EWING TOWNSHIP - The St. Joseph High School football team ran three plays and punted on its first possession Saturday afternoon.
"I think we had some (nervous) goosebumps," St. Joe defensive back and running back Darryl Smith said.
Once the Wildcats got rid of the jitters, the touchdowns started coming more and more quickly.
St. Joe capped one of the most dominant seasons ever by a local team with a 51-0 defeat of St. Mary of Rutherford to win the state Non-Public I title at The College of New Jersey in Mercer County.
The Wildcats (10-0) have won three straight state titles and 14 since the state Non-Public playoffs began in 1993.
St. Joe outscored its opponents 474-19 this season. The Wildcats did not allow a touchdown in their final 31 quarters - seven-plus games.
"To know that we were one of the most dominant teams (ever) at St. Joe is definitely an accomplishment and makes me feel wonderful," said fullback Eli Pogue, who rushed for three touchdowns.
After failing to score on their first drive, the Wildcats wowed their fans by scoring on their next five possessions to build a 38-0 halftime lead. The first scoring drive took 2 minutes, 54 seconds. The other four were all quicker.
"I'm always worried that no matter who we're playing, sooner or later you have to stumble and fall back a little bit," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. "But this group of kids loves playing together so much. We were a little shaky that first quarter. Give (St. Mary's) credit. But once we got our feet under us, we were fine."
St. Joe took control in the final four minutes of the first quarter. Pogue finished a five-play, 58-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to make it 16-0 with 2:25 left in the first quarter.
St. Joe then recovered an onside kick. Two plays later, quarterback Anthony Giagunto threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Robert Thompson to make it 24-0 St. Joe with 1:15 left in the first quarter.
"We tried to get the intensity up, build the momentum and score quick every drive we had," Giagunto said.
St. Joe, No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, entered the game as a prohibitive favorite. The Wildcats admitted they felt some pressure to live up to expectations.
"It wouldn't mean as much if you went undefeated in the regular season and came here and laid a goose egg," standout tight end and defensive end Kaiwan Lewis said.
The Wildcats showed just how good they are in the first half. It seemed as if a different player made a standout play on each snap.
Five different Wildcats scored touchdowns.
Smith threw a halfback-option pass for a touchdown and caught a screen pass for a 62-yard score.
Giagunto (6-of-9 for 151 yards) threw for two touchdowns.
Pogue finished with 12 carries for 127 yards. Halfback Kaheem Reynolds ran 11 times for 157 yards.
On defense, St. Mary's produced few positive yardage plays.
Smith and Giagunto each intercepted a pass. Miles Pease recovered a fumble.
Kevin Goldsmith, Roy Lucas and Thompson each had a sack. Max Valles and Lewis made tackles for losses.
The Wildcats have been frustrated this season because they haven't played many games. Most teams that win championships play 12 games. St. Joe played just 10.
The Wildcats received a double bye right to Saturday's state final because only three teams in Non-Public I achieved the .500-or-better record needed to qualify for the playoffs.
St. Joe played Saturday as if it wanted to make the most of its final game. The Wildcats ran reverses and option passes early in the contest.
"All season long, being a senior, we didn't play that much," Lewis said. "We always came out at halftime or the second quarter. Today, coach wanted to give us the gift to stay in the game."
With all its success, St. Joe knows how to celebrate a championship.
The players posed for photographs with the state championship trophy. Many of the Wildcats held up three fingers to symbolize the three straight titles they have won.
After the team photo, the seniors posed for a picture in front of the scoreboard.
St. Joe played so well that a case can be made for it as the best team in the school's illustrious history. One of the other recent contenders is the 2005 Wildcats, who finished 11-0, won the state Non-Public I title and outscored opponents 489-71.
Reporters asked Sacco after the game where the 2011 Wildcats rank in St. Joe history. He dodged the question - sort of.
"I'm going to let you guys decide that," he said, and then with a smile added, "I just know we're a pretty good football team."
Contact Michael McGarry:
St. Mary 0 0 0 0-0
St. Joseph 24 14 0 13-51
SJ-Lewis 10 pass from Giagunto (Smith run)
SJ-Pogue 2 run (Reynolds pass from Giagunto)
SJ-Thompson 30 pass from Smith (Giagunto run)
SJ-Reynolds 4 run (Pogue run)
SJ-Smith 62 pass from Giagunto (run failed)
SJ-Pogue 26 run (kick failed)
SJ-Pogue 27 run (Valles kick)
RUSHING-St. Mary, Diaz 9-18, Rutty 6-27. St. Joseph, Pogue 12-127, Reynolds 11-157.
PASSING-St. Mary, Monoghan 4-14-2-55. St. Joseph, Giagunto 6-9-0-151.
RECEIVING-St. Mary, Rison 1-43. St. Joseph, Thompson 2-60, Lewis 2-36, Smith 1-62.
Records-St. Mary 6-4; St. Joseph 10-0.