Dan's Spin
Football 2012

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  Dan Spinelli was one of our youngest website writers ever. Now he's a junior at La Salle High, but has been attending scholastic events for what seems like forever and he's pumped up about being able to express his thoughts on the Explorers and other squads. Thanks for your contributions, Danny!
  You may reach at Dan at dspin3@comcast.net.
  


Dan is now doing shows about Philly high school sports with his buddy, Nick Mandarano, who attends
Lansdale Catholic.
Here's the link . . .
http://www.30minutesofmadness.com/highschool.html

 

DEC. 8
FINAL THOUGHTS . . .

  All good things must come to an end. The La Salle football program will live to fight another year, but for 2012—the season is done. As would be expected of a tenacious and heartfelt senior squad, the Explorers went down fighting until the very end. The Explorers fell to the mighty Coatesville Red Raiders in a true-shootout on Friday night at Downingtown’s Kottmeyer Stadium. Ted Silary did a wonderful job in his recap of describing the incredible tension and excitement as the Explorers made a comeback, down by 3 TDs in the fourth quarter. Though their effort fell short, the La Salle football team again proved that their effort and heart are second to no one in Pennsylvania. During this article, I want to reflect on a special Explorers team and what these players have meant to me, as well as the entire La Salle community.

  The easiest way for an Explorer football team to win our hearts is to beat North Penn. This local public-private rivalry has provided fans with a great matchup every year on Labor Day weekend. After finishing last year with a loss to North Penn in the state semifinal, the Explorers were eager to rematch the vaunted Knights. In his debut as the team’s starting QB, senior Chris Kane wowed the crowd with a virtuoso performance—passing 17-25 for 286 yards and 3 TDs. Obviously, La Salle’s new quarterback would be no lame duck. His favorite receiver that night was a bright new star, sophomore Jimmy Herron, fresh off of a starting role in the Explorers’ state championship baseball team. With a bright future ahead, these new and improved Explorers began a promising season.

  After a 37-20 win over Staten Island power Monsignor Farrell, La Salle embarked on a blazing run, beating Cardinal O’Hara, Malvern Prep, Archbishop Ryan, and Father Judge by a combined score of 142-19. A lock-down defense was anchored by the terrific linebacker corps of seniors Trent Simmons and Mike Eife, as well as junior Zaire Franklin. All year, #42 and #4 (Simmons and Franklin) have tag-teamed numerous tackles, while Eife is fearless in his readiness to get hit. Complementing the linebackers is a fearsome defensive line, headed by seniors Pat Hoffman, Tom Spiteri, and Luke Persichetti. Junior defensive end Ryan Coonahan has also made waves on defense, recovering fumbles and turning pick-sixes week after week. This all-star defense finishes in the secondary, where old meets new in surprising ways. Senior Chris Rocco has been a DB mainstay for many a year now, but when he suffered from mid-season injuries; junior Steve Hudak stepped up in a big way, hinting at the future of La Salle’s defensive backs. Explorer senior Sean Coleman again lent his talents to the defense, coming up huge many times for the secondary on big plays. Finally, senior Dad Poquie brought his athleticism to the secondary as much as he could, having to fight through an injury all year. I hope that my admiration for everyone who lines up on defense for La Salle has clearly shown through, because these guys deserve every piece of praise they receive.

  The first visible misfire of the season occurred in the regular season matchup against St. Joe’s Prep. One of the Hawks’ strongest teams in recent memory beat La Salle in a close game. A slew of turnovers hurt both teams, with the Hawks getting the final edge late. A La Salle 16-10 lead turned into a St. Joe’s 24-16 victory after fourteen unanswered points for the Hawks. The Explorers lost, but the emotions of defeat turned into motivation to only finish the season in a strong fashion.

  The Explorers and Hawks were destined to meet again in the PCL final, and so they did. In a brilliant game for the ages, La Salle earned its fifth straight league title with a 28-27 overtime victory. Senior K/P Ryan Winslow’s extra point on an Explorer overtime TD proved the difference in a game of inches. Coleman turned in one of the best performances in league history, accounting for all four of La Salle’s touchdowns on the day.

  La Salle entered the state playoffs with two straight victories, beating Frankford 37-20 for the city title, and Parkland 28-7 in the state quarterfinal. Here, the offense showed its might. Sophomore running back Jordan Meachum ran seven times for 146 yards against Frankford with 1 TD. Meachum finished with 52 rushes on the year for 309 yards and 4 TDs. His fellow RB, senior Jared Herrmann ran 75 times for 323 yards and 5 total TDs (2 rushing, 3 receiving). Another unexpected star on the gridiron was Eife, who rushed 55 times for 301 yards and 6 total TDs (2 rushing, 2 receiving, 2 INTs returned). A more startling statistic is the fact that on the year, Meachum averaged 5.94 yards per carry and Eife averaged 5.47 yards per carry. Not only were their rushes prolific, but they were efficient as well.

  The tough brood that created the holes for these guys to run through also deserves recognition. Fronting the line at center is junior Dave Geppert and senior Conor Resch. At guard are seniors Dave Losier & Andrew Carlone. Carlone’s willingness to fight through injuries all season-long acted as an inspiration to his teammates. At tackle are seniors Hoffman and Persichetti. As their academic record can attest to, these guys have no problem doing double duty in life (school and football) as well as on the field (offense and defense). Filling up the tight end position are seniors Jon Naji and Andrew Halton. Naji and Halton are special not just for their solid blocking, but for occasionally reeling in a clutch pass.

