Central York's foe, St. Joseph's Prep, avoids pandemic pitfalls to again reach state final
There have been plenty of anxious moments in the St. Joseph's Prep football team's drive to its fifth straight appearance in the state championship game.
It's just that most of them were unrelated to anything happening on the field.
The Hawks advanced to the PIAA Class 6-A state final with a 51-43 victory over Souderton in the state semifinals Saturday at Cardinal O'Hara.
That advanced St. Joseph's Prep into the championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium against Central York (10-0). The Hawks will try for a fourth 6-A title over the last five years.
The final score of St. Joseph's Prep's win over Souderton is misleading. St. Joseph's Prep took a 51-7 lead when Temple-bound senior Malik Cooper returned the second-half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown.
Souderton scored the game's final 36 points after officials started a running clock because of PIAA "mercy rule" guidelines.
It was the fourth straight game, all against southeastern Pennsylvania opponents, in which the Hawks played with a running clock in the second half because they held a lead of 35 or more points.
But that doesn't mean coach Tim Roken, his assistants, and the players haven't broken a sweat since a 41-24 win over Life Christian Academy in the Oct. 10 season opener. Every day has been nerve-racking for the Hawks and every other team in every other sport — a constant case of worry that a positive coronavirus test will result in a postponement or cancellation.
"Just to have a chance in this whole pandemic with teams getting canceled left and right all around the state and the country, just to have an opportunity to go out and play for another state championship is just a blessing, honestly," St. Joseph's Prep senior quarterback Kyle McCord said.
The Hawks' record (5-0) says it all. They've managed to play just five games, tiptoeing through October and November while holding their breath that they don't get dreaded news — an untimely text, a tweet that lands like a bomb — that has sidelined so many other teams.
Roken has stressed to his team the importance of not taking for granted the opportunity to play when so much of life has been disrupted by the pandemic.
"Because of the ups and downs and the roller coaster and the stop and go, it's really become for us one day at a time, make the most of our opportunities, and continue to find ways to stay together," Roken said.
"That's what we have one more week of, and we're grateful for that and we have to try to continue to protect ourselves from this virus and continue to find ways to get better so we can give our best effort next week."
With six touchdown passes Saturday vs. Souderton, McCord unofficially tied former La Salle star Brett Gordon for first place on the city's all-time list for career touchdown passes with 84. The Ohio State recruit needs 302 yards in the state final to eclipse Gordon's all-time city mark of 6,837 yards.
St. Joseph's Prep wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (also an Ohio State recruit) unofficially set the city mark for career receiving yards with 2,551. He needs two touchdown catches to set the city record in that category, currently held by former Ben Franklin star Javier Buffalo with 36. He is the son of former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison.