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December 07, 2019

St. Joe’s Prep defies a mountain of obstacles to take another state title

St. Joe's Prep High School Football
St_Joes_Prep_2019_championship_120719 Joe Santoliquito/for PhillyVoice

St. Joe's Prep players and coaches pose after winning the state title.

HERSHEY, Pa. — They’re viewed across the state as the “evil empire” — and they don’t care. They get everyone’s best game — and they don’t care. They probably had every high school team and player across the state rooting against them Saturday night at Hersheypark Stadium in the PIAA Class 6A championship — and they still didn’t care.

They’re essentially the most hated team in Pennsylvania — and they don’t care.

Afterall, didn’t the axiom “hungry dogs run faster” originate with a football player standing on the Art Museum steps in Philadelphia?

Why can’t “hated dogs run faster,” too?

The St. Joseph’s Prep Hawks embrace the fact that every team in the state holds them at some level of contempt. That they’re the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys of the Pennsylvania high school football world is motivating.

Malik Cooper certainly would validate that.

The 5-foot-9, 165-pound St. Joe’s Prep junior has had to fill in for the Hawks’ injured junior star quarterback, Kyle McCord, who’s going to Ohio State. So could Josiah Trotter, filling the void left by his older brother, Jeremiah Trotter Jr., the Hawks’ Clemson-bound standout junior linebacker.

What never gets lost is the grand picture — which is another state championship, something St. Joe’s Prep comfortably secured with a 35-13 Class 6A state championship victory over a young Central Dauphin team at Hersheypark Stadium on Saturday night.

The Hawks won their second-straight PIAA 6A state championship and third in the last four years. They won their fifth overall state title in the last seven years (4A titles in 2013 and 2014, and 6A titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019).

But this year was unique.

Missing was the Hawks’ best offensive player, McCord, the last month of the season with an injury. Missing was their best defensive player, Jeremiah Trotter Jr., for most of the season with a broken right arm. Missing was one of the team’s senior captains and catalysts, defensive back/wide receiver Anthony Rightley, the last few weeks recovering from an injury, too.

Up stepped Cooper, and Sahmir Hagans, and Josiah Trotter, and junior center Maximus Fisher, who took the place of injured center RJ McKee before the season, and sophomore Maurice Clark, who returned a blocked punt 20 yards for a touchdown in the state championship.

Up stepped their level of character and poise, when things weren’t so stable. Like when the Hawks had to beat Pittsburgh Central Catholic, 31-24, in overtime. With the season in his hands, Cooper rolled right and found Marvin Harrison Jr. in the back of the end zone with :15 left in regulation last week to tie the score.

Up stepped an underrated offensive line, the team’s bedrock: Fisher, the center, with senior left tackle Matt Lombardi, who’s headed to Tulane, senior left guard Matt McGeary, senior right guard Casey Stephenson and sophomore right tackle Brad Harris.

“We embrace the role, we feed off the hate, because it makes us stronger,” said Lombardi, who, coupled with McGeary, created gaping holes on the left for Kolbe Burrell to run through for 189 yards and two touchdowns. “No one is a family like us. Everyone says it, but they don’t live it like we do.”

McGeary has started since he was a freshman. This was his third state championship in four years.

“I love the fact that we’re most hated team in the state,” McGeary said. “I do feel the hate. I love it. No matter how many obstacles are thrown at us, going out to Altoona (in the state semifinals) as the home team, and going out to Bethlehem (for the state quarterfinals), and Central Dauphin gets a bye, it doesn’t matter. We still won. We took what was dealt, and we overcame everything. I’m so proud to be a part of this team.”

No, the ride wasn’t as smooth as many from the outside looking in would assume.

And that’s OK, too.

“We know everyone hates us, and that’s great, it makes us work harder and focus more on what we have to do, which is what we did,” said Cooper, who was truly an unsung hero of this team, completing 9-15 for 87 yards and two TDs in the state championship.

The game was over by halftime.

Prep led, 21-0, while compiling 179 yards of total offense to a mere 63 for Central Dauphin, which was making its first PIAA state championship appearance since the Rams beat North Penn, 14-7, in 2011 for the 4A title.

The only movement the Rams had was on special teams, which came in 154 yards on three kickoff returns.

By then, Cooper, the back-up “who couldn’t throw” had thrown two TDs, one to Hagans in the first quarter and the other to Marvin Harrison Jr. on a remarkable play in which the Hall of Famer’s son caught it with his fingertips and outraced six defenders to the end zone.

With 8:52 left to play, the raucous Central Dauphin crowd, who had about a 10-minute ride to Hersheypark Stadium, began filtering out. About a minute later, the far smaller St. Joe’s Prep contingent celebrated another TD, when Burrell plowed into the end zone with a 9-yard score for the Hawks’ final TD.

“We talk about that that we’re the bad guys in the state, and we understand that,” Prep offensive line coach Tom Sugden said. “But no one wants to talk about all of the obstacles we had to overcome. We knew that with the success we had, no one likes a winner.

“Their hate makes us stronger.”

St. Joseph's Prep Hawks (12-2)-14-7-7-7-35-

Central Dauphin Rams (12-3)-0-0-7-6-13-

First Quarter

SJP: Sahmir Hagans 7 pass from Malik Cooper (Antonio Chada kick), 5:18

SJP: Maurice Clark 20 blocked punt return (Chada kick), 4:21

Second Quarter

SJP: Marvin Harrison 34 pass from Malik Cooper (Chada kick), 11:45

Third Quarter

CD: Timmy Smith 19 run (Ahren Stauffer kick), 4:48

SJP: Kolbe Burrell 55 run (Chada kick), 1:47

Fourth Quarter

SJP: Burrell 9 run (Chada kick), 7:38

CD: Nick Chimienti 4 pass from Max Mosey (no attempt), :00

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