ATLANTIC CITY - A'Laam Horne of the St. Joseph High School football team didn't have his name on the back of his uniform Friday night.
He didn't need it to let everyone know who he is.
The freshman made a key fourth-quarter interception to help the Wildcats stave off Atlantic City 28-25 in a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference game. St. Joe (6-0) is ranked No. 1 in The Press Elite 11 and has won 24 straight. Atlantic City (4-2) is No. 8 in the Elite 11.
"You have to give our kids credit," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. "They're playing with all the big boys and they're finding ways to win. They show their character in games like this."
Horne made his first varsity start Friday because the Wildcats were without two starters due to shoulder injuries - defensive back Robert Thompson, who has verbally committed to Old Dominion University, and defensive end Luke Ordille.
Horne, a Galloway Township, resident found out he would start during the week.
"I was very nervous coming into the game," Horne said.
His interception came with 5 minutes, 16 seconds left in the game and St. Joe ahead 22-19. He leaped and intercepted an Atlantic City pass in the flat at the Vikings' 23-yard line.
"It was just a reaction," Horne said. "It was a game changer."
Five plays after the turnover, St. Joe running back Miles Pease (12 carries for 70 yards) scored his third touchdown of the game - this one a 2-yard run to put the Wildcats up 28-19 with 2:27 left in the fourth quarter.
The game, played on an unseasonably warm and occasionally foggy night, was one of the most anticipated of the season so far. Atlantic City had won four straight before Friday. St. Joe and Atlantic City had never played before Friday because they've been in different leagues and CAL conferences. This season they are both in the American Conference because the CAL realigned to put its top programs in the same conference.
St. Joe never trailed, scoring on their first two possessions.
The Wildcats scored on two of their three possessions in the first half and on two of their first four possessions in the second half. St. Joe controlled the ball behind the running of Pease and Cody Sampson (21 carries for 95 yards).
"We knew what we were in for," Vikings coach Thomas Kelly said. "They ran the ball straight at us. We knew what they were going to come at us with and we were prepared to stop it. But we lost to a good team."
St. Joe needed to keep the ball as much as possible because of the speedy Vikings' big-play capability.
The Wildcats held Atlantic City standout wide receiver Dayshawn Reynolds to three catches for 22 yards. Pease, also on a defensive back, covered Reynolds.
"I stayed outside on him," Pease said. "I didn't want him to get the fade route. I know he's a good jumper and likes to go up to the ball."
St. Joe linemen Kevin Goldsmith, Charles Cade and Roy Lucas consistently pressured Atlantic City quarterback Jarren McBryde, but the Vikings still produced enough offense to make the Wildcats anxious even with the lead.
McBryde scrambled effectively and found open receivers down field. He threw for 149 yards and ran for 73 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Domaneek Brown-Hurd scored on a 1-yard run to cut St. Joe's lead to three points with 1:15 left. But the Wildcats then recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
Atlantic City can't sulk about the defeat. The Vikings, who host Mainland Regional (2-4) on Friday, are still in contention for a South Jersey Group V playoff spot.
"Teams with character bounce back from defeats," Kelly said. "This team is resilient. We have senior leaders. We'll be sad for a night but we know what's ahead of us."
As for the Wildcats, they look like a wounded team after each game. Ice bags, tape and shoulder harnesses are everywhere.
That's why the Wildcats needed the depth Horne provided Friday.
"He's a special kid," Sacco said. "We've been watching him, waiting, giving him time. It was time (to play him)."
And after Horne's interception, maybe he'll have his name on the back of his jersey next week.
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