  On special teams, La Salle was blessed with Winslow’s magic leg. Other players also showed their mettle on kickoffs, with players like Poquie and senior Vito Braccio hustling on every play. Overall, this team played with passion on every play, and when they fell short, they did so without leaving anything on the field.

  I am upset to see this season end without a trip to Hershey, but I cannot remain sad. This team has given the La Salle community everything they can, and that simply, is more than enough. Congratulations to the 2012 La Salle Explorers. It was an absolute pleasure writing about this team. Good luck in all of your future endeavors!


NOV. 10
CATHOLIC AAAA FINAL
La Salle 28, SJ Prep 27 (OT)
(At Plymouth-Whitemarsh)

  Make that FIVE PCL titles in a row! In an extraordinary and sometimes frightening game, the Explorers triumphed over their “Ancient Enemy”—beating the St. Joe’s Prep Hawks 28-27 to win the PCL title. The Explorers now own five straight league titles, as well as six of the last seven hubcaps. The Hawks, by far, put La Salle to their greatest test, sending the game to overtime. I’ll start by giving a pretty lengthy recap (you know me…) of the incredible final minutes of this game, and then backtrack to give a broader picture of this game and what it means. I think that any report that gets this in-depth into individual plays can sometimes be a bit tedious, but I think it is worth it for such an incredible game. Congratulations to all involved—it really was a spectacle of athletics and high school football in particular. I have never been so entertained during a high school game, and each play only made me prouder as a writer to be a witness to such passion in all of the athletes involved.

  The fourth quarter began a mesmerizing fifteen minutes of football that had each team’s postseason hopes twirling almost by chance. With the score tied at 14-14, the Explorers began the quarter on the Hawk 20yd line, having drove from their own 20yd lines. On the first play of the final period, La Salle senior QB Chris Kane tossed a 20yd beauty to senior WR/DB Sean Coleman, who rushed into the end zone for his third TD of the day. This 20yd TD put the Explorers up 21-14 only nine seconds into the quarter. The Hawks fans were a bit disheartened at this juncture, having watched their team trudge back from a 14-0 halftime deficit to tie the game. Now, they were done again. But of course, this is La Salle v. St. Joe’s Prep, and no game can ever end without a few hearts skipping a beat. Thus, on the ensuing kickoff, Hawk superstar sophomore RB Olamide Zaccheaus sprinted 90yd to tie the game again at 21, putting us back to square 1 with 11:37 remaining in the game.

  As each team pressed forward trying to gain an edge, the 6,000 or so fans present at Plymouth-Whitemarsh were treated to a chess-match. The La Salle defense, which forced a total of FIVE three-and-outs for St. Joe’s stellar offense on the day, came up large again in crunch time. After La Salle was forced to punt, the Explorers’ D got the Prep offense off the field in 4 plays forcing another punt. The teams then traded punts, leaving the game (and the post-season) in the hands of the La Salle offense with 3:39 left on the clock. At this point, the Explorers had 3 TOs left, with St. Joe’s only having one. On second down, from the La Salle 29yd line, Hawk senior TE/S Dan Sherry intercepted a Kane pass, effectively crushing La Salle’s mojo and giving his team a terrific shot at winning. But alas, nothing is ever so simple in this age-long rivalry.

  Two short runs by Zaccheaus brought the Hawks to 3rd and 9 at the La Salle 44yd. line. Prep junior QB Chris Martin dropped back and tossed a nice pass that happened to fall right into the hands of junior DB Steve Hudak. Steve has been stepping up large for the La Salle secondary ever since the injury of senior Chris Rocco, and this major play only affirmed his efforts. I played football with Steve Hudak in grade school, and was so ecstatic to see him come up huge right when his team needed him. Great job, Steve! Now again the La Salle offense was given a chance with 2:14 left in the game. With both teams having excellent kickers—Prep senior Kyle Battin and La Salle senior Ryan Winslow—a field goal could easily send either team to the City Title game. But from here you might already detect the pattern—things are not so easy as that.

  Starting from the La Salle 25yd line, Kane needed to at least get into field goal position to give Winslow enough of an opportunity to win the game. After completing a thirteen yard pass to sophomore QB/WR Jimmy Herron, Kane stepped back again in the pocket. As he dropped back, Hawk frosh DT Joe DuMond knocked the ball out, forcing a crucial fumble. Kane’s hand came forward after losing the ball, causing many spectators (including myself) to think that the play had been a forward pass, thus making the fumble simply an incomplete pass. The referees did get the call right though, and it was St. Joe Prep ball.

  Right now, I got a bit queasy. With exactly 60 seconds on the clock, St. Joe’s had the ball at the La Salle 36yd line, needing only a field goal to win. The Hawks, obviously playing for that three-point victory, ran three times to center out the ensuing field goal. Battin was blessed with a great center angle toward the goal, but the distance (40yd) was no gimme, especially for a high school player. Geez, I barely expect Alex Henery to make a 40yd FG! After La Salle coach Drew Gordon called a customary timeout to ice Battin, he took aim on the center of the field. As the ball was snapped, out came La Salle’s consummate kick-blocker, senior Dad Poquie. Battin’s field goal did not make it to the post. Ladies and gentlemen, we were going to overtime.

  At this point, we learned the very strange rules that govern high school football’s overtime period. In a nutshell, it operates very similar to NCAA rules, except each team starts at the opponent’s 10yd line, not the 25. After announcing the rules and sensing some obvious disdain in the crowd, St. Joe’s PA announcer (who was absolutely terrific, by the way), dryly stated, “I don’t make the rules.” With each team being well able to go 10 yards in four plays, it looked like we were in for a long day. “Small things win games” is that old adage, but it proved true in overtime as something very insignificant—an extra point—became very, very significant.

