HAMMONTON - C.J. LaFragola could have pouted when the St. Joseph High School football team switched him from quarterback to fullback in the preseason.
Instead, he made the move and continued to help the Wildcats win games.
The junior rushed 16 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns to propel St. Joe to a come-from-behind 21-14 win over Millville on Saturday afternoon. LaFragola scored the wining touchdown on a 23-yard run up the middle with 7 minutes, 39 seconds left in the game. The score capped a 12-play, 67-yard drive that took 4:52.
St. Joe defensive back Cody Sampson intercepted two passes in the final five minutes to help preserve the win.
"This shows we never give up," LaFragola said. "We always play to win."
LaFragola entered the preseason as the Wildcats' quarterback. But after a few scrimmages, sophomore Sa'Laam Horne took over at quarterback and the 5-foot-11, 185-pound LaFragola moved to fullback.
"I viewed it positively," LaFragola said. "I always want to do whatever the team needs. That was the better situation for the team. Wherever coach needs him. If they want me at quarterback, I'll go back. If they want me to play receiver, I'll play receiver."
Fans filled the home and visiting bleachers at St. Joe on a sunny day to watch a highly anticipated matchup of Cape-Atlantic League American Conference contenders with high playoff aspirations. Millville (2-1) is ranked No. 6 in The Press Elite 11, St. Joe (2-1) No. 8.
St. Joe entered the game with extra motivation, having lost to rival Holy Spirit 31-28 on Sept. 20. The Wildcats have won four straight state titles and aren't used to being under .500.
"We couldn't go 1-2," LaFragola said. "We had to come out 2-1. Now we're back on track and we have to keep it going."
Still, Millville - sparked by running back Rob Ennis - seemed on the verge of victory. Ennis threw a 33-yard option pass to wide receiver Chris Harris to give the Thunderbolts a 7-0 in the first quarter.
Ennis (16 carries for 121 yards) missed most of the third quarter. He tried to catch a floating pass and took a hard hit from Horne.
Ennis returned to the game and scored on his first carry. He sprinted 42 yards for a touchdown on a draw play to give Millville a 14-13 lead with 30.9 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats then began their winning drive.
"We knew we had to put one in the end zone," LaFragola said. "The mood was to get back on track."
St. Joe had its most success running up the middle with LaFragola. The fullback, who lives in Little Egg Harbor Township, had struggled in St. Joe's first two games, running 15 times for 27 yards.
"We make a living on our fullback game," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. "Eighty to 90 percent of what we do comes off our fullback game. We haven't had it in the first two games. Saturday when we needed it he came through."
LaFragola scored his first touchdown - a 32-yard run in the first quarter - on a trap play. The winning touchdown came on the same play.
LaFragola broke a few tackles at the line of scrimmage and then sprinted into the open. A Millville defender dove at LaFragola's heels near the goal line, but it was too late.
"I got the ball and cut back," LaFragola said. "The hole opened up from there. I saw the seam and took off. I saw green and followed the green to the end zone."
The St. Joe defense made sure the lead held up. Millville features plenty of speedy players who can score anytime they touch the ball, no matter where they are on the field.
"The mindset was to just wrap them up," said LaFragola, who also excels at linebacker. "The mindset was to wrap them up and hold on."
Millville coach Jason Durham lamented his team's mistakes. The Thunderbolts committed four turnovers. But despite the defeat, Millville established itself as a South Jersey Group V contender.
"At times we played well, but at the same time we kicked ourselves in the rear end with stupid penalties and mistakes," Durham said. "But a lot of credit goes to them. St. Joe has a great program. They responded (when Millville had the lead). This is something we have to try to build off of."
LaFragola transferred to St. Joe from Holy Spirit last season. Saturday's game was easily his best as a Wildcat. Sacco said LaFragola is one of the team's leaders and never complained when he was moved from quarterback to fullback.
"You can sum (LaFragola) up with this," Sacco said. "He is 110 percent a St. Joe football player."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Millville 7 0 7 0-14
St. Joseph 7 6 0 8-21
MV - Harris 33 pass from Ennis (Young kick)
SJ - LaFragola 32 run (Ryker kick)
SJ - Sampson 44 run (kick blocked)
MV - Ennis 42 run (Young kick)
SJ - LaFragola 23 run (Horne run)
Rushing - Millville, Ennis 16-121. St. Joseph, LaFragola 16-128, Sampson 9-80.
Passing - Millville, Rivera 7-28-2-55, Ennis 1-1-0-33. St. Joseph, Horne 3-6-1-22.
Receiving - Millville, Harris 2-42. St. Joseph, Brown 1-14.
Records - Millville 2-1; St. Joseph 2-1