Anthony Giagunto became the starting quarterback for the St. Joseph High School football team against Lower Cape May Regional on Oct. 15 of last year.
St. Joe beat the previously undefeated Caper Tigers 41-10.
"I felt excitement," Giagunto said. "I was a tad nervous, but I felt more excitement. I was ready to go."
St. Joe hasn't stopped winning since that night. The Wildcats are 16-0 with Giagunto as a starter. St. Joe (9-0), No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, meets St. Mary of Rutherford (6-3) for the state Non-Public I title at 1 p.m. Saturday at the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township, Mercer County.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Giagunto hasn't thrown an interception in 98 career pass attempts. The junior has thrown 12 career touchdown passes - nine of them this season.
"I'm more comfortable this year than last year," Giagunto said. "I feel like it's my team this year. I have more confidence in myself. I have to make plays."
But Giagunto's quarterback play is only part of his contribution to the Wildcats.
He hardly ever comes off the field. He plays defensive back and has intercepted four passes this season.
Giagunto is the holder on extra-point and field-goal attempts. He returns punts and is even the long snapper when the Wildcats punt the ball.
"I was long snapper my freshman year and that's how I got my varsity letter," he said.
Giagunto took over as quarterback two weeks after the Wildcats lost to Holy Spirit 35-0 on Oct. 1 of last year.
It wasn't the easiest situation for an inexperienced player to step into. The Wildcats roster is filled with high-profile high school players such as defensive end and tight end Kaiwan Lewis and wide receiver and defensive end Max Valles.
Giagunto's teammates had faith in him.
"We saw him in practice," Lewis said. "He worked hard even when he didn't have the starting job. We were ready to roll."
Giagunto doesn't say much.
"When he does talk, it's with a purpose," Lewis said. "He gets everybody in the right spots and the right direction."
Giagunto has worked almost his entire life to be a high school quarterback. He started playing football when he was 4-years-old and was a quarterback from the start. His father, Joseph, played quarterback for Williamstown High School in the late 1980s.
Father and son worked together on fundamentals such has footwork and ball handling.
"He knows where everybody is suppose to be on every play," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. "He's such a smart quarterback we've never ever worried about his height."
Giagunto's teammates aren't afraid to give him a hard time. They constantly joking about his height, saying he can't see over the linemen or that he's so small he disappears behind them when he runs.
But Giagunto's lack of size doesn't mean he lacks toughness. His teammates call him the "5-9 Warrior."
Giagunto injured a finger on his left and non-throwing hand taking snaps in practice a week before last Saturday's game against Hammonton.
"His finger was bent backwards," Sacco said. "It would almost make you sick to your stomach."
Giagunto never missed a practice.
"He was in a lot of pain, but he just said 'Coach, I'll be fine,' " Sacco said.
Giagunto played flawlessly against Hammonton, completing 3-of-5 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in the 32-3 win.
St. Joe can cap a historic season Saturday. The Wildcats are trying to win their third straight state title. Few teams in Cape-Atlantic League history have been as dominant. St. Joe has outscored its opponents by the combined margin of 423-19 this season.
Giagunto would like nothing better than a win for the St. Joe seniors, the same upperclassmen who trusted him when he became the quarterback last season.
"This is the biggest game of the year," Giagunto said.
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