November 29, 2020
HERSHEY, Pa. — As a group, the St. Joseph’s Prep Hawks were aware of the mythical titles and “the best this” and “best that” accolades. They knew they were on the brink of something special, something that had not been done in over two decades.
It just came down to getting the chance to prove it. What had been boiling for months, with the looming COVID-19 pandemic forcing a new way of life, St. Joe Prep’s football team seriously wondered collectively if they would even have a season, much less wind up in Hersheypark Stadium again playing for another state title.
On Saturday night, it all came to fruition, when the Hawks tore apart Central York, 62-13, to capture their third straight PIAA Class 6A (large school) state championship.
The Hawks, ranked No. 3 nationally by USA Today and MaxPreps, became the first three-peat Pennsylvania large school state champion since the legendary Central Bucks West teams (1997, ’98, and ’99) of late coaching icon Mike Pettine.
The state title not only gave the Hawks a piece of history, it was their sixth overall state championship, their fourth in five seasons, and their sixth overall in eight years (2015 marked the only season The Prep did not reach the state championship game).
The Hawks are 6-1 in state title games (Prep’s only defeat in a state title game came to Pine-Richland, 41-21, in 2017 to current Boston College starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec).
St. Joe’s Prep was led by Ohio State-bound senior quarterback Kyle McCord, who completed 21-of-28 passes for 337 yards and 4 TDs. Senior receiver Sahmir Hagans caught a game-high 8 passes for 156 yards, including a touchdown.
Ohio State-bound Marvin Harrison Jr., the son of Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, hauled in three passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns, and Temple-bound Malik Cooper did everything—catching five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, returning a punt for a score and throwing a 55-yard touchdown pass.
“This year was personal for me, after missing the state title game last year [with an injury], and I worked my tail this offseason to come back,” McCord said. “We didn’t know whether we would play or not this year with the COVID virus. We were hungry and frustrated. Central York played 10 games and we finished our sixth.
“We had games cancelled, we had things delayed, we had to constantly move practices around because we weren’t allowed to practice in the city, and there was a whole lot of different challenges we never faced. But we came out of it with this [state championship]. We have something that I’ll always remember, because of the guys I did it with, from the staff to each player on this team.
“This was the last time I was suiting up in this uniform and this senior class knew we would never lose again, so it’s pretty sweet to three-peat.”
The game was over by halftime.
Central York had not given up more than 27 points in a game this season. Against Prep, they surrendered 38—in the first half.
The Hawks scored on six of their eight first-half possessions, with a 39-yard Antonio Chadha field goal, a Noble House 1-yard run, two McCord-to-Harrison Jr. touchdown connections, a Cooper 79-yard touchdown reception, and a Cooper-to-Hagans 55-yard TD flea-flicker to finish the half.
The Hawks took a 38-7 lead into intermission, outgaining Central York 375 to 167. By then, McCord had completed 13 of 18 for 260 yards and three touchdowns.
Beau Pribula, Central York’s 6-foot-3 Penn State-bound junior quarterback was completely outplayed by McCord (more angst for Nittany Lions fans, considering they’ll see more of McCord at Ohio State). By halftime, Pribula completed 16 of 27 for 151 yards, with a TD and an interception by Prep’s Zavier Atkins. He seemed to have a problem adjusting the Hawks’ overall speed on defense.
Then, on Cooper’s 47-yard, third-quarter punt return for a TD in the third quarter, Pribula was badly embarrassed on a Cooper fake, groping at air. The talented quarterback grew so frustrated he slammed his helmet to the ground when he returned to the Panther sideline.
Entering the game, Central York averaged 53 points a game, and had outscored its opponents, 530 to 94. It’s the same Central York team that tuned up two teams in consecutive weeks in October, when the Panthers smacked around Northeastern on Oct. 16, 70-0, and then smoked Dallastown, 75-6, on Oct. 23.
The Hawks knew this.
They wanted to introduce Central York to what it was like being on the other end of slaughters like that. There would be no Mr. Nice Guy this time, as there was the previous week when Hawks’ coach Tim Roken pulled all of his starters in the second half of Prep’s 51-43 PIAA 6A state semifinal victory over District 1 6A champion Souderton.
A minute and 10 seconds into the second half, the Panthers were mercy-ruled (a 35-point lead or greater starts a running clock) on the Cooper punt return.
With 10:42 left to play, Central York lost it all. Pribula was flagged for intentional grounding, then Panthers’ coach Gerry Yonchiuk was flagged when he angrily ran on to the field to protest the call.
The Panthers finally felt what it was like to walk into a buzzsaw—the greatest high school football team in the history of the Philadelphia area.
"We were all over the place this year, and I probably did the least amount of coaching I ever did because of the COVID virus," Prep coach Tim Roken said. "But this group of seniors did things that haven’t been done in a long time. And may never be done again."
St. Joseph’s Prep (6-0) — 10-28-17-7-62
Central York (10-1) — 0-7-0-7-13
St. Joe’s Prep – Antonio Chadha 39 FG, 6:42
St. Joe’s Prep – Noble House 1 run (Chadha kick), 1:36
St. Joe’s Prep – Marvin Harrison Jr. 7 pass from Kyle McCord (Chadha kick), 9:37
St. Joe’s Prep – Harrison Jr. 45 pass from McCord (Chadha kick), 6:42
Central York – Jahmar Simpson 10 pass from Beau Pribula (Cole Luckenbaugh kick), 2:13
St. Joe’s Prep – Malik Cooper 79 pass from McCord (Chadha kick), 1:42
St. Joe’s Prep – Sahmir Hagans 55 pass from Malik Cooper (Chadha kick), :48
St. Joe’s Prep – Cooper 47 punt return yards (Chadha kick), 10:50
St. Joe’s Prep – Chadha 47 FG, 4:44
St. Joe’s Prep – Cade Rooney 13 pass from McCord (Chadha kick), :08
St. Joe’s Prep – House 6 run (Chadha kick), 5:42
Central York – Jakob Terpak fumble recovery in end zone (run failed), 2:11
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.