Ironically, it was its defense that helped keep Hancock in the game, picking off three passes - including one returned 101 yards by Justin Unger for a touchdown that gave the Panthers (3-6) a 14-8 lead with 3 minutes, 55 seconds left in the first half.
"You could see that (Unger's interception) really lifted our defense," said Sterner. "Everybody started playing at a different level. I thought our defensive backfield played really well tonight. (Ricca) has only thrown (three) interceptions all year, and we picked him off three times in one game."
The Vikings (6-1) wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, marching 89 yards on their first possession with Brandon Monroe scampering 44 yards for an 8-0 lead. The St. John's senior rushed for 96 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, tacked on another 68 yards on seven receptions, and added 66 yards on three kickoff returns.
Hancock responded with a 40-yard, seven-play drive, with Curtis Ray ploughing in from the one. After Unger's score, St. John's marched 69 yards - Ricca hitting Richard three times for 49 yards - with Monroe scooting in from the one with just 55 seconds left for a 16-14 halftime margin.
"We didn't play well in the first half," said St. John's coach John Ricca. "Our quarterback, my son, had only three interceptions all year, and he three bad passes in th first half. But he battled back in the second half, and did a nice job."
Another Monroe score on the first series of the second half gave Prospect Hall a 22-14 advantage, and Ricca hit Rob Haynos from 16 yards out on the first play of the fourth period to put the Vikings up, 28-14.
But the Panthers stayed close as a 45-yard Unger sweep set up a 23-yard touchdown run off-tackle by Ray to trim the gap to 28-20, before Richard put the game away.
"This was like a dream season for me," said Ricca. "Four months ago I would have settled for a .500 season, but when Brandon Monroe came out, he gave us a chance to be really good, and adding Richard gave us two legitimate college prospects."