Philadelphia High School Football
A Look at
Joe Colistra's 21-Year
Career (1985-2005) at La Salle High
page includes stories, special lists, record breakdown, recaps of wins in
games and the names of all All-Catholic honorees during Coach Colistra's 21 seasons.
. . . To provide additions/corrections:email@example.com. Thanks!
**At bottom of page . . . A look at the 32-game winning streak, 1995-97.**
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Joe Colistra |
Joe Colistra, an alumnus, coached La Salle High's football team for 21 seasons (1985-2005), winning 153 games and four Catholic League championships. He won his first crown in 1989 with a triumph over Roman Catholic. Here is that story . . .
By Ted Silary
Catholic League coaches in all sports are frantically checking their
school's enrollment lists today.
SEASON BY SEASON
Said Brodbine of his defenders: "They
didn't know they weren't supposed to be that good."
The only break La Salle would need occurred nine minutes into the game. As McGeehan retreated from the Roman 22,
looking to pass, the ball was knocked loose by linebacker Martin Feeny. It then bounced into the end zone, and end Jim
onvey recovered for a touchdown.
"I was hoping Jim would miss it. I wanted that one," kidded Conlin, who was right with Convey.
"All game, we just wanted to keep the pressure on. To us, Jim McGeehan was Jack Stanczak (star quarterback for La Salle
in '88). We said that all week. We had two guys being him in practice - Joe McNichol for passing, Geoff Crawford for
unning. I'm not as quick sideline to sideline as I am going straight upfield, so I liked it when they passed. Beating blockers.
Getting upfield. I love that."
On the second half kickoff, Daly scored his third return touchdown of the season (the others were on punts). When Kevin
Myers's low kick skidded through an Explorer, it appeared that Daly might opt for merely flopping on the ball.
Brian Daly? You kidding?
"There was time," Daly said. "The guys weren't close yet. I figured I could pick it up, gain a couple of yards. I didn't think I
was going to gain . . . how long was it? I barely made it between the first two guys, then kept running."
This story was written after Joe
steered the Explorers to a 14-0 overall record -- best
in city history -- and the 1996 championship . . .
By Ted Silary
The football gods can release a collective sigh. The unthinkable hasn't happened.
With decades of data on their side, the gods mandate that a team must run successfully to win a title. And now, they still
don't have to scramble to alter that mandate.
Yes, La Salle High did roar to victory in first 13 games this season without receiving a 100-yard performance from any of
its rushers. But then came game No. 14 and the Explorers, somehow, transformed themselves from Team Pass into Team
Stay Close to the Grass, er, Mud.
On a playing surface at Northeast High made sloppy-to-treacherous by heavy rains overnight, La Salle last night won its
econd consecutive Catholic League title by downing Father Judge, 20-7.
The hero - Mike Durso.
His primary duty - running!
"Had to happen sometime,'' the smiling Durso said with a shrug. ``Have to run to win, right?''
Durso, a 5-9, 170-pound senior, rushed 22 times for 113 yards and a touchdown as the Explorers extended their winning
streak to 25 games and became the first team in city history to have a 14-win season (they won 11 to finish last season
after an 0-2 start).
That effort more than complemented a respectable, but hardly spectacular, passing effort turned in by junior quarterback
Brett Gordon (16-for-33, 162 yards, one TD). Durso's previous rushing high this fall had been a 91-yard effort in a
egular-season game against Bishop McDevitt.
Durso knew his contributions were huge. At game's end, he quickly snatched the championship plaque and pranced
around the track on the home side, showing it off to reporters, cameramen and La Salle's boisterous fans.
When a teammate reached for the plaque, Durso stepped back and said with a laugh, "You can look, but don't touch.''
He could have added, "And don't step on my feet!''
Feet have been a sore subject for Durso since late October, when he tried to score on a goal-line plunge against Archbishop
Wood and wound up getting his toes bent backward.
Durso did not play at all in the Explorers' final two Catholic North games, carried just once in a quarterfinal, then eased
back to almost full-time duty in a semifinal and the Thanksgiving game against St. Joseph's Prep.
Last night, he felt chipper.
"He told me he was taking his first carry 60 yards for a score,'' Gordon said. "I told him, `Great, I hope you do.' ''
Instead, Durso settled for 18 yards. But the run set an early tone and increased the confidence he felt from having filled
an important role in last year's championship game (14-7 over Archbishop Ryan).
