HAMMONTON — Dom Williams of the Hammonton High School football team stuck out his arm, dove at Talib Gerald’s feet and hoped.
Williams upended Holy Spirit’s Gerald short of the end zone, but Williams still didn’t know whether he had made the game-winning tackle until he looked back at the official.
The official signaled no two-point conversion and thus began a Hammonton celebration. The Blue Devils beat Spirit 