RAMSEY — The St. Joseph High School football team arrived at Don Bosco Prep not knowing to expect Saturday morning.

The Wildcats left encouraged despite what the scoreboard read.

Don Bosco, one of the nation’ s top scholastic programs, beat St. Joseph 35-14 in a preseason scrimmage. The game was closer than the scored indicated. Don Bosco scored two touchdowns off St. Joe special-teams turnovers.

“I don’t think the kids were in awe,” St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. “We moved the ball a lot better than I thought we would. We’re very happy offensively. We’ll leave here with a lot of confidence.”

Don Bosco led 28-0 after three quarters. St. Joe backup quarterback sophomore Salaam Horne ran 81 and 68 yards for touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

More than 100 St. Joe fans made the more than two-hour trip from Hammonton to Bergen County to watch the scrimmage.

The scrimmage was intriguing because it matched the state’s best small-school parochial team against arguably the state’s best big-school parochial team.

St. Joseph has an enrollment of more than 300, while Don Bosco’s is more than 1,200.

The Wildcats have won 15 state titles since the state Non-Public playoffs began in 1993. St. Joe has won four consecutive state championships.

The Ironmen have won eight state titles since the Non-Public playoffs began, including six straight from 2006-11.

The game was scheduled last spring. Don Bosco was looking for scrimmages. St. Joe wanted to test itself against the perennial power. While both teams were winning state championships over the years, fans often speculated about what would happen if the schools ever played each other.

On Saturday, the Wildcats moved the ball behind quarterback C.J. LaFragola and the running of Rocco Ordille and Cody Sampson.

“We knew they were a good team,” Ordille said. “But once we started (moving) the ball, we realized we could stick with them, and that’s what we came up here to do.”

But the Wildcats couldn't finish their drives. They drove to the Don Bosco 9-yard line late in the first half but couldn’t score. St. Joe appeared on the verge of breaking several big plays only to see Don Bosco defenders quickly converge on the ball and tackle the ball carrier after a short gain.

“They get to the football and they do tackle,” Sacco said. “We didn’t stick to some blocks, and they don’t miss tackles.”

St. Joe struggled to stop Don Bosco. The Ironmen methodically moved the ball down the field. They converted a couple of fourth-down, short-yardage situations to keep drives going.

St. Joe hurt itself with mistakes. Don Bosco did not run a single offensive play in the first quarter but the Ironmen still led 7-0 after the first 12 minutes. Don Bosco scored when St. Joe snapped the ball over its punter’s head. The Ironmen fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.

Don Bosco led 21-0 at halftime, scoring its final first-half touchdown when St. Joe fumbled a kickoff return. The Ironmen recovered and ran untouched into the end zone.

Don Bosco led 28-0 after three quarters. The teams played their second units in the fourth quarter. Horne, who starts in the secondary, showed game-breaking speed. He scrambled up the middle on his 81-yard touchdown run and ran around end on his 68-yard score.

St. Joe, the defending Cape-Atlantic League American Conference champion, is young. The Wildcats start nearly all sophomores and juniors. But the scrimmage showed that the Wildcats should again be one of South Jersey’s top teams.

“We saw what a hard-hitting team looks like,” Ordille said. “They were tough. They pursued. We now know what to prepare for when we play other good teams this season.”

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I've worked at newspapers since 1985. Mostly in N.J., but with an eight-year pit stop in N.C. I've been at The Press since 1997.