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October 01, 2021

PhillyVoice High School Football Top 10: Rivals St. Joe’s Prep, La Salle meet in battle of area's top teams

High School Football Rankings
Rocco-Nicholl-SJP_100121 Courtesy/St. Joe's Prep

Prep outside linebacker Rocco Nicholl.

The La Salle seniors weren’t even freshmen the last time the Explorers beat their Catholic League Red Division archrival St. Joseph’s Prep.

On Saturday, the Explorers, PhillyVoice’s No. 1-rated team in the area, get a chance to snap that the current nine-game skid against Prep when the two area powerhouses meet at 3 p.m. at Franklin Field. The last time La Salle (5-0) beat Prep (2-1) was on Nov, 21, 2015. The Explorers won, 29-28, in the Catholic League Red Division championship. Since then, Prep has rolled nine-straight times (63-35, 35-14, 28-14, 17-3, 49-12, 23-13, 44-13, 52-7 and 38-14). As the scores indicate, hardly any of those games were close, with La Salle being outscored 349-125 overall (38.7 points per game for Prep to La Salle’s 13.8). 

If La Salle holds an intangible, it’s the powerful fact that the Explorer seniors, led by Penn State-bound Abdul Carter and Rutgers-bound Sam Brown, have never beaten the Hawks, three-time defending PIAA Class 6A state champions and six-time state champions in the last eight years.

There is a pride factor at St. Joe’s Prep—but it also comes with getting everyone’s best. On Saturday, this will be La Salle’s Super Bowl, because if the Explorers have any shot at a young, improving Prep team, now is the time.

“I feel good about how we’re playing right now,” La Salle coach John Steinmetz said. “The guys have been focusing on the task at hand. They’re a great group. They’re all good friends and there is a great team chemistry. We’re going to play well on defense and not make any mistakes on offense and our special teams will have to be good.

“Prep is a very good football team. At the end of the day, we have a good senior corps of kids. That’s a big factor and our underclassmen are playing really well.”

Steinmetz is likely referring to underclassmen like La Salle junior defensive tackle Darold Dengohe and junior outside linebacker Sean McFadden.

Prep counters with a stout defense led by junior linebackers Josiah Trotter and Cole Nilles and 6-foot-5, 205-pound senior outside linebacker Rocco Nicholl. The Hawks have shown flashes offensively under sophomore quarterback Samaj Jones.

“I think we obviously have a young group, with seniors in key positions and we’re growing each and every week,” Hawks’ coach Tim Roken said. “We had some growing pains in our loss to Milton (Ga.) in the second week of the season. There is a mutual respect between La Salle and us, and between us and their coaching staff. La Salle is always good.

“Coach Steinmetz does a great job and we always make each other better. People like to say, we’re everyone’s Super Bowl, but we need to set the standard for ourselves. We’re getting good play from a lot of guys like Rocco Nicholl. We moved him from safety to SAM linebacker, and he continues to drive himself.

“We have a great linebacker crew between Rocco, Josiah and Cole. They’re all over the field.”

They’ll need to be against La Salle.

While the La Salle seniors have never beaten Prep, Trotter, a three-year starter, has never lost to La Salle.

“They’re a good team and well-coached and every year they come up with something offensively that we haven’t seen before that we’ll need to adjust to,” said Trotter, who’s 20-3 in his three years at Prep. “I think we’ve looked good so far. We need to execute and stay on our game plan.”

National Honor for St. Joe’s Prep coach Tim Roken

On Wednesday it was announced that St. Joe’s Prep head coach Tim Roken will be one of the coaches for the 2022 All-American Bowl along with coach David White of Blue Springs High School (Blue Springs, MO). Roken and White have been selected to coach the East and West squads, respectively.

“The All-American Bowl has established a great tradition that I have been blessed to be a part of in different roles in the past,” Roken said. “I am honored to now be selected to represent our program, school, and community as the head coach in such a prestigious game.”

Coach Roken and coach White will lead their teams consisting of the best 100 high school football players from across the country in January inside the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

The PhillyVoice Area Top 10

Week of Oct. 1, 2021

1. La Salle (5-0)

2. St. Joseph’s Prep (2-1)

3. Imhotep Charter (3-1)

4. Malvern Prep (3-1)

5. North Penn (5-0)

6. Holy Spirit (NJ) (3-1)

7. St. Augustine Prep (NJ) (4-1)

8. Archbishop Wood (3-2)

9. Garnet Valley (5-0)

10. Millville (NJ) (3-1)

Under consideration: Quakertown (5-0), Downingtown East (4-1), Neumann-Goretti (3-1), Northeast (1-2), Woodbury (NJ) (4-0), Cedar Creek (NJ) (5-0), St. Joseph (NJ) (3-2), Ocean City (NJ) (5-0), Winslow (NJ) (4-1), Washington Township (NJ) (4-0), Academy Park (4-0), Coatesville (4-1).

The PhillyVoice Southeastern PA Top 10

Week of Oct. 1, 2021

1. La Salle (5-0)

2. St. Joseph’s Prep (2-1)

3. Imhotep Charter (3-1)

4. Malvern Prep (3-1)

5. North Penn (5-0)

6. Archbishop Wood (3-2)

7. Garnet Valley (5-0)

8. Coatesville (4-1)

9. Neumann-Goretti (3-1)

10. Quakertown (5-0)

Under consideration: Downingtown East (4-1), Northeast (1-2), Academy Park (4-0), Ridley (5-0), Bonner-Prendie (4-1).

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here: @JSantoliquito.