "But at the same time we want to finish. We're really excited right now, but we'll enjoy it [Saturday] and [yesterday] we'll start watching film."

"We don't want to just go to Hershey,'' Reid said, "we want to win at Hershey."