CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - St. Augustine Prep's football team relied on a balanced offense and aggressive defense to earn an impressive victory Friday night.
Running back Lamont Harris Jr. rushed for three touchdowns, quarterback Jose Tabora threw three touchdown passes and the Hermits' defense did not allow a touchdown until the fourth quarter in a 48-14 victory over Cape-Atlantic League National Conference rival Middle Township.
Harris, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior, used a blend of speed and power to rush for 239 yards on 23 carries. He got stronger as the game wore on, scoring all three of his TDs in the second half on runs of 6, 23 and 40 yards, respectively.
Tabora took care of the scoring in the first half with a pair of TD passes to wide receiver Austin Francisco and another to tight end Daniel Pavlik.
Tabora, a 6-foot, 175-pound sophomore, completed 11-of-19 passes for 218 yards with the three TDs and an interception.
"We made some mistakes, but we also made some explosive plays on offense and I thought we were solid on defense," said St. Augustine Prep coach Mark Reardon. "We're going to need to play better, but we have a lot of kids out there and they have to get used to what they're doing out there."
Sophomore linebacker Dante Enos sparked the Hermits' defense. The 5-8, 175-pounder notched two sacks in the second half and also blocked a punt.
Middle scored its only offensive TD on James Smith's 5-yard run with 8 minutes, 39 seconds left in regulation. Hermits freshman running back Casimir Phillips closed the scoring on a 5-yard run at the 5:08 mark.
Tabora's three TD passes helped the Hermits take a 21-7 halftime lead in the season opener for both schools.
The Hermits, the defending CAL National champions, scored their first TD of the season on their second play from scrimmage when Tabora hit Francisco for a 62-yard score. Francisco, 6-3 and 190 pounds, caught a slant at midfield and outran two Middle defenders to the end zone.
Tabora and Francisco also hooked up for a 13-yard TD later in the first quarter, then Tabora found the burly Pavlik for a 65-yard TD in the second period. Pavlik, a 6-1, 220-pound sophomore, shook off a Middle defender as if he was brushing lint off his uniform, then broke another tackle at the 5-yard line.
Tabora completed 8-of-13 passes for 199 yards in the first half. Francisco was his favorite receiver, grabbing four passes for 101 yards.
Middle hung tough in the first half because of its defense.
Led by linebacker Smith and cornerback Alex Terenik, the Panthers forced three first-half turnovers. They scored their only TD in the first quarter, when Smith stormed into the Hermits' backfield, scooped up a botched shotgun snap and dashed 8 yards to the end zone. Middle also recovered another fumble and Terenik snared an interception.
"In the beginning of the game I was pretty nervous because this was my first start, but I was able to settle down as the game wore on," said Tabora of Egg Harbor Township. "I know it sounds weird but that fumble (on the botched snap that led to Middle's first TD) got my nerves out. In practice, I mess up hundreds of times, but I'm able to block them out and move on and that's what I tried to do today."
St. Augustine's defense was impressive in the early going, holding Middle without a first down until late in the first quarter and the Hermits keep the Panthers on their side of the 50-yard line for most of the first half.
The Panthers finally mounted a rally in the final two minutes of the second quarter after Terenik's interception gave them possession at the Hermits' 38-yard line. Smith's 11-yard run helped them get to the 13, but time ran out as a third-down pass fell incomplete.
"We've just got to learn from this. We've got to push forward," said Middle coach Frank Riggitano.
St. Augustine upped its lead to 28-7 on its initial possession of the second half after a strong defensive stand to open the third quarter that also featured a partially blocked punt. Harris capped a 30-yard, five-play drive with a 2-yard TD plunge with 8:57 left in the period.
Contact David Weinberg:
St. Augustine 14 7 21 6 - 48
Middle Twp. 7 0 0 7 - 14
SA - Francisco 62 pass from Tabora (Snow kick)
MT - James Smith 8 fumble return (Fala kick)
SA - Francisco 13 pass from Tabora (Snow kick)
SA - Pavlik 65 pass from Tabora (Snow kick)
SA - Harris 6 run (Snow kick)
SA - Harris 23 run (Snow kick)
SA - Harris 40 run (Snow kick)
MT - Smith 5 run. (Fala kick)
SA - Phillips 5 run. (kick failed)