"This was the first week of practice where I wasn't in a lot of pain,'' Durso said. "I had a good feeling, like it was going to
be a good night.
"Coach Gordon [Drew, Brett's father and the offensive coordinator] was saying all week, `We have to prove we can run.'
Actually, he said, `We have to run.' We knew we could do it. Using a three-man line and dropping eight guys back, that's
inviting the run. If you don't do it . . . ''
La Salle's first series yielded Gordon's 23-yard field goal. Late in the first quarter, Judge's Pat Dowling muffed Drew
Middlemiss' punt and Matt Maloney recovered on the 25. Durso collected all 25 yards to get the ball into the end zone, 9
on a reception, and 7 and 9 on runs.
The teams scored on three consecutive possessions in the third quarter, as Jim Casey's 1-yard run for Judge was
sandwiched by Gordon's 34-yard field goal and his 33-yard pass to Jeff Pietrak.
Though the Crusaders at times seemed poised to provide stiffer opposition, they kept committing killer penalties. Prime
example: With the help of a roughing-the-kicker call, La Salle in the fourth quarter was able to hold the ball from 8:39
until Gordon took a knee at the Judge 13 with 0:25 left.
In all, the Explorers rushed 35 times for 144 yards.
"They were giving us the run,'' Gordon said. ``We ran it well early, which kept them honest, and made it easy to pass.''
Gordon finished the season 170-for-298 for 2,054 yards and 28 TDs. His varsity career - with one year to go,
remember - has produced 307 completions in 583 attempts for 4,190 yards and 51 TDs.
"We planned for two scenarios,'' coach Joe Colistra said. ``One, Judge would sit back and play pass defense or two,
come after us. We game-planned for both. The thing was, whatever Judge was doing, we had faith in Brett being able
to come up to the line and know when to check off."
Said Brett Gordon: "Really, we didn't audible tonight as much as we did in some games. Judge didn't do a lot of
changing up. They stuck with the three-man line. That meant we could go with runs right out of the huddle.''
Considering that La Salle returned eight defensive starters this season - as well as Gordon, star wideout Mike Mattia
and Durso - one would probably not be off base (pardon the baseball reference) in saying this title does not come as
The 14-0 record, yes. But not the championship.
"Oh, I can't say that,'' Colistra said. "You've stood beside our kids. There's not too much to them. I mean, we have
175-pound tackles. I will say one thing: We might be small, but we're quick and courageous.
"To go through 14 games perfect, it is amazing. Something [North Catholic coach] John Quinn told me early this
season really stuck with me. He said when you play in this league, you can't get over winning and you can't get over
losing because you have to get ready for another game. There's always someone coming after you.''
That someone is sometimes a reporter.
How would you, Colistra was asked, compare this championship team with last year's?
"I'm not going to try,'' he said, smiling.
This story was written after Joe nailed down his third championship in four years . . .
By Ted Silary
So, how has your last calendar year unfolded?
Perhaps not as well as Gabe Marabella's.
In the fall of last year, Marabella was one of three guys sharing time at quarterback on La Salle High's freshman
Saturday night, in a relief role, with 7,000 fans bearing witness at balmy Northeast High, he helped guide the
Explorers to a 17-3 win over Archbishop Ryan and the Catholic League title, their third in four seasons and fourth
With La Salle's offense experiencing, as coach Joe Colistra called it, "a constipation problem,'' Marabella came off
the bench late in the first half.
Ryan's 3-0 lead held until intermission, but Marabella completed his first pass for an 18-yard gain to Matt Chapman,
then Mr. Versatility, Chris Pennington - having moved from QB to running back - motored for 27 yards on the final
lay of the half.
The good vibrations felt like an earthquake.
"We talked about it all week - don't be afraid to make the move,'' Colistra said of switching Pennington to running
back. "We couldn't fret. It would be, `Do it. Move on.'
"We decided to do it then because it gave us a chance to get a feel for what would happen before we went into the
locker room. We looked more fluid. Putting Chris in another position spread out the defense.''
The 5-11, 150-pound Marabella finished 6-for-9 for 117 yards. He hit Chapman for 17 yards on the first possession
of the second half, which yielded Mike Savage's 39-yard field goal. Next time around, he was dead on target with a
51-yard, up-the-sideline bomb to Mike Cattie and Pennington ran 1 yard for the decisive TD three plays later.