  La Salle won the toss and opted to defend first, getting the advantage of opting for a field goal if St. Joe’s failed to score. The Explorers were not so lucky though, and Zaccheaus rushed forward on 1st down for a 10yd score. On the PAT though, Battin’s kick was blocked—giving St. Joe’s a 27-21 lead. The Explorers then took over from the Prep 10yd line. On 1st down, an incomplete pass to Coleman resulted in a pass interference call on St. Joe’s, giving La Salle four downs to score from the Prep 5yd line. After a pass to Herron in the end zone was dropped, Kane hit up his favorite target—Mr. Coleman—for his fourth touchdown of the day. La Salle’s favorite son, Harvard-bound Sean Coleman, scored all of his team’s touchdowns today, and etched his name into the growing log of Explorer star multi-sport athletes. Winslow made the extra point as a growing roar erupted from the La Salle sidelines—with a final score of 28-27, La Salle had won yet again.

  Perhaps Laina Spinelli, my mother with her own interesting perspective on football, could summarize the La Salle perspective today. She said earnestly, “I don’t hate the Prep. They are very nice people. I just like La Salle a bit more.” While I cannot match her admiration for the Ancient Enemy, they sure played an outstanding game. St. Joe’s defense especially left everything on the field. I was very much impressed with the performance of Sherry, who made huge plays on both sides of the ball. He was complemented by the work of senior OL/DL Paul Johnson, another pillar of the Hawk football team. On the offensive side, Chris Martin played a strong game. He is blessed with an ability to run from the pocket that really elevates his ability as a QB. And well, there is Olamide Zaccheaus himself, the sophomore phenom who will surely be giving Drew Gordon many sleepless nights for two more years. The La Salle defense played strong against the run all day, but Zaccheaus managed to break through many a time.

  In an overall context, La Salle played a strong game. Unlike in their regular-season matchup, La Salle really outgained St. Joe’s. Coleman had an exceptional day, catching 14 balls for 138 yards and 4TDs. Kane went 31-46 on passing for 328 yards and 4 TDs. And coming up huge when it mattered was senior TE Andrew Halton, who caught some clutch balls in the second-half. In the first-half, the Explorers made it to the red zone four times, scoring 2 TDs and missing 2 FGs. Special-teams were a rough spot today for the Explorers, which makes it slightly ironic that St. Joe’s lost on a missed extra point. Early in the game, the Explorers were victim to the aforementioned missed FGs, as well as a blocked punt—where almost three Prep players rushed forward to block the ball.

Four years ago, I was in eighth grade and these current seniors were just finishing their freshman football season, having watched the future-state champion Explorers just vanquish Prep in the Catholic League final. As their idols did before them, this generation of La Salle football players lost to St. Joe’s in the regular season, only to beat them in the game that mattered. It was truly a game for the ages and I am forever blessed for having witnessed it. Congratulations again to both teams for their superb play. As for my beloved Explorers, it was again a pleasure watching you guys play. It is one thing to see athletes four years my senior win a PCL title against the Prep. It is only more endearing to see my classmates do the same thing. Congrats!


NOV. 3
CATHOLIC AAAA SEMIFINAL
La Salle 42, Roman 13
(At Tennent)
  The score was a bit misleading in La Salle’s 42-13 triumph over Roman Catholic in the PCL semifinals. A game that was very close broke away from Roman in the fourth quarter. A scoreless third quarter left La Salle’s lead at 8pts. (21-13), but the Explorers soon went on a scoring splurge. A definitive win for La Salle restored some confidence after a close win over West last week, but now La Salle must prepare for a brutal game against St. Joe’s this Saturday in the PCL Final.

  The game began a bit delayed as players rushed back from the SATs earlier in the day. A surprisingly windy and frigid day at William Tennent High brought the gloves and earmuffs out early. Explorer senior captain, DL Andrew Carlone, again sat out with an injury, while QB Chris Kane did return from the ankle sprain he suffered in La Salle’s regular season game against Roman. Throughout the game, Kane would shuffle quarterback duties with sophomore Jimmy Herron, with Kane usually lining up as a wideout whenever Herron took the snap. Explorer coach Drew Gordon never did utilize Kane as a WR; Herron only threw one pass all game (a 68yd. TD to senior FB Mike Eife). Let’s now get into the nitty-gritty of this PCL matchup:

  Some early defensive stops produced two straight punts. The Explorers began their first scoring drive at their own 41yd. line. A sequence of “QB shuffle” began as Kane alternated passes with Herron runs out of the wildcat. Two first downs, one on a Herron run, the other a 21yd. catch by senior WR/DB Sean Coleman, brought the Explorers to the Roman 12yd. line. Kane took the snap and tossed a TD pass to Coleman, putting La Salle up 7-0 with 4:21 left in the 1Q. The Cahillites, to their credit, responded with a very nice drive. Senior QB Michael Keir threw a series of passes to frosh WR Fred Blow-Tydings, sophomore RB/DB Dimetri Kelly, and junior FB Pat McCourt. On the first play of the second quarter, Keir completed a 29yd.TD pass to McCourt on fourth down, tying the game up at 7-7. The Cahillites would have some early luck on fourth-down, going 2 for 3 on fourth-down opportunities.

