(The SJP Broadcasting Club will broadcast Friday's game live.)

WHITEMARSH - It might have finished as a close seven-point game when La Salle last played Saint Joseph's Prep back on Oct. 11.

But anyone who was there knows differently, including La Salle head coach Drew Gordon.

"I think (Prep) took their foot off the accelerator,' Gordon said, recalling the 35-28 Prep victory in which the Hawks held a 21-point lead at one juncture, "and we were able to come back on a couple of punt returns that gave us opportunities to score.

"We didn't defend very well in the last game, we didn't cover people. And I don't know if we're good enough to cover them.'

That question will be answered Friday night at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in front of an overflow crowd when the Explorers (8-2) seek their sixth straight Philadelphia Catholic League AAAA championship against the favored Hawks (7-2) in what could turn out to be one more La Salle-Prep classic.


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But Gordon knows his team will have to play better than it did four weeks ago if it is to pull off consecutive PCL championship No. 6.

"We have to do a couple of things differently,' Gordon said. "We're going to have to be able to cover them better and we're going to have to be able to put pressure on the quarterback, which is something we haven't done well all year.'

The Hawks entered the 2013 season as one of the those teams thought to be in the state-championship mix, a preseason balloon that was burst when the Hawks were blown out, 42-0, in the season's second week by New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep.

Prep then ran off five straight wins before falling victim to a very good Archbishop Ryan team two weeks ago, 27-14.

But if postseason games are all about matchups, La Salle doesn't seem to have many in its favor against this year's Hawks, who have speed to burn in the persons of Jawan McAllister (23 catches, 291 yds.), Olamide Zaccheaus (73 carries, 550 yds., 241 rushing yds.), freshman sensation De'Andre Swift (21 catches, 288 yds.) and John Reid (28 catches, 442 yds.).

"All four of those guys can beat you from the receiver or the running back position,' said Gordon of the Hawks' penchant for moving the playmaking foursome around in various formations. "Zaccheaus is as good as there is and Swift plays like a senior.'

Since the Explorers and Hawks last hooked up, Gordon said he's watched them play twice.

"I don't think they've changed much,' he said. "They're doing the same things and doing them well.

"But then we haven't changed that much either.'

Gordon's love-hate relationship continues with Prep quarterback Chris Martin (107-for-165), 1,363 yds., 17 TDs, 450 rushing yds.). He loves to watch the senior signal-caller play - just not against La Salle.

"He's the guy who makes it all go,' Gordon said. "In that first game, he really threw the ball well, but we weren't covering them anyway.'

This time around, the Explorers will have to pick their poison.

If they send pressure, the Hawks quartet of playmakers will likely get man-to-man coverage in the secondary. If they sit back, Martin still has enough quality options to find a matchup he likes.

On the other side of the field, the Hawks can choose to pressure Explorers quarterback Kyle Shurmur (157-for-270, 2,264 yds., 24 TDs), or play the Explorers straight up, making La Salle's running game even more vital.

If La Salle running back Jordan Meachum (163 carries, 840 yds.) has a productive game, La Salle will stay in the contest until the end.

Ultimately, the Hawks are under no pressure to do anything out of the ordinary. It's a game plan that worked well the first time these two teams met, and the onus is on La Salle to change, or suffer the same fate.

"The good thing is, we played pretty well against Father Judge,' Gordon said, "and I hope that gives our players confidence going into this game.'

The interest in the game is at its usual fever pitch. A thousand tickets each went to La Salle and Prep. All were gone in less than two days.

"Our kids are excited,' Gordon said. "One of the kids commented this week most of our team didn't play much against Prep last year, so for them this is their chance to win championship.

"But I think we're the underdogs, and we should be. We're defending something, and (Prep's) trying to get it.'