HAMMONTON - Dylan Rosu announced the intentions of the Hammonton High School football team on the opening kickoff Friday night.
Rosu sprinted down the field and upended the Holy Spirit returner with a hit that drew roars from the crowd.
"I was psyched," Rosu said. "They knew Hammonton was coming."
Hammonton clinched the Cape-Atlantic League National Division with a 37-14 win over the Spartans.
Hammonton senior Bobby Barbieri intercepted three passes and caught a touchdown pass. Blue Devils fullback David Williams rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
The loss was Spirit's first on-the-field defeat to a public school since a 24-0 loss to Mainland Regional on Oct. 10, 2008.
"To win a division and beat somebody like that … ," Hammonton coach Pete Lancetta said. "As the season went on, our kids kept believing and getting better. They really believed they could win (Friday). They're special."
Fans filled the home and away bleachers for Friday's highly anticipated game. Hammonton (6-0) is ranked No. 4 in The Press Elite 11. Holy Spirit (3-3) is No. 5. One of the Spartans' losses was a win they later forfeited for using an academically ineligible player.
The Spartans played without standout running back Donta Pollock, who sat with a sprained knee ligament. But Spirit still had Nigel Jones, who rushed for 29 times for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Spirit - as it has done all season - hurt itself with penalties.
"We've yet to improve on that, and that's my fault," Spirit coach Charles Roman said. "We work on it, but in the end we haven't corrected it. That's been the death of us."
The game turned in Hammonton's favor in the final nine minutes.
The Blue Devils led 16-14 and faced a third-and-11 on their own 49-yard line. Quarterback Christian Mortellite (6-of-10 for 75 yards) completed a 10-yard pass to Barbieri.
Hammonton would have faced a difficult fourth-down decision, but Spirit roughed the passer on the play, giving the Blue Devils an automatic first down. Four players later, Mortellite found Barbieri open just over the goal line near the pylon to make it 23-14 Hammonton with 3 minutes, 59 seconds left in the game.
Hammonton's defense then quickly ended any hopes of a Spirit comeback.
Anthony Scibilia intercepted a pass on the Spartans' next possession and returned it 24 yards to the Spirit 8-yard line. Williams scored two players later on a 2-yard run with 2:04 left.
Barbieri picked off a pass on Spirit's next possession and returned it 44 yards to the Spirit 2-yard line. Williams then dove across the goal line to put the Blue Devils up 23 with 1:42 left.
"It kind of fell apart on us at the end," Roman said. "But Hammonton is a heck of a football team. Their kids are tough, hard-nosed kids and now they have athletes."
Hammonton showed all the qualities that has so far made it one of southern New Jersey's top teams.
Chris Brennan, a 177-pound defensive end, sparked a stingy defense with a tackle for a loss.
The offensive line opened consistent holes for the Blue Devils' versatile backfield. Hammonton rushed for 201 yards. Running backs Russ Forchion (eight carries for 61 yards) and Dom Williams (seven carries for 21 carries) also scored touchdowns.
Mortellite completed several key passes, especially in the second half when he connected on 5-of-6 throws.
The Blue Devils blend talented sophomores and juniors with experienced seniors.
"Everybody on this team is all in," Barbieri, a senior, said. "That's what our slogan is 'Family - all in.' It shows on the field that we are together."
Barbieri downplayed his three interceptions, saying he was just in the right spot.
"I didn't care about my results individually as long as the scoreboard showed that Hammonton was winning at the end of the game," he said.
Spirit needs wins in its next two games against Ocean City (1-6) on Oct. 28 and St. Augustine Prep (2-4) on Nov. 4 to boost its playoff chances.
The Spartans began the season ranked No. 1 in the Elite 11. Many observers conceded the division title to Spirit in the preseason. But it was Hammonton that celebrated Friday.
"Easier said than done," David Williams said. "Easier said than done. That's all we say around Hammonton."
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