  The Explorers responded to this Roman power play like any good team should, with a power play of their own. Senior DB Chris Rocco got the ball rolling with a sterling kickoff return, bringing the ball almost 60 yards from the Explorer 20yd. deep into Roman territory. On the ensuing play from the Cahillite 25, Kane passed to Herron for a TD. The ‘Splorers took a 14-7 lead with 11:35 remaining in the half. The Roman offense would just not quit though, and endured another long drive spanning nearly the length of the field. Starting from the Roman 17, Keir made it all the way to the La Salle 8, eating over 5 minutes of clock time. He converted another fourth-down on a 22yd. pass to star senior WR/DB Will Fuller during the drive. The efforts of the La Salle defense on this drive (two batted passes and a sack by senior TE/DE Jon Naji) finally paid off as Roman’s fourth-down luck ran out, and they turned the ball over on downs.

  At this juncture, the game really became interesting. With La Salle up by a TD and holding possession, Roman really needed a big play. Luckily for Cahillite coach Joe McCourt, the defense obliged. On the La Salle O’s first play of the drive, Roman sophomore WR/DB Marques Wright intercepted Kane. Keir immediately rushed from 8yards in to seal six points for his team. The Explorers came up huge on the PAT, where Eife blocked the extra point, preserving La Salle’s 14-13 lead with 5:56 left in the half. The Explorers barely held an advantage, but the Cahillites had played strong all half and had made their presence known. The question was now if the Roman defense could hold before halftime.

  If you remember our first half score (21-13), it becomes obvious that the Cahillite defense did not in fact hold the Explorers, but they showed heart and passion in a way few high-school football teams can. On first and 10 from the La Salle 38, Herron rushed out of the wildcat, found an open hole, and galloped toward the end zone. With a good four-to-five yard lead on the nearest defender, the play looked clearly over. But out of nowhere came #17 of Roman, who rushed down Herron and caught him at the Roman 3yd. line. While #17 was unlisted on the Cahillite roster, RomanFootball.com tells me that he is Manny Taylor, a sophomore TE/DE. I sincerely hope that I am praising the right kid, because Taylor’s work on this play was excellent. Even after this short moral victory, La Salle scored again on a 1yd. run by Eife.

  We now head into the 4Q with the score still 21-13 Explorers. The barrage of scoring happened first on Eife’s TD catch. Herron tossed his first pass of the game on third and 10 at the La Salle 32, shocking the Roman D who had only seen wildcat runs from the young QB all day. After Eife sacked Keir on fourth-down, Herron scored on a wildcat run, putting La Salle now up 35-13 with 3:37 left in the game. At this point in the game, Fuller only had 3 catches, while Herron had gone 1-1 for 68yds. and a TD, while running 20 times for 152yds. and a TD. The Explorers ended the day beautifully with a 62yd. pick-six of Keir by La Salle star linebacker Zaire Franklin. Zaire and his partner in teeth-rattling, senior LB Trent Simmons, highlighted another great day for the La Salle D. Mike Eife also had a sterling day, scoring 2 TDs, blocking a PAT, and recording numerous tackles on defense. Herron again wowed the crowd with his remarkable ability to move the ball. On Saturday in the PCL Final, the Explorers will meet their date with destiny, or St. Joe’s Prep for that matter. Go La Salle!

 

OCT. 19
CATHOLIC AAAA
La Salle 28, Roman 14

  This game produced a desirable outcome with a high cost. Due to a stellar second half, La Salle beat Roman, 28-14, but a string of injuries seemed like too much of a price to pay. Sophomore Jimmy Herron’s second-half performance will definitely make for a lot of talking points, as will the La Salle D’s big night. All in all, a good day for the Explorers, which could have been better—minus the visit to InjuryLand.

  The game began with something all La Salle fans love to see—an opening-drive score by the Explorers. A six-play drive starting from the La Salle 35yd. line was capped off with a 37yd. TD run by sophomore RB Jordan Meachum. A stellar thirteen yard catch by senior FB Mike Eife gave Meachum the first-down that set up his TD. Eife elevated himself for the catch and came down really hard, having to exit the field of play right after. The Explorers took a quick 7-0 lead only 2:15 into the 1Q.

  Roman then drove 45yds, but was forced to punt from the Explorer 36yd. line. Two first downs occurred on the drive due to a 14yd. pass from senior QB/P Mike Keir to senior WR/DB Will Fuller, and a 25yd. pass from Keir to sophomore Kenny Avallon. The Cahillites would get the ball back soon after, when sophomore Dimetri Kelly intercepted a Chris Kane pass. A 36yd. pass from Keir to frosh wideout Fred Blow-Tydings brought the Cahillites to the La Salle 33yd. line. From there, Keir rushed the ball all the way to the end zone, tying the game up with 2:44 left in the 1Q. Now the game would remain tied into halftime but the 2Q still had widespread implications for both teams in this game.

  On the first play of the Explorers’ next drive, Jordan Meachum was called for a run to the left side. The Cahillites’ strong DL, junior Hezekiah Trahan, came charging through the line and dropped Meachum. A facemask was called on the play; anyways, Meachum did have to leave the game. His injury would foreshadow an unfortunate trend in this game. La Salle soon punted, putting Roman on their best drive to date.

  The Cahillites charged from their own 23yd. line, moving the chains three times. A 17yd. pass from Keir to junior Pat McCourt in the end zone looked like a sure TD, but McCourt’s fumble, recovered by Explorer senior DB Chris Rocco, erased Roman’s progress. The game really got messy with just under eight minutes remaining in the 2Q. On the play, sophomore RB Ryan Brady was tackled for a 1yd. loss, but Roman sophomore AJ Frazier went down with an injury. After Frazier was helped out, Kane went in the pocket on a 3 & 7 play at the Explorer 47yd. line. He left his feet attempting to throw and was hit by Cahillite senior Chris Cruz. Kane went down with what looked like an ankle injury. What was particularly jarring about Kane’s injury was the fact that, after first attempting to walk to the sidelines under his own power, he had to be helped by juniors Levi Hardy and Dave Geppert. Along with the other players who suffered injuries during this game, Kane, it is hoped, will recover healthily and quickly.

