BRIDGETON - St. Augustine Prep football coach Mark Reardon was wondering how his young team would respond to a challenge.
He got his answer Friday night.
The Hermits outscored Bridgeton 14-0 in the fourth quarter en route to a 35-12 victory in a game between Cape-Atlantic League National Conference contenders at Jim Hursey Memorial Stadium.
"This was a great game for us," Reardon said. "Bridgeton is a talented team that will hit you hard. They smacked us in the mouth early in the game, and I liked the way we fought back."
St. Augustine took command of the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference race with the win. The unbeaten Hermits improved to 5-0 in the conference and overall, while Bridgeton (5-2) dropped to 4-1.
The Hermits used a balanced offense to gain its biggest victory of the season.
Quarterback Jose Tabora threw two touchdown passes and ran for one, while running back Lamont Harris ran for two TDs.
"This was a new experience for us because we don't have a lot of experience in close games," Tabora said. "It feels good to come out with a victory."
The Hermits turned an entertaining game into a comfortable victory with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns by Harris and Tabora, respectively.
Harris personally accounted for all 35 yards of a drive on seven consecutive carries, including a 1-yard plunge into the end zone that upped St. Augustine's lead to 28-12. Harris, who entered the game as the CAL's leading rusher, ran for 150 yards on 28 carries to up his season output to 944 yards on the ground.
After the Hermits forced a fumble on Bridgeton's next possession - one of four turnovers committed by the Bulldogs - Tabora scored on a 1-yard bootleg to close the scoring. Tabora completed 14 of 22 passes for 226 with two TDs.
Wide receiver Austin Francisco was his favorite target, catching eight passes for 143 yards. Tight ends Chad Penny and Daniel Pavlik combined for six receptions for 83 yards.
"We have too many weapons," Tabora said. "People can't key on just one player."
St. Augustine relied on its big-play offense to take a 21-12 halftime lead.
Tabora threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes. The sophomore found Penny for a 25-yard score on their opening possession, then later teamed up with Francisco for a 90-yard TD with one minute, 50 seconds remaining in the first half.
St. Augustine had just had a 40-yard reception by Penny erased by a penalty when Tabora took a shotgun snap from the 10-yard line and lofted a pass along the left sideline that Francisco caught at the 35. The lanky, 6-foot-3, 190-pounder used long, loping strides to pull away from a pair of Bridgeton defenders giving chase en route to the end zone.
Until that touchdown, however, Bridgeton hung tough in the first half.
After Penny opened the scoring, Bulldogs senior defensive back Quasheem Taylor stepped in front of a Tabora pass and raced 25 yards up the right sideline to cut St. Augustine's lead to 7-6 in the first quarter.
Harris put the Hermits ahead 14-6 when he burst through a hole on the left side and outran a Bridgeton defender for his 60-yard TD. Bridgeton cut the deficit to 14-12 on Cappadonna Miller's 8-yard scamper with 7:59 left in the second quarter. Taylor set up the play with a 41-yard dash up the right sideline.
The Bulldogs had another chance to score in the second, but St. Augustine stopped them on downs at the 8-yard line.
"I thought we played well for most of the game," Bridgeton coach Dave Ellen said. "We had some opportunities that we didn't take advantage of, and you can't afford to do that against a team like St. Augustine."
Contact David Weinberg:
St. Augustine 14 7 0 14 - 35
Bridgeton 6 6 0 0 - 12
SA - Penny 25 pass from Tabora. (Snow kick).
B - Taylor 25 interception return. (Pass failed).
SA - Harris 60 run. (Snow kick).
B - Miller 8 run. (Pass failed).
SA - Francisco 90 pass from Tabora. (Snow kick).
SA - Harris 1 run. (Snow kick).
SA - Tabora 1 run. (Snow kick).