When St. Anthony's 29-game winning streak ended as it lost the first two games of the season, there was a thought that maybe these Friars couldn't live up to their dynasty.
But Saturday night, St. Anthony's was again within reach of a title. Its imposing roster still took up half the sideline. And that no-mercy offense clicked along with the same overpowering efficiency.
The Friars are going back to the final, and it's like they never left.
First-seeded St. Anthony's rode two Jordan Gowins touchdowns on the way to a well-balanced drubbing of No. 4 St. Joseph by the Sea, beating the Vikings, 35-8, in a CHSFL semifinal. The Friars return to the AAA title game for the 20th time in their history, and will look to defend their crown against Chaminade at 4 p.m. Saturday at Mitchel Athletic Complex. St. Anthony's has won 10 of the last 11 championships.
"It was tough having those two losses, but if you hold your head like that, then a third one might come," running back Anthony Anderson said. "Coach [Rich] Reichert told us that we weren't going to lose another game . . . And now we have a chance to win another championship."
St. Anthony's (8-2) made quick work of the Vikings' ground-and-pound offense and got on the board four minutes into the game on Greg Galligan's 21-yard keeper.
A long St. Joseph drive died on two backfield stops by Jared Katz and Corey Palladino, and the Vikings went three-and-out on their next possession, setting up the Friars' second score. On fourth-and-7 on the St. Joseph 39, Matt Musgrove faked a punt and sneaked around right end for a 9-yard gain. Four plays later, Brendan Femiano took an option pitch around the left side for a 12-yard score.
"It's all about first down," Reichert said, referring to the Vikings' conquer-by-inches attack. "You can't let them dictate [at] second-and-5. If it becomes a four-down thing, [then] they're only looking to get 21/2 yards. I think we did a really good job with that."
St. Anthony's took a 21-0 halftime lead on Gowins' acrobatic 4-yard touchdown, a sweep off left tackle where the sophomore went airborne over a defender into the end zone. Anderson's 65-yard run set up his own 1-yard TD with 8:35 left in the third.
"We have a special backfield," Gowins said. "We have athletes and any one of us can break free at any time and make big plays at any time and it makes it that much harder for the defense that we're facing."
The Vikings (8-2) got a touchdown from Nicholas King with 3:43 to play.
First its "scoring, [and then] the defense comes on, shuts them out, and we just keep doing that," said Anderson, who had 10 carries for 105 yards. "I think that puts the nail in the coffin for the other team, because we're so explosive and we can score at any time."
But after the Friars' rough start, this has become very much the same type of team that's made it to the final for 14 years running, Anderson said.
"It's a different team, different players, but we all have the same goal," he said. "We didn't start the season off the way we wanted to, but I think we're going to finish strong, the way that we have in the past few years."
For St. Anthony's, that confidence is decidedly old school.