The Holy Spirit and DePaul Catholic high school football teams will meet today in a game both teams probably considered inevitable since October.
Holy Spirit (11-0) and DePaul (9-2) will play for the state Non-Public II title at 1 p.m. at Rutgers University in Piscataway. Holy Spirit is No. 1 in the Press Elite 11 and has won three straight state titles.
Spirit and DePaul quickly established themselves as the top teams in the state Non-Public II bracket. DePaul, located in Wayne in Passaic County, beat traditional North Jersey powers Don Bosco Prep (35-25 on Sept. 27) and Bergen Catholic (42-11 on Oct. 11).
"We've kept (DePaul) in the back of our heads," Spirit defensive tackle Ray Ellis said.
DePaul features defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins, who has verbally committed to Miami. Defensive end and linebacker Justin Nelson has verbally committed to Rutgers. DePaul can run and throw with quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (1,527 passing yards) and running back Kareem Walker (1,064 rushing yards).
Iannucci said Spirit doesn't see teams like DePaul in the Cape-Atlantic League.
"It's how we weather the storm in the beginning (of the game)," Spirit coach John Iannucci said. "If we play well in the beginning, we'll be fine.
"They have athletes. They're big. They're fast. They're strong. They're probably one of the only teams in the state that can run with us and they're probably even faster."
Holy Spirit has relied on a stingy defense and a triple-option offense. The Spartans have six shutouts this season. They have not allowed a point in six games. Ellis is a constant presence in opposing backfields with five sacks. Defensive back A.J. Dawson has returned three interceptions for touchdowns. Spirit has depth in the offensive backfield with quarterback T.J. Anderson and running backs Taalib Gerald, Dawson, Dandre Dennis and Franco Rifici.
Today's game is one the most anticipated of the 24 championships that are being played around the state this weekend.
The Spartans are thrilled to be playing at Rutgers.
"We always wanted to play at Rutgers," Ellis said. "Rutgers is the heart of New Jersey."
Spirit is a senior-dominated team. The Spartans have talked all season of wanting to win four straight state titles. When the current seniors were freshman in 2010, Spirit finished 12-0 and beat St. Joe Montvale 14-13 in the state Non-Public III final. Spirit won the Non-Public II title the past two years.
"The class of 2014 came in 12-0 and wants to go out 12-0," Ellis said.
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