And not to overlook . . .
After La Salle's Tim McDonald recovered a fumble on his 23 midway through the fourth quarter, Marabella
converted two gigantic third-down plays - picking up 6 yards on a draw and showing nice touch on an 18-yard pass
to tight end Mike DeCrescio (he displayed great concentration while jumping) - and then watched in glee as
Pennington (17 carries, 135 yards) cruised 47 yards for a clinching TD at 1:45.
Marabella first saw significant, non-mopup playing time Oct. 17 in a win over Father Judge.
Thereafter, La Salle's coaches vacillated on whether the offense would fare better with Pennington or Marabella at
QB. During the semifinal win over Cardinal O'Hara, for instance, Marabella was only a spectator.
"I was thinking that they might not use me tonight,'' Marabella said. "But the coaches had said, `You could go in
at any given time, so be ready.' I watched what was going on, tried to stay ready.
"I was a little nervous at first. After the first play, I felt great. It helped greatly being out there with Chris.
Whatever you ask him to do, he does it. He's been helping me all year with quarterbacking.''
Marabella had always played quarterback in youth football, so he was thrown for something of a loop on the
freshman team when he wound up playing QB and running back and wideout.
"When he came back this fall, Gabe separated himself from the other two quarterbacks from that freshman
team,'' Colistra said. "I'm comfortable with him because of his personality. He doesn't fluster. We tell him to do
this or do that and he just says, `OK.'
"We put pressure on him. He responded. We scrimmage full-bore every Tuesday or Wednesday. Sometimes
both days. If you want to be physical, you have to practice physical. We do.''
While Marabella and Pennington were leading the offense, the defense was making sure Ryan would go without
a touchdown in the title game for the second straight year.
The starters were ends John Poley and McDonald, tackles Chris Kerns and Joe Dillon, nose guard Ernie Barile,
linebackers Chris Dougherty and Kevin Merlini, cornerbacks Sean Kent and Jordan Mulrain and safeties
Kevin Dougherty (Chris's twin) and Paul Colistra (Joe's son). Subs Travis Manion and Ben Bailey helped on the
line while Pennington made several big plays at cornerback.
On Thanksgiving, the Explorers surrendered 300-plus yards to St. Joseph's Prep, but eked out a 13-9 victory.
"Just being able to win that game gave us confidence,'' Kerns said. ``Before that, being able to stop [rusher
supreme] Kevin Jones and O'Hara gave us the feeling, `If we can beat them, we can beat anybody. ' We had
to stand our ground tonight. We did it pretty well.''
TITLE TIDBITS Mike Savage's field goal was his 11th of the season, tying a Catholic League mark set in
1990 by Ryan's Brian Hamill. Savage finished the season with 65 points . . . Joe Colistra is 4-0 in title games
. . . Ryan defenders Jim Hughes and John Brightcliffe both went out with knee injuries.
Below are the players who earned first or second team Coaches' All-Catholic honors during
Colistra's 21 seasons as the coach at La Salle.
Recaps of Wins in Catholic League
From Game No. 3 of the 1995 season through Game No. 7 of the 1997 season,
La Salle established a city record by winning 32 consecutive wins. Quarterback
Brett Gordon powered that dominance with impressive passing. Here are the
results along with passing yardage totals for Gordon (BGY) and the top receivers
in each game.
|1995 (11)||La S||Opp||BGY||Top Receiver||Yards|
|*||North Catholic||13||0||129||Mike Mattia||71|
|TG||SJ Prep||35||9||149||Mike Mattia||82|
|1996 (14)||La S||Opp||#BGY||Top Receiver||Yards|
|NL||West Catholic||27||0||92||Mike Mattia||27|
|NL||Valley Forge||41||0||143||Jeff Pietrak||56|
|*||North Catholic||10||0||62||Jeff Pietrak||29|
|P||North Catholic||40||0||177||Tim McNichol||82|
|TG||SJ Prep||17||14||240||Mike Durso||69|
|1997 (7)||La S||Opp||BGY||Top Receiver||Yards|
|NL||Valley Forge||31||0||251||Jeff Pietrak||97|
|*||North Catholic||34||0||187||Mike Lorusso||78|