  The second half was where the game took its positive spin. Herron stepped up in the QB role, immediately transforming La Salle into a run-heavy offense. The strategy worked and the Roman defense had difficulty responding. The first score of the 3Q began with the La Salle defense though, as Eife intercepted Keir and rushed the pick-six into the endzone for a 20yd. score. After Roman’s next punt went awry, Herron easily rushed for a 16yd. score. With La Salle now up 21-7 with 9:23 left in the 3Q, the Cahillites began to pick up steam. After recovering an Explorer fumble on a run by Herron with 6:45 left in the quarter, Roman reached paydirt again. A 4yd. run by Dimetri Kelly tightened the score to 21-14 with 11:22 left in the game. Here is where Herron came up clutch. The Explorers needed a TD. They could not give the ball back to a hot Cahillite offense with only a 7pt. lead. So not only did Herron extend La Salle’s lead, but he wasted about 7min. of clock time in the process. It is only fitting that after driving with 11 straight run plays, the Explorers scored on a pass. With 3rd and goal from the Cahillite 6, Herron tossed a TD pass to senior TE/DE Jon Naji. Roman could not recover on their next drive, with Keir tossing an interception to Explorer junior LB Zaire Franklin. Franklin’s INT epitomized a strong performance by the D, highlighted by Eife’s pick-six, a total of four/five sacks on Keir, and a plethora of tackles by junior DB Steve Hudak. Another Explorer score could have occurred near the game’s end, but a fumble in the end zone kept the score at 28-14 for a La Salle win. The Explorers are now finished divisional play; they will end the regular season next week at Widener vs. AA team West Catholic. They will likely play Roman again in the first-round of the playoffs with the winner playing the victor of the likely game between Ryan and Prep. Go La Salle!

 

OCT. 13
CATHOLIC AAAA
SJ Prep 24, La Salle 16

  The saga of one of Philly high school football’s bitterest rivalries added a new chapter tonight with the stunning return of St. Joe’s Prep. La Salle’s 21-game Catholic League winning streak became an anachronism as Prep coach Gabe Infante earned his first win against the Explorers. Sophomore RB Olamide “O” Zaccheaus rushed 22 times for 198 yards and 1 TD in an eviscerating performance. Zaccheaus looked especially strong for his age, and he surely will be a force in the Catholic League in the years to come. Both quarterbacks struggled, with La Salle senior QB Chris Kane tossing his first three INTs of the year. Prep junior QB Chris Martin reciprocated with three picks as well; both QBs also fell victim to the “pick 6.” Martin’s occurred in the second quarter, on a 79yd. TD return by Explorer senior FB/LB Mike Eife. Kane’s unlucky play happened in the third quarter where senior Todd Jones burned him for a 51yd. score. Overall, both teams were hit hard with turnovers: La Salle coughing the ball up 7 times, and the Prep 5 times. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty now of what was at times a stellar defensive game and a messy performance.

  Both teams started out stiff, trading turnovers in the first couple possessions. The capstone of this back-and-forth turnover sequence was an interception by La Salle sophomore everyman Jimmy Herron. The teams followed up with three straight punts. Prep showed strength early in the running game of junior Vince Moffett and Zaccheaus. I was also intrigued by Martin’s running game: he looked for creases in the defense constantly to run through. I like seeing QBs run, so props to Chris Martin! Really though, credit has to be given to both teams’ defenses who mucked it out through the first quarter as the score stayed 0-0.

  Fifty-nine seconds into the second quarter, Prep took the lead on a 35yd. FG by senior K Kyle Battin. La Salle followed with a promising drive, highlighted by some nice runs by sophomore RB Jordan Meachum, but was unable to capitalize. Senior P/K Ryan Winslow’s punt was downed on the Prep 5yd. line, an eerie omen for a drive not destined to succeed. Eife’s awesome INT followed to give the Explorers a 7-3 lead with 7:26 left in the second quarter. Prep continued to use its infamous (at least in La Salle circles) no-huddle offense, facilitated by an Oregon-like system of holding up signs from the sidelines to communicate the plays to the guys on the field. The Hawks failed to respond on their next drive, going 55 yards, but failing to capitalize when Battin missed a 32yd. FG. On the FG attempt, La Salle junior LB Zaire Franklin went down, and appeared shaken up. Franklin has been a strong player for the Explorers all year, and flashed his strength earlier in the drive with a strong sack of Martin. In a weird development, Franklin would go down with an injury, get up, and then return to the game in a consistent cycle. After about the fourth time this happened, I voted Zaire this column’s “Player of the Game” award (I didn’t know I had a POG award…) for his sheer perseverance. The kid had to be reeling with at least some type of injury, yet he continued to return to the game.

