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SJP ends Trojans’ football season

BETHLEHEM - There were points during the season when a deep playoff run for the Parkland football team seemed unlikely.

The Trojans overcame a slow start to win four of their final five games to close out the regular season. That momentum carried over into the postseason, where Parkland won the District 11 Class 6A title as the No. 6 seed, outscoring the likes of Nazareth, Northampton and Freedom by a combined margin of 108-37.

Securing a berth in the state tournament always seemed possible, even if it didn’t appear probable.

But the Trojans stayed the course to earn a spot in the PIAA Class 6A bracket and a meeting with District 12 champion and perennial power St. Joe’s Prep in the quarterfinals this past Saturday at Bethlehem Area School District Stadium.

Though Parkland’s road ended with a 52-21 loss to the Hawks, the path the Trojans forged to get there showcased more than just the program’s skill level on the field.

“They’re just such an enjoyable group,” said Parkland head coach Tim Moncman. “They were 2-3 (through five games) and 6-4 (at the end of the season), and won a gold medal. They just never quit. They came to practice every day and worked hard; just a special group to be around. Not a big group of seniors, only 11. So we have a good crew coming back. We’ll get back at it, give them a little time off to rest and then see what we can do.”

Several of those upperclassmen took center stage for the Trojans (9-5) on Saturday. Senior Gryffin Mitstifer nailed two first-half field goals from 39 and 41 yards on Parkland’s first two drives, with his second kick trimming the deficit to 14-6 in the first quarter.

But St. Joe’s Prep (10-1) scored touchdowns on each of its seven offensive possessions in the first half to build a 49-6 lead at halftime. The Hawks gained 17 first downs in the first half.

“At every position, they’re pretty well loaded,” said Moncman. “They’ve got a gigantic offensive line, skill kids everywhere, so we had to play a perfect game. Obviously, we didn’t. But I’m proud of the way we battled in the second half.”

St. Joe’s quarterback Samaj Jones finished 10-of-15 passing for 213 yards and two scores while also rushing for 96 yards and a pair of scores on eight carries.

Erik Sanchez carried the ball 10 times for 96 yards and two TDs, and Khaseem Phillips managed 82 yards on the ground with a touchdown on 14 carries. The Hawks finished with 333 yards on the ground and 546 total yards of offense.

St. Joe’s will face undefeated District 1 champion Garnet Valley (13-0) in the semifinals. The Hawks’ only loss this year came in the season opener, 48-37, to St. Thomas Aquinas (Florida).

Parkland senior Nakhi Bullock was able to return the opening kickoff of the second half 95 yards for a touchdown, and quarterback Luke Spang hit senior Jack Harrison for a two-point conversion to make it 49-14 early in the third quarter.

“It was amazing,” Bullock said of the return. “The ball got sort of past me and I was like, ‘Let’s just try to get some yards out of it.’ One block here, one block there, and I just had to make one guy miss, and next thing you know, I’m in the end zone. All the credit goes to my teammates, too. They blocked well. Everybody did what they had to do.

“We played our hearts out in the second half. The first half we came out a little bit slow, but in the second half, we just wanted to go out play how we know we’re capable of. That’s what it was.”

That mentality is what the Trojans are all about.

“We had some great drives (in the first half), started out really well,” Bullock said. “We got down there, but just couldn’t punch it in. So it’s a little frustrating, but the biggest thing was that we couldn’t beat ourselves up because of it. We just had to try to keep pushing, and hopefully on the next drive we could get a score. The message was just don’t give up.”

In addition to his touchdown return, Bullock finished with eight catches for 126 yards. Spang, a junior, completed 15 of 26 pass attempts for 234 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown to Harrison late in the third quarter that made it 52-21.

“We were keeping pace with them in the beginning. Wish we could have ended up with some touchdowns,” said Harrison, who finished with three grabs for 55 yards. “The first half wasn’t great, but I’m happy with the way we played in the second half. We stepped it up and didn’t back down even when things weren’t going our way. I’m proud of this group.”

Playing until the final whistle has become somewhat of a mantra for this team, and part of what helped spur its turnaround.

“Playing a full 48 (minutes),” Bullock said of the Trojans’ mindset. “Our biggest motto was playing 48 minutes, from start to finish. A lot of games early in the season we might start out slow and then we’d pick it up; or we’d start out fast and then just couldn’t finish. We just wanted to come out and play a full 48, and if we do that, there’s no reason why we can’t win a game.

“I had a great time playing with these guys. It’s disappointing that it’s my last high school game, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

It was a sentiment shared by both Bullock’s coaches and teammates.

“Their attitude is amazing,” said Moncman. “They just kept fighting, and kept working. They came to practice hard and had a lot of fun playing the game. They’re a special group. I really enjoyed being with them.”

PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERB Jack Harrison caught a touchdown pass and scored on a two-point conversion in Saturday's state playoff game.
PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERB Parkland's Russel Clark (54) gets a hand on the St. Joe's Prep quarterback during Saturday's state playoff game.