Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Rick O’Brien’s football awards: St. Joseph’s Prep’s magical season earns Team of the year honors

St. Joseph's Prep went 13-0 and earned its fourth PIAA state championship in the last six seasons.

Junior Kolbe Burrell, left, and senior Marques Mason helped ignite St. Joe's Prep to a 13-0 mark and the PIAA Class 6A state championship.
Junior Kolbe Burrell, left, and senior Marques Mason helped ignite St. Joe's Prep to a 13-0 mark and the PIAA Class 6A state championship.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

The lightning that halted St. Joseph’s Prep’s season opener against St. Frances Academy (Md.) in the third quarter turned out not to be a bad omen.

From there, the Hawks won 13 straight games by a combined score of 568-192.

In what would turn out to be Gabe Infante’s final season at 17th and Girard, the Prep culminated another banner campaign by defeating District 3’s Harrisburg, 40-20, at Hersheypark Stadium for the PIAA Class 6A championship.

Infante announced on Saturday that he was stepping down as Prep’s coach to join Temple’s staff as a linebackers coach.

A week before beating Harrisburg, the Prep gained redemption for last year’s championship loss to District 7’s Pine-Richland by whipping the Rams, 37-0, in a semifinal.

It marked the program’s fourth state crown in the last six seasons. The Prep also finished on top in Class 4A in 2013 and 2014 and in 6A in 2016.

The Hawks, who were ranked No. 7 in the country in USA Today’s most recent Super 25, won their last 11 contests by a margin of 492-125.

For its perfect season and sheer dominance, the Prep is the Inquirer’s Southeastern Pennsylvania football team of the year.

Coach of the year

Mike Milano guided Downingtown West to an 11-2 overall, a 6-1 mark in the Ches-Mont League National Division, and the semifinals of the District 1 Class 6A playoffs.

The Whippets came close to playing for top district honors despite losing their starting quarterback, 6-foot-4 junior and Division I prospectt Will Howard, to a hand injury in an Oct. 5 loss to National Division champ Coatesville.

Milano has posted a 116-64 record (.645) and won three Ches-Mont titles (2008, 2009, 2013) in 16 seasons at Downingtown West.

Including the two years he was in charge at Unionville (1993 and 1994) and eight at Penncrest (1995 to 2002), Milano’s overall record is 170-117-1 (.592).

Milano was also an assistant at Coatesville and the old Downingtown in the mid-1980s, and Garnet Valley in the early 1990s.

Game of the year

North Penn outlasted former Suburban One League National Conference rival Neshaminy, 34-33, in double overtime in the season opener for both teams on Aug. 24.

The Knights’ wild triumph was spurred by hard-charging fullback Julian White. The 6-0, 215-pound senior ran for two scores in the fourth quarter and a third in the second overtime.

Top individual effort

North Penn senior halfback Shamar Edwards carried 28 times for 313 yards and three second-half TDs as the No. 1-seeded Knights fought past No. 4 Downingtown West in a district semifinal.

Edwards and Co. netted 405 yards on the ground on 46 attempts as the Knights punched a ticket to the district final for the 12th time in the last 17 seasons.

Freshman of the year

La Salle halfback Sam Brown rushed 43 times for 438 yards and five TDs. The 6-2, 185-pounder made 13 catches for 164 yards and two scores.

Brown broke free for a 68-yard TD on the Explorers’ second play from scrimmage in a 58-28 nonleague triumph over visiting Haverford School on Sept. 15.