ABSECON - T.J. Anderson ran through defenders Friday night.
When that didn't work, the Holy Spirit High School quarterback jumped over them.
Anderson scored two touchdowns and excelled at linebacker as the Spartans rallied in the second half to beat St. Joseph 31-28 in a matchup of two defending state champions.
Holy Spirit (2-0) is No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, while St. Joe is No. 4. Spirit trailed 20-19 at halftime.
St. Joe beat Spirit 7-0 last year - a contest that motivated the Spartans this year.
"This is our biggest rivalry," said the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Anderson, who ran 15 times for 80 yards. "This is our senior season. This means everything. We waited all year. It feels great to finally beat them."
Running back Franco Rifici scored on a 29-yard run with 11 minutes, 53 seconds left in the game to give Spirit a 25-20 lead it never relinquished. Anderson set the touchdown up by running over St. Joe defenders for gains of 14 and 11 yards.
"I got on my knees when Franco scored," Anderson said. "I was so happy."
On Spirit's next possession, Anderson scored on 36-yard run. He jumped over a St. Joe defender on his way to the end zone.
"I run with my head down," Anderson said, "and sometimes I go for the jump. People don't know what to do, whether to (tackle) me low or high."
Anderson also made one of the defensive plays of the game in the fourth quarter.
With Spirit ahead 25-20, St. Joe methodically drove into Spirit territory. The seconds ticked off the clock. If St. Joe scored, Spirit might not have had enough time to come back.
"We knew we had to stop them," Spirit defensive tackle Ray Ellis said. "We want to go undefeated this year."
But on fourth down, St. Joe tried an option pass. Running back C.J. LaFragola, who completed two option passes in the first half, grabbed a pitch out and looked down field. This time, Anderson tackled him for a 12-yard loss to give the ball back to Spirit with 5:10 left in the game.
Fans filled the home and visiting bleachers to watch a game that matched two of the state's top programs. Holy Spirit has won three straight state titles. St. Joe has won four consecutive state championships. Cars packed the Holy Spirit parking lot an hour before kickoff.
The games between the two schools have developed into the Cape-Atlantic League's pre-eminent rivalry since the mid-2000s. St. Joe leads the series 10-5. Spirit hadn't beaten St. Joe since 2010.
But Friday's contest could be the last time they play each other for at least two years. The schools will be in different CAL conferences in 2014 and 2015.
If this was the last game for awhile between the two schools, Friday's action left everybody with plenty to remember.
St. Joe sophomore quarterback Salaam Horne established himself as one of the CAL's best players. He returned a punt for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass.
The Spirit defense was on the field most of the game but was at its best in the second half. Anderson and Ellis each had two tackles for losses. Rahim Harris intercepted a pass and Shawn Coursey recovered a fumble.
"The emotion of the game was crazy," Ellis said. "It was a pretty physical game."
The first half featured momentum changes and big plays that had fans of both teams roaring.
Holy Spirit jumped to 12-0 lead with two scores in the first four minutes - both after St. Joe turnovers.
DeAndre Dennis (seven carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns) ran 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Spartans a 12-0 lead with 8:15 seconds in the first quarter.
But St. Joe didn't wilt.
Horne tied the game in the second quarter with a 47-yard punt return. Horne wowed the crowd when he grabbed the punt and ran untouched up the middle for a touchdown.
St. Joe grabbed the lead in the final minute of the first half.
LaFragola threw a 33-yard option pass to Ricardo Quirindongo to give the Wildcats the ball on the Holy Spirit 13-yard line.
LaFragola scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds left. St. Joe then faked the extra point. Quirindongo rolled out and threw a 2-point conversion pass to Chris Carey to put the Wildcats up 20-19.
St. Joe coach Paul Sacco bemoaned his team's early mistakes. But the Wildcats never faltered and scored with 1:36 left on a 27-yard pass from Horne to Cody Sampson to cut Spirit's lead to three points.
Spirit clinched the victory when it recovered an onsides kick.
"We said no matter what happens do not give up," Sacco said.
Spirit showed its poise in the second half. Spirit coach John Iannucci gave the Spartans a fiery halftime speech.
"We're a tight knit team that's why we prevailed," Ellis said. "Coach was (upset) at halftime, but we're a family. We knew we were going to come back and win."
Contact Michael McGarry:
St. Joseph 0 20 0 8 - 28
Holy Spirit 12 7 0 12 - 31
HS – Anderson 3 run (kick missed)
HS – Dennis 38 run (kick missed)
SJ – Sampson 4 run (kick blocked)
SJ – S. Horne 47 punt return (run failed)
HS – Dennis 21 run (Rifici kick)
SJ – LaFragola 1 run (Carey pass from Quirindongo)
HS – Rifici 29 run (run failed)
HS – Anderson 36 run (pass failed)
SJ – Sampson 27 pass from S. Horne (S. Horne run)