Cade Antonucci and Patrick Moran have established themselves as two of the top high school kickers in the West Jersey Football League.
This weekend, on teams filled with offensive and defensive standouts, the two seniors should be factors in their respective championship games.
Antonucci and the rest of fourth-seeded Holy Spirit (9-2) will head to Kean University at 1 p.m. Saturday to face top-seeded Mater Dei Prep (11-0) in the state Non-Public Group II final. Second-seeded Cedar Creek (10-1), whom Moran has made several key field goals for this season, will face top-seeded West Deptford (11-0) 11 a.m. Sunday at Rowan University.
“It’s one of those things you have to step back and appreciate having a kid that’s so dedicated to his craft in high school,” Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said.
Antonucci is 6 for 9 in field goals and 29 for 33 in extra points. Moran also made six field goals this season and has 151 career points. Both were WJFL first-team all-stars for their respective divisions.
Moran has gotten interest from NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision teams and Division II and III teams. He will visit schools after the season ends. Antonucci signed his National Letter of Intent last week for track and field at Division I Auburn University.
Antonucci lined up for the punt with the Spartans trailing 25-20 to Atlantic City in their annual Thanksgiving rivalry football game last Thursday.
Antonucci’s punt soared toward the end zone, going out at the 1-yard line. On the very next play, linebacker Dimitris Pali sacked Atlantic City’s Nazim Derry in the end zone for a safety.
“That was a huge game-changer for us,” Holy Spirit coach A.J. Russo said.
The Spartans went on to win the game 29-25.
“He’s an added weapon for the defensive side of the ball,” Russo added. “Any time you can pin an offense inside their 10 it leads to success for the defense.”
This Saturday, when the Spartans face Mater Dei, they’re going to need Antonucci to continue making big plays in the kicking game.
“I look at it as if I’m helping the team gain yards,” said Antonucci, 18, of Mays Landing. “If I kick it 20 yards short then that’s 20 yards the other team gains. I know we can get the stops when we need it.”
Cedar Creek has no shortage in offensive weapons.
Senior running back Bo Melton has a verbal commitment to play for Rutgers and senior wide receiver Isaiah Watson is fielding offers. Senior quarterback Jesse Milza plans to play in college and senior offensive lineman Owen Bowles will follow Melton to Rutgers.
But then there’s Moran, who has a pair of game-winning kicks this season.
“He’s extremely focused on getting better,” Watson said. “No matter what position you play, if you have a kid that dedicated they’re going to be successful and put themselves in a position to help the team.”
The South Jersey Group II final could come down to Moran’s leg Sunday. That game will be a rematch of last year’s final, which Cedar Creek won 28-27.
“Winning last year was awesome,” said Moran, 17, of Galloway Township. “Going back-to-back would be something special.”
It was a pair of game-winning kicks against perennial power St. Joseph that probably changed the course of the season for Holy Spirit and Cedar Creek.
In just the second game of the season Sept. 17, Holy Spirit surprised the area with a 17-14 overtime win against the defending champion Wildcats thanks to Antonucci’s 35-yard field goal. It was a part of Spirit’s 5-0 start.
“It was a huge momentum win for us,” Russo said. “We played with them in the playoffs last year and couldn’t finish. To have the ability to go to their field and come out with the win was positive reinforcement for our kids and how successful they can be this year.”
On Oct. 22, the Pirates played St. Joseph to another overtime game against two of the area’s top teams. Moran lined up and hit a game-winning 39-yard field goal for the 17-14 double-overtime win.
The following week, Moran hit a 28-yarder late in the fourth to give the Pirates a 17-14 win over Haddonfield. The game after that, they beat Oakcrest 30-19 to finish the regular season.
“We took (those games) week by week,” Moran said. “We figured if we played as well as we could it would set us in the right direction for the playoffs.”