  We entered halftime as La Salle attempted to get into field goal position, but could not stop the clock with no timeouts and a tough time getting out-of-bounds. The intermission score was 7-3 La Salle. 2 more punts to begin the second half…then things got interesting. La Salle senior captain, LB Trent Simmons, picked off Martin. On the following play, Todd Jones picked off Kane and ran it in for a TD. Up until this point, La Salle defensive players were going down like trees in a fire. First, Franklin, then senior WR/DB Sean Coleman and senior DL/SS Andrew Eidenshink all were shaken up on the field of play. The La Salle D was really pushing their effort to the limit, but ultimately it was not their night. So at 5:43 in the 3Q, Prep had a 10-7 lead. The Explorers D responded in typical fashion: forcing a fumble. After Zaire “Iron Man” Franklin returned from injury-land to force a fumble, fellow junior Mike Koller recovered it. Ryan Winslow converted a 27yd. FG to tie the game again at 10-10. The cycle of turnovers continued as Zaccheaus coughed the ball up after a big run. This fumble was recovered by another La Salle junior (Go Class of 2014!), Ryan "The Pride of Oreland" Coonahan. The Explorers then scored their first offensive TD of the game on a 29yd. pass from Kane to senior Jared Herrmann. The PAT failed and La Salle held the lead for the final time: 16-10.

  Prep decisively came down the field now on a 42yd. pass to junior WR Jawan McAllister, followed by a series of runs courtesy of Martin and Zaccheaus. A 2yd. plunge by Martin put Prep up 17-16. La Salle continued to struggle with turnovers as the Prep scored again. Martin found paydirt this time on a 38yrd. keeper. The game was officially sealed as a Prep kick went awry, causing a La Salle player to come up and attempt to pick up the ball. Amidst confusion, the ball was fumbled and Prep again regained possession. In its final possession, the Explorers could not rally together a drive and a final fumble, this time recovered by Prep senior DB Pat McCabe, ended the game. McCabe had also recovered another fumble earlier in the game.

  As in most tight games, turnovers were La Salle’s fatal flaw. As Drew Gordon definitely knows, his team performed well but just made some mistakes. Surely, these two teams will meet again in the Catholic League Final (knock on wood), but the Prep is definitely no pushover for La Salle. I know this statement is obvious—Prep just beat the Explorers—but the Hawks really have assembled a nice squad. Martin runs the offense well; Zaccheaus and Moffett are tough to stop, and the defense is full of playmakers. Besides McCabe, fellow seniors Paul Johnson and Todd Jones had strong days for the Hawks on D.

  So where does this leave us? Yes, the Explorers lost but by no means are their season over, and by no means are their playoff hopes evaporated. I can still remember standing at Plymouth-Whitemarsh four years ago, as an eighth grader, watching La Salle lose to its hated rival 24-17. That last Catholic League loss led to the Explorers winning out the season for a Class AAAA State Title. Former Explorer coach Joe Colistra would argue that “history never repeats itself” but here’s hoping that it does!

 

SEPT. 29
CATHOLIC AAAA
La Salle 31, Ryan 0
 
The Explorers are looking quite good right now. By no means are they a perfect team; mistakes were made throughout the game. But what makes La Salle look “quite good” is their remarkable capacity to recover from mistakes. There was no better example of this ability to “fix mistakes” than during the first possession of the game. Ryan was receiving the kickoff and junior WR/DB Bobby Romano was back deep. Romano caught the ball at either Ryan’s own 15 or 20 yard line. Remarkably, he waded through the La Salle kickoff team and made it to the Explorer 15 yard line. His kickoff return of about 65 yards mesmerized the Ryan crowd and energized a team that thought they were in for a long day. At this point, I put my pen down and thought, “What is La Salle doing?” Against an OK team, Ryan might have scored and La Salle would have swallowed its mistake and moved on. Against a good team, Ryan went three-and-out and missed the ensuing field goal attempt. The Explorers played terrific with their backs against the wall. A short pass was stuffed by senior DB Chris Rocco, a run was stopped by senior LB Trent Simmons, and on 3rd and 6—a host of Explorers burst forward to sack Ryan junior QB/DB Mark Ostaszewski. This outstanding defensive stop showed what kind of team these Explorers are shaping up to be: an imperfect team with the tenacity to overcome their errors and achieve greatness.
  The momentum from a big defensive stop lent itself over to the offense. On the first play of the Explorer drive, senior QB Chris Kane hit sophomore QB/WR/DB Jimmy Herron for an 80 yard touchdown. The La Salle defense then went “lights-out,” forcing three-and-outs by Ryan on three straight possessions. In the meantime, senior RB/WR Jarred Hermann ran for an 8 yard touchdown. An interesting sequence developed near the end of the first quarter where three straight possessions took place between the Ryan 21-31 yard lines. First, Ryan began a new drive at their 21 after Herrmann’s TD. Some stellar tackling by Simmons, junior LB Zaire Franklin, and senior DL Patrick Hoffman (a recent Navy commit) led to a Raider punt. The punt went awry though leading La Salle to start up shop at the Ryan 31 yard line. On second down, Hermann fumbled the ball, which was recovered by senior OL/DL Ryan McGee of the Raiders. Another possession occurred without extending past the 21-31yard line range. More outstanding tackles from Simmons, including a sack on third down, led to a Raider punt, which ended the first quarter.
  La Salle’s next possession contained another example of their ability to overcome mistakes. After Kane completed a 14-yard pass to Herrmann, La Salle had a 1st and Goal at the Raider 9. On the 1st-down play, a holding call against the Explorers brought them back 15 yards from the spot of the foul. They now had 1st and Goal at the Ryan 22 yard line. After making it up to the Ryan 3, senior K/P Ryan Winslow came in to salvage the drive with a FG. His 20yard FG made it through, putting La Salle up 17-0 with 7:15 left in the second quarter.
  Ryan then embarked on its best drive yet—moving the chains three times. Ostaszewski’s rushes, complemented by the superb running of senior Jeremiah Agrio gave the Raiders 1st and 10 at the Explorer 24. La Salle’s ferocious pass rush came through though, and Ostaszewski tossed an interception to Explorer senior TE/DE Jon Naji, or as the PA announcer referred to him: “Jon Nay-gee.” Naygee’s interception helped set up the offense for another touchdown. With 52 seconds left in the quarter, Herron stood in the pocket, maybe hinting to the defense at the possibility of another Wildcat play. Instead, Herron threw a 6yard TD pass to Hermann. With La Salle leading 24-0 at halftime, the game looked surely over.
  Ironically enough, the final TD of the game did come from Jimmy Herron in the Wildcat formation. A three yard plunge from Herron with 5:05 remaining in the third quarter sealed the game, giving La Salle a 31-0 victory. In total, Herron accounted for three of the team’s four TDs, getting points in three different ways. He ran, passed, and caught for a touchdown. Honestly, this kid looks better with each game he plays. At receiver, he caught 4 balls for 114 yards and a touchdown. As a rusher, he ran 6 times for 32 yards and a TD. Finally, as a passer, he threw 1 pass for 6 yards, and of course—a TD. Truly, another virtuoso performance by the sophomore whiz kid. Another bright light for the Explorer’s offense was Jarred Herrmann, who stepped up today at wide receiver a bit. Herrmann scored 2 TDs, one on a run and the other catching a pass. Throughout the game, Kane went to him a lot as a receiver, which was an interesting change of pace for Herrmann, who had only caught up to 2 passes in games this year. Against Ryan, he caught 5 balls for 61 yards.
On defense, I was stunned by the performance of Trent Simmons. He definitely encapsulates the meaning of “captain” as a linebacker on defense. By my count (which usually understates the amount of tackles), Simmons was involved in 6 tackles as well as 2 sacks. Along with Simmons, Zaire Franklin crashed the line of scrimmage on every pass rush. He was all over the place and kept pace with Simmons as a strong player on John Steinmetz’s defensive unit. Another player to shine my effervescent light on is sophomore Ryan Brady. I had never heard of this kid until today, but he made a good amount of tackles on special teams and carried the ball a little in the fourth quarter. After some TedSilary.com stat-researching, I found out that he has rushed 25 times on the year for 111 yards, not too shabby. I expect to hear his name a lot more in the coming years.
  A sterling game for La Salle ended on a rush by my boy, junior RB Mick Barrett. Next week is a 2:45 matchup for the Explorers on Saturday against Father Judge. I will be taking the SATs that day, but will be cheering from afar. Go La Salle!
 

