PHILADELPHIA — La Salle vs. The Prep.
In a sports world where it seems every game is hyped as the be-all and end-all game of the year, meeting of the millennium or contest of the century, there’s not enough hype to cover this rivalry.
In any sport, at any time of year, La Salle and The Prep is the biggest game, match or contest there is.
It’s been rumored forever that, long ago, a friendly chess match between an Explorers grad and a Hawks grad escalated into a Pier Six brawl.
Whether that long-told tale has any validity is superfluous. If the meeting took place, and a La Salle grad faced a Prep grad, it’s even money the brawl took place.
That’s not to say graduates of the two schools are barbaric. In fact, we’re talking about two of the finest academic institutions around.
But Prep and La Salle are oil and water, dog and cat, Hatfield and McCoy.
The latest renewal of the rivalry takes place Friday night (7:00 at Northeast High School when the two schools’ football teams square off for the Class AAAA Philadelphia Catholic League crown).
It’s hardly a novelty.
The two programs have met for the PCL crown in each of the last two seasons and three of the last five.
That means standing room only, get there two hours early if you expect to park within a mile of the field and please check your hostility at the door.
These days, it’s the Prep that seems to have the upper hand when it comes to football.
The Hawks have won four of the two teams’ last five meetings, including a 35-31 victory back on Oct. 10 in a contest the Explorers seemed to have in hand at one point late in the game.
But Explorers head coach Drew Gordon bristles when it’s suggested the Explorers had the game won.
“We had the lead, we didn’t have it won,’ he said. “Prep is very good, and our defense couldn’t stay with them and our offense really never got a good rhythm going. And they had a lot to do with that.’
What makes this contest drip with even more venom is that a loss means the end of the season. The programs likely represent two of the state’s top teams. But after this week only one will continue. There is no consolation prize.
“It wouldn’t matter who we were playing,’ Gordon said. “Whether it’s Judge, Roman or the Prep, it’s one and done now.’
So who will win?
Just as in years past, a coin flip would probably serve as the best prognosticator.
In the two teams’ last five meetings, the result has been decided by a touchdown or less four times, the only exception being last year’s regular-season meeting between the pair that Prep won, 30-20.
Both teams have enough size, speed and talent to win. And as Gordon says, the Prep has an abundance of all three.
“Offensively, they have so many weapons,’ Gordon said. “You don’t know which one is going to get the ball. Their quarterback (Jack Clements) had a real good night against us in the last game, but all of them are capable of big nights, whether it’s (Olamide) Zaccheaus, (D’Andre) Swift or (John) Reid.
“And they do a good job spreading it around.’
The Hawks, of course, could say the same things about the Explorers arsenal, which includes quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who with 2,411 passing yards this season is just 236 yards away from the city record, held by La Salle offensive coordinator Brett Gordon. Shurmur’s favorite targets are senior Jimmy Herron, who earlier this year set the city record for career touchdown receptions, and running back Jordan Meachum, who has a team-best 793 rushing yards to go along with his 441 yards receiving.
The hard part, said Gordon, is creating the big play against the Hawks defense.
“Offensively, we’ve moved the ball pretty well against them,’ the coach said, “but you just can’t make mistakes because their offense is good enough to take advantage of any turnover they get. Plus, they do a good job taking away the long plays because their safeties play so deep and they tackle very well.’
As for an outcome, Gordon said all that’s left is to play the game.
“We’re fine, health-wise, we have everything we need,’ he said. “It just comes down to how we perform. We have to be solid. We can’t make mistakes. And defensively, we have to contain them.
“(The two rivals) have been doing this for several years now. I think we’re capable, but we have to be solid in every part of the game.’
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