By NATE HECKENBERGER
Whatever you do, don’t be mad at La Salle College High School for its recent dominance in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
It’s the PIAA that allows the Explorers to partake in the same playoffs, since 2009, as the public schools around the state. So, if you were allowed to have students, who might also be very talented at sports, pay a good chunk of change to come to your school from all over and play against teams comprised of athletes within their districts, why wouldn’t you?
The overflowing talent La Salle has again this fall is one reason it is in its fourth straight PIAA Class AAAA state semifinal. Another reason is a tremendous coaching staff that rarely gets outmaneuvered.
Coatesville may have made things look relatively easy through the District 1 playoffs, but, as Dorothy might say to Toto, I don’t think we’re in District 1 anymore. The Explorers pose the biggest threat to end Coatesville’s magical postseason run, but they will also have to find a way to slow down one of the hottest offenses in the state.
When La Salle has the ball
The Explorers have a pretty good mix of size up front and speed outside. They will line up primarily in shotgun spread formations and quarterback Chris Kane (2,259 yards, 28 touchdowns) does a nice job of spreading the ball around and keeping defenses guessing. His biggest weapon is wide receiver Sean Coleman, who, as one of the top lacrosse players in the country, has committed to play for Harvard.
Coleman scored all four TDs against St. Joseph’s Prep in the District 12 title game, and leads La Salle with 63 receptions for 909 yards and 13 scores. He lines up all over the field, and does a ton of his damage from the slot, a spot where Spring-Ford’s Tate Carter hurt the Red Raiders last week.
“That Coleman kid is unbelievable,” Coatesville coach Matt Ortega said. “We gave up some things (against Spring-Ford) to stop the run, but (La Salle) has a totally different philosophy and we’re going to have to cover their guys.”
The Explorers are not primarily a running team and spread their carries out. Jimmy Herron leads the team with just 95 totes and 513 yards. Herron is second behind Coleman with 14 total touchdowns, six on the ground, and his runs can be devastating when teams forget about him.
Coatesville’s secondary of cornerbacks Daquan Worley and Jason Totoram, and safeties Isaiah Flamer and Jay Stocker will be taxed more than they have all season, and linebackers Tyler Burke, Devonte Suber and Steven Pawling will have to read quickly to make plays against the quick-hitting Explorers.
Against a big offensive line, tackles Mike Boykin and Dylan Morgan and ends Clinton Leslie and Joe Phillips will need to find ways to pressure Kane because he is too skilled, and has too many skilled teammates, to let sit back there comfortably.
The Explorers have upped their points per game from 30.1 in the regular season to 33.8 in the postseason. Expect La Salle to to be aggressive early, in hopes of gaining an early lead and taking some life out of the hot Red Raiders.
“We can’t let (Coatesville) jump out to 14-0 or 21-0 leads like they have the last couple games,” La Salle coach Drew Gordon said. “Then they own the game and dictate what they’re gonna do and what we’re gonna do. They don’t come out searching for what they’re going to do, they come out ready to go, believing they’re going to score touchdowns.”
When Coatesville has the ball
This is a matchup of great offense versus great defense. It’s been well-documented how Coatesville has been on fire offensively the last 12 games, and especially in the playoffs. In four District 1 playoffs games the Red Raiders have scored 202 points, including a district championship-record 59 against Spring-Ford.
Those fireworks have not gone unnoticed by the competition.
“The first thing you see is their speed,” Gordon said of Coatesville. “And I’m very impressed with their execution of plays and the way they play confident and deliberate. That indicates to me they’re very well-coached. That’s scary.”
What also fits the “scary” definition is the way La Salle plays defense. Against Parkland last week, the Explorers recorded 14 sacks and didn’t allow a touchdown until the final drive. Jon Naji gets after the quarterback faster than anyone Coatesville has faced and Tom Spiteri joins him on a very physical defensive line. Mike Eife and Zaire Franklin are playmakers at linebacker.
“They have a very good defensive line and it’s the best we’ve seen all year,” Ortega said. “Theeir linebackers are the best we’ve seen all year. We have to find a way to neutralize their front six.”
The attack against the Rams last week was with quick passes and screens, so expect much of the same against the Explorers. Emmett Hunt, who is now tied for 11th in PIAA history with 40 touchdowns in a season, and first in Class AAAA (according to a list on Wikipedia), will be responsible for making his reads promptly and getting it into the hands of his playmakers.
The onus will be on linemen Colin Raysor, Titus Richards, Baker, Morgan and Phillips to protect Hunt, who has not had to deal with much pressure all season.
“We have to protect the quarterback and make plays,” Ortega said. “We have to get something out of our running game, and those are tall orders.”
Worley continues to become a game-changing running back, and his decision making on the zone reads will have to keep improving because La Salle pursues and tracks down backs better than most.
If Coatesville can have early success to receivers Chris Jones, Dre Boggs and Vinnie Williams in the passing game, things will open up for everyone. As displayed in the St. Joe’s Prep games, La Salle is not immune to giving up big plays, but the Explorers don’t give them up often and the Red Raiders have to cash in when the opportunity arises.