SEPT. 15
NON-LEAGUE
La Salle 38, O'Hara 6
 
Can it be luck, or is Chris Kane simply that good? The answer probably lies in a mixture of the two, along with a heavy sampling of hard work. Senior quarterback Chris Kane has strode into the spotlight with quiet poise and is producing tremendous results. In today’s game, he completed 11 of 19 passes for 174 yards and two scores. Already on the year, Kane has thrown nine touchdown passes. Considering that La Salle has not begun a football season 3-0 since Drew Loughery was quarterback, Kane is already in uncharted territory. I began this article with a question, but really the more important question is: can Chris Kane lead La Salle back to glory?
Well, I thought it was important to begin by stating the collective thoughts of La Salle fans today. We knew this would be Chris Kane’s year, but to see him so powerfully embrace the starting role is surely a good sign. Today’s homecoming game v. Cardinal O’Hara was the first La Salle game I could see in person. Truly, I saw a team that looked fully recovered from the La Salle teams of past. Unbelievably, the Explorers were able to reload their roster! The defense played superbly, as expected, but I was pleasantly surprised by the offensive performance. O’Hara had given up a total of 19 points in their two previous games this season. Against La Salle, they surrendered 38. In my season preview, I expressed my worry that La Salle would become too passing-dependent now with the loss of running back Tim Wade. To my shock, La Salle not only uses the running game, they have enhanced it. Against O’Hara, senior RB Jared Herrmann ran 10 times for a respectable 57 yards. Herrmann already has 167 total rushing yards on the year. Jared had received some time last year at RB, and it was expected for him to lead the rushing corps as a senior. He has amply fulfilled that expectation with assistance from newbies Jordan Meachum and Jimmy Herron. Usually set up as a WR, Herron ran the ball a good amount against O’Hara. He rushed 6 times for 48 yards. He also caught 3 passes for 64 yards, and 1 TD. If that was not enough, he also intercepted a pass and returned it 34 yards. Basically, Herron is an incredible athlete, someone who reminds me of how Sean Coleman was as a sophomore. In addition to football, Herron plays in the basketball program and also got time on La Salle’s state championship-winning baseball team. This kid is definitely a treasure to the football team and I foresee him being a Kevin Forster-like “do-it-all” man during his senior year. La Salle somehow collects these type of players—multi-sport, athletic, superstars. Whether it be the Forster brothers, PJ Acierno, Sean Coleman, and now Jimmy Herron…these kids are what continually revitalizes La Salle sports.
  Now before addressing the game itself, here’s a quick note: recently, I have been writing about local football games for the Intelligencer, and through this experience I have learned the importance of narrowing down write-ups of games and simply focusing on a few key events. When you only have 400 words to write and your deadline is in an hour, you do not have time to rehash the entire game. With that knowledge in mind, I remember that this is La Salle I am writing about—this is my school that I love and cherish. “Singling out a few items” is simply not going to cut it. I want to write about everything, really. I love my Explorers and I want to write everything I can about them.
  Cardinal O’Hara’s opening drive was stifled by a sack on third down by Explorer senior LB Mike Eife, which forced the hand (or really, “the foot”) of the Vikings’ excellent junior punter, Steve Weyler. Seriously, this kid was an absolutely terrific punter. Anyway, the ensuing La Salle drive could not advance, which left senior K/P Ryan Winslow to attempt a 29 yard field goal. Winslow, like Weyler, has a pretty gifted foot, and the boot went straight through the uprights. La Salle led 3-0 with 7:51 remaining in the opening period. O’Hara’s follow-up drive concluded with a 27-yard touchdown run by junior RB/DB Lamont Veal. Veal rushed 9 times for 39 yards on the day. Weyler’s extra-point attempt was blocked though, by fan-favorite—La Salle senior special teams maestro Dad Poquie. Poquie gave a classic performance today: a blocked extra point and numerous tackles on defense and in special teams. On defense, Poquie was complemented by the strong play of junior LB Zaire Franklin. Zaire came up large on many plays, and he is a more-than-adequate addition to the linebacking corps. This lone scoring drive would be the Vikings’ last of the day.
  A vintage Chris Kane play occurred on La Salle’s next drive. If there are any nostalgic Eagles’ fans out there, do you remember the Eagles’ Super Bowl run during the 2004-2005 season? Well during the regular season, when the Eagles were playing the Cowboys in Dallas, Donovan McNabb completed an outstanding pass that was huge news on highlight shows that week. Surrounded by Cowboys defenders in the pocket, McNabb ran across the field, turned, and completed a pass downfield. In a similar manner, Kane stood at midfield on first down, surrounded by Vikings defenders who had swarmed the pocket. He finagled his way through them and managed to complete a beautiful 15-yard pass to Eife. The drive could not capitalize off of Kane’s play though, and Winslow came in shortly after to punt.
  With the score now 6-3 in favor of O’Hara, La Salle embarked on its 35-0 run. Touchdowns included a 3 yard run by Meachum, a 33 yard pass from Kane to Herron, and a remarkable punt return by Sean Coleman. With the score now 17-6 Explorers, the Vikings punted right before the end of the third quarter. Weyler booted it long and far, but he made the mistake of giving Coleman something to return. The elusive star made his way 78 yards to the end zone. A Winslow PAT gave the Explorers a 24-6 lead. After Herron returned an interception of O’Hara quarterback Dashawn Darden, Coleman scored again from a 25 yard TD pass from Kane. The scoring ended in remarkable fashion with a strong defensive play from Coach John Steinmetz’s unit. La Salle junior DE Ryan Coonahan made a terrific third-down stop of O’Hara junior FB Matt Penza. But Coonahan was not content with just a forced fourth-down; he stripped Penza and returned the ball 17 yards for a TD. With the Explorers up by the final score of 38-6, homecoming had again been sealed. I will be at Yale next weekend for a debate tournament as La Salle plays Malvern Prep. Go Explorers!

