BELLEFONTE – Imhotep Charter football coach Devon Johnson said earlier in the week that mentioning Billy Lucas in the hallways at his school is like mentioning the boogeyman.
Lucas broke the PIAA Class 4A championship game record with 40 carries for 287 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-7 Cathedral Prep win over Imhotep in Hershey in 2018.
The Ramblers might have their own boogeyman to never mention in Tre McLeod.
The sophomore running back, who is already garnering Division I interest, ran for 289 yards on 12 carries, including touchdown runs of 80, 64 and 44 yards on Saturday to lead Imhotep Charter to a 42-7 rout of Prep at Bald Eagle High School.
“The crazy part is this has been brewing the last few weeks with Tre,” said Johnson, who was an assistant coach for the Panther losses to Prep in Hershey 2016-18. “He had 100 yards in our Public League championship, he did really well in our city league championship and we told him we were going to ride him and take us to the promised land. It reminded me a lot of the Billy Lucas game three years ago.”
Imhotep Charter (9-1) moves on to the PIAA semifinals against Strath Haven. Prep ends the season at 11-2.
The Ramblers tried a few defensive schemes to slow down Imhotep that could also leave open the possibility of giving up a big play.
It worked for most of the first half, but Terrance Adams got behind the Prep defense on a play fake for a 29-yard touchdown catch before McLeod's 80-yard TD run. Rahmir Stewart scored from a yard out to make it 18-0 at the half.
“Coach (Wayne) Bradford had a great scheme and we used some fronts to shut them down,” said Prep coach Mike Mischler. “We threw everyone in the box at times but we knew one missed tackle could be a big play. The defense played great in the first half and the offense didn't which put the defense in some tough spots.”
Prep had a statement drive to start the third quarter capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Carter Barnes, but McLeod took over to put the game away.
It was personal for Imhotep coach
Johnson told the Philadelphia media heading into the game that it was personal for him. He was there when Imhotep could have won four straight state titles, but instead, Prep beat the Panthers three years in a row. Imhotep won the first matchup in mercy-rule fashion.
Johnson told the media “I was the defensive coordinator during that Billy Lucas game and it's something that changed me as a coach.”
It was clear from the start how much Saturday meant to the Imhotep program. From pregame chants to jawing on both sides of the field, the game had a state-championship feel. Alumni from the Imhotep losses to Prep came to the game was well.
“This means a lot to not just our kids but the whole program,” Johnson said. “We had a bunch of alumni on the sideline that lost to these dudes. I told the guys they get 24 hours to enjoy it because it was a big win for us.”
The game featured multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and late-hit penalties as both teams played with emotion.
“They had some anger toward us and I'm not sure why. None of these guys were on the team the last time we played,” Mischler said. “I felt we stood up to them and I'm proud of the character of my team for the most part.”
Imhotep's defense is loaded with major Division I recruits, including defensive end Enai White — who has offers from Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State — and linebacker Keon Wylie, a Penn State recruit. Khalif Kemp is a linebacker headed to Temple and safety Jamir Reys has interest from Navy. Add in Stewart, who has interest from Alabama and Auburn as a junior and there were no holes to expose by the Prep offense. White and Wylie especially lived in the Prep backfield.
“We knew Carter Barnes was the key to their offense and we had to take him out,” Johnson said. “I don't think we did a great job with it as he still played well, but we were able to limit him in the first half. He's a great player and we practiced all week against a running quarterback.”
“Those are dudes and unbelievably good football players that lived up to their billing,” said Mischler about the defense. “The only adjustments we could make was try to stay on our double teams longer, but their backers weren't inserting right away because they didn't have to. Their front four were shutting down our run game.”
Prep was held to 182 yards of offense led by Barnes with 85 yards on 20 carries and Mike Parks with 74 yards on 15 carries.
Imhotep had 393 yards of offense with most of those yards by McLeod.
The Prep-Imhotep rivalry might have to go on hold again as Prep has the transfers and success points to move to Class 6A if the Ramblers don't appeal the decision. Four of the six success points came during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, which Prep won just one playoff game to earn all four points.
The Ramblers lose 12 seniors to graduation but return most of their starters on both sides of the ball.
“It's always hard to talk about next year with seniors looking at you and the 12 of them are good kids that helped us fight through this pandemic,” Mischler said. “11-2 at any other place is a remarkable season and this just wasn't our night. They took it to us.”
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Cathedral Prep football: Can't slow down Tre McLeod in emotional PIAA loss