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St. Joseph's Prep claims state title

Hawks score 28 unanswered points in second half.

HERSHEY - Nearly the entire St. Joseph's Prep team was striking a collective pose in front of the scoreboard that displayed the spoils of victory when a familiar face bounded just outside the edge of most camera frames.

"Hey," screamed head coach Gabe Infante, "you forgetting somebody?!"

Forgive his tardiness, after the Hawks' 35-10 triumph over Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Infante was fielding a congratulatory phone call from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Prep graduate.

"We were champions from the day we came here," Infante told reporters later. "I said just because no one else can see it doesn't mean we aren't. From the day I got here we said we would be champions, and that's what we are."

After trailing, 10-7, at halftime, the Hawks ran off 28-unanswered points en route to the team's first PIAA Class AAAA football championship. Prep's 21 fourth-quarter points were a AAAA championship game record previously held by C.B. West's 19 in 1991.

Despite a relentless chill and a layer-penetrating wind at Hersheypark Stadium, senior quarterback Chris Martin finished with three touchdowns and 192 yards in the air on 13-for-21 passing.

"He's the MVP of our team," Infante said of Martin. "He's the MVP of our league and as far as I'm concerned he's the best player in Pennsylvania."

Martin returned in the quarterfinals after missing two games with an injured left knee. His touchdown passes went for 26, 59 and 14 yards. He finished with 670 yards and seven touchdowns in three PIAA playoff games.

However, Martin, who was intercepted twice, had plenty of help.

Freshman running back De'Andre Swift led the Hawks on the ground with 68 yards with most coming on a 35-yard scoring burst in the fourth.

Defensively, senior tone-setter Ryan McNulty had a team-high 10 tackles (seven solos). Junior Jon Daniel Runyan added two sacks, which cost the Vikings 28 yards. Fellow junior Jake Strain added five tackles (two for losses), a sack and a fumble recovery.

"It hasn't set in yet," said Strain as he surveyed the scene. "I mean, this is the thing I worked for since the end of last season. This is where I wanted to be. Now I'm here. It's unreal."

The game changed on a key third-down sequence late in frame No. 3, which swung momentum in Prep's direction.

In the first, Martin hit senior Vince Moffett down the seam for the game's first score, a 26-yard pass, for a 7-0 advantage after Pat Walsh's PAT with 1:52 left in the first. The Vikings answered with a six-play, 65-yard march punctuated by QB Joseph Cosentino's 1-yard sneak. Central Catholic added a Mitch MacZura 29-yard field goal just before the half.

After Martin hit a streaking John Reid down the left side for a 59-yard score, Prep led, 14-10, with 9:37 left in the third.

An injury to Cosentino stalled another Central Catholic drive, but its defense was on the verge of a stop when senior linebacker Niko Thorpe was flagged for a late hit on a third-and-8.

Three plays later, Martin slipped a screen pass to Joe DuMond for a 14-yard TD and the Vikings never recovered.

Moffett added a late 16-yard run and also forced a fumble. Senior Dillon DeIuliis blocked a punt, which Jawan McAllister recovered, but subsequently fumbled. Rob DiSanto also recovered a fumble.

"Our defense bowed up and didn't break when it counted most," Infante said. "I'm very proud of those kids."

Tom Johnson, a junior captain, who returned from a broken foot in the Catholic League championship game, had one of the most important stops of the night.

During the postgame celebration Johnson tracked down the game ball as it bounced away from offensive coordinator Tim Roken.

"Coach has been saving a spot in his office for that ball so when it hit the ground I was after it!" Johnson said. "It means so much to so many people."

Minutes later, Johnson shed tears on the field as he took a call from his older brother Paul, a Prep captain last season who now plays at Amherst College.

For Martin, who hopes to play football at Johns Hopkins next year, it was the perfect ending.

"There's no better way to go out," Martin said. "It's my last football game. I'll be upset later on, but for now, this is the best way you can go out as a senior."