 

AUG. 28
LA SALLE PREVIEW

  The 2012 La Salle football team will begin its quest for redemption where the 2011 team left off—on the field against North Penn. The Explorers will get their chance at revenge on Labor Day weekend as they face off for the fifth time in three years against the Suburban 1 powerhouse North Penn Knights. The Explorers feature a redesigned scoring attack on offense with some familiar faces on the offensive/defensive line. This is a team that has the potential to continue in the tradition of the four-time defending PCL Red champions — but as we all know, potential never assures results. For this team to reach the pantheon of the 2009 Explorers they have to win…but they already know that.

  Enter Chris Kane, La Salle’s senior quarterback. Following in the tradition of Drew Loughery and Matt Magarity, Kane will be expected to lead La Salle’s pass-heavy offense as he deals with the loss of superstar running back Tim Wade. Wade, who broke La Salle’s single-game rushing record with a 300-yard performance in a playoff game against Father Judge last year, finished the 2011 season with a remarkable 1,574 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. Kane received some game time last year, but rarely at quarterback. Fans of La Salle football last remember Kane being groomed at QB during his sophomore season where he received significant backup time. While the transition to starting QB will be tough, Kane has been Magarity’s expected successor for two years now—he will be ready to perform. And with proven players like senior WR/DB Sean Coleman to throw passes to, and state-recognized OL Tom Spiteri blocking for him, Kane should be feeling quite content. In addition, do not be surprised to see sophomore Jimmy Herron getting reps at QB during some blowouts. Herron has already adjusted to the varsity atmosphere where he starred as a safety last year—covering for an injured Ryan Otis, even catching a crucial interception in the playoffs.

 On the defensive side, senior Chris Rocco will lead the secondary in place of the departed Otis. The linebacking corps will be revived by senior Mike Eife with expected help from juniors Zaire Franklin (whose promising sophomore season was cut short due to an injury during a regular season game against Judge) and Trent Simmons. Spiteri will also lend his talents to the defensive line. Longtime defensive coordinator John Steinmetz will once again preside over a strong unit that is the fear of most teams in the Catholic League.

 A last point of the note is the schedule. Bergen Catholic, a NJ powerhouse that had faced La Salle for the past two years, is no longer on the schedule. When I asked head coach Drew Gordon why the scheduling shift had occurred, his response was earnest, “We were supposed to continue the game with Bergen Catholic but they found other out-of-league opponents they found more meaningful. When they called to schedule a game for 2012 we had assumed we would play on the same date and they had already scheduled another opponent for the second week and gave us dates that conflicted with our league games.” Even if Bergen could not schedule us, it is sad to see this rival go away. But the main rival still remains…the hated North Penn Knights.