St. Joseph High School’s Ricardo Quirindongo makes an interception in front of Holy Spirit’s Rahim Harris during their meeting earlier this season. The Wildcats, ranked No. 2 in The Press Elite 11, are 10-1 and have won nine straight games since their loss to top-ranked and undefeated Holy Spirit.

Staff photo by Ben Folgetto, Sept. 20

The St. Joseph High School football team has beaten St. Mary of Rutherford by the combined score of 127-0 the last three times they've met.

But don't expect the St. Joe Wildcats to be overconfident when the teams meet again today. Wildcats coach Paul Sacco has high standards.

"We told the kids all week we still haven't played that perfect game we've wanted to play all season," Sacco said. "We told the kids you have one last shot to try to be perfect out there and just play good, crisp, sound football. Will it happen? Who knows?"

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St. Joe (10-1) will play St. Mary for the state Non-Public I title at 1 o'clock at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township. St. Joe is ranked No. 2 in The Press Elite 11 and has won four straight state titles. The Wildcats beat St. Mary in the last three state Non-Public I finals.

But that dominance gives Sacco another reason to worry heading into today's game.

"Anybody can be beaten on any given day," Sacco said. "They way I look at it, you can only have a team's number for so long. We're going to get their best game. They have nothing to lose."

Sacco says this is a different type of St. Mary team than St. Joe played in the past. Those St. Mary's teams were big upfront and relied on the run. This season the Gaels occasionally run the spread offense and throw the ball more.

"They seem to be more openminded with the offense," Sacco said.

St. Mary has won seven straight with four of those wins by shutout. The Gaels have three shutouts in a row and have just eight points in their last five games.

Although St. Joe won 36-0 last year, the Wildcats only led 14-0 late in the second quarter.

Of course, St. Joe brings its own impressive credentials into today's game.

The Wildcats feature a speedy backfield that sparks an offense that averages 43.4 points. Sophomore twins Salaam (quarterback) and A'Laam Horne (running back) have wowed fans all season with their ability score any time they touch the ball no matter where on the field. Junior fullback C.J. LaFragola has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and is among St. Joe's leading tacklers at linebacker. Running backs Cody Sampson and Rocco Ordille both average around 9 yards per carry.

"We're going to try and get outside again," Sacco said, "and get some kids on the flank with the running game and some short passes and go from there."

The Wildcats are dominated by sophomore and juniors, but the underclassmen want to the seniors end their careers the way they started it - as champions.

"The seniors want to win, so we have to do it for them," Salaam said.

Few teams in the state can match St. Joe's tradition of playoff success. The Wildcats have won 15 championships since the state Non-Public playoffs began in 1993. St. Joe won eight state titles in a row from 1999-2006.

Despite all they've already achieved, the Wildcats will make history today. They have never played a 12-game season, mostly because they received so many first-round playoff byes through the years.

"We want to play in December," Sacco said. "Anytime at the end of the season you can put the kids on one of those coach buses and go to a college stadium and play, it's exciting. Our kids are excited and hopefully they're going to play that way."

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