So much for being a year away from statewide glory.
Though its starting lineup was filled with underclassmen, including eight juniors and three sophomores, St. Joseph's Prep last week captured its first PIAA Class AAAA state championship with a 35-10 romp over Pittsburgh Central Catholic.
For maneuvering around the roadblocks and leaving Hershey with the first-place trophy, the Prep is The Inquirer's Southeastern Pennsylvania football team of the year.
The Hawks toughened themselves early with nonleague contests against Jesuit College Prep (Texas), Don Bosco Prep (N.J), North Penn, and Archbishop Wood.
On the road to Hershey, the Prep had to deal with injuries to junior safety Tom Johnson (foot), senior quarterback Chris Martin (knee), and sophomore linebacker Nick Vandevere (shoulder).
With Martin sidelined and junior Jack Clements filling in, the Hawks escaped upset-minded Frankford, 10-7, in the District 12 final.
Then, with Martin back under center, the squad bested District 11 titlist Parkland and District 1 champ Neshaminy in the state quarterfinals and semifinals.
Coach of the year. In a toss-up, the Prep's Gabe Infante gets the nod over Steve Devlin, who guided Archbishop Wood to top Class AAA honors.
In addition to state gold, Infante directed the Hawks to their first Catholic League title since 2006.
Infante, who was a quarterback at Memorial High (N.J) and defensive back at Holy Cross, is 33-15 in four years at the Prep. He previously was in charge at Paramus Catholic (N.J.) for two seasons.
Turnaround of the year. After losing its first three games by a combined 118-16, North Penn won 10 straight before losing to Neshaminy in the District 1 Class AAAA final.
Game of the year. In a District 1 Class AAA semifinal, Jerry Lanier and Academy Park outlasted previously undefeated Pottsgrove, 27-26.
Shootout of the year. In the Inter-Ac League, Malvern Prep outlasted visiting Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 63-50, in Week 11 to earn a share of the league title with Haverford School.
Best rally I. In a Catholic League Class AAA semifinal, Bonner-Prendergast, down by 35-7 at intermission, stormed back to beat Cardinal O'Hara, 41-38.
Best rally II. Trailing Bonner-Prendie by 29-14 in the regular season, O'Hara scored twice in the last seven minutes of regulation and prevailed, 36-35, in overtime.
Play of the year. In a state semifinal, with Neshaminy on the verge of a go-ahead score, St. Joseph's Prep sophomore linebacker Shaun Harris made a strip and 95-yard return to increase the Hawks' advantage to 25-14.
Small-school player of the year. For Bristol, a Class A squad, junior Donte Simmons ran 221 times for 1,933 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Freshman of the year. D'Andre Swift made key contributions for St. Joseph's Prep as a running back, receiver, and kick returner.