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PIAA “AAAA” State Championship – LaSalle College Preview

Written by: on Thursday, December 17th, 2009

The Philadelphia Catholic League seems to have this PIAA playoff thing down pat. They’ve only been involved with the PIAA playoff system since last year, but the PCL’s record against PIAA playoff opponents is fairly impressive.

Archbishop Wood, a “AAA” school, is 3-2. West Catholic, which ripped through the “AA” bracket last year and made it back to the Eastern Finals this year, is 5-2. And LaSalle College, making its first-ever foray into the world of the PIAA playoffs, is 2-0. Adding up those records, that equals a 10-4 mark, a winning percentage of .714.

Saturday night in the “AAAA” state championship game, the Explorers will look to push the PCL’s PIAA playoff win total to 11 and bring home the league’s first state title. LaSalle College (13-1) will face State College Area (12-2) Saturday night in Hersheypark Stadium, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. The Explorers will try to do what neither West Catholic or Archbishop Wood could do last year – win the title game.

Wood’s order, to be fair, was a tall one. The Vikings had the task of trying to slow down a powerful Thomas Jefferson juggernaut whose only ’08 loss was to Ohio Senate League powerhouse Cleveland Glenville. West Catholic had a 14-0 lead at halftime, but couldn’t hold off Wilmington, falling in double overtime, 35-34. Two PCL shots at a PIAA title, two PCL losses, two silver footballs.

So now, the inaugural title onus falls on LaSalle College. Not that the Explorers mind, though. They’d relish it if you doubt them.

Easton was figured to knock off the Explorers after posting an impressive three wins in eight days. But that never materialized, though the 17-14 decision said more about LaSalle’s ability to make a comeback than it did about Easton wearing down from four games in a span of three weeks.

Ridley was coming off of an emotional 19-10 victory over nationally-ranked North Penn and favored to win, but the Explorers could have cared less, pummeling the three-time Eastern finalist Green Raiders 35-7. LaSalle defeated a Ridley program that had won 611 games and boasted an overall record of 92-23 (.800) since 2001.

In two weeks, LaSalle knocked off two programs that have won a combined 1,358 games, eight district championships (Easton – 6, Ridley – 2) and had appeared in a combined seven Eastern Finals.

LaSalle, which began playing football in 1920, has built a nice little tradition of its own. The Explorers have won 447 games as a member of the PCL, but did not compete in the league from 1921 to 1922 and 1928 to 1933. The blue and gold waited 35 years to win its first PCL championship, then won three more, totaling four titles from 1955 to 1960. Then, after a 29-year hiatus, LaSalle returned to the title scene in 1989, and added additional titles in 1995, 1996, 1998, 2006, 2008, and 2009.

The PCL titles reach 11 in number, and the Explorers have 10 seasons of 10+ wins to their credit. Three undefeated and untied seasons add to the LaSalle resume, coming in 1955, 1957, and 1998. The ’98 team owns the school record for wins in a season, 14, which this ’09 edition can tie with a win Saturday night.

LaSalle has reached this point with a pretty balanced offense. Two running backs compliment 2,200-yard passer Drew Loughery, and both are underclassmen. Junior Jamal Abdur-Rahman and sophomore Tim Wade have combined for over 1,700 rushing yards. Abdur-Rahman has run for 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns; Wade has 671 yards and six scores.

Both Wade and Rahman are also steady receivers in the Explorer aerial assault. The duo has combined for 44 catches, 606 yards, and five touchdowns. Other LaSalle receivers worth noting include Connor Hoffman (35, 582, 7), Sam Feleccia (27, 412, 5), Steve Jones (21, 330, 5) and Kevin Forster (20, 269, 1).

Loughery, meanwhile, has thrown for more than 2,000 yards for the second consecutive season. He’s completed 155-of-254 passes for 2,292 yards and 23 touchdowns. For his career, Loughery has thrown for 5,246 yards and 50 touchdowns. As a program, LaSalle has produced three 5,000-yard passers – John Harrison and Brett Gordon are the other two.

Defensively, LaSalle has only held six opponents to seven points or less and has two shutouts. The Explorers’ defense has allowed double-digit points in five of the last six weeks, but the defensive domination in the Ridley win may have raised a few eyebrows.

Is LaSalle going to be able to lay the claim of being the PCL’s first PIAA champion? Will LaSalle continue its roll through the PIAA playoffs and remain with an unblemished record?

Find out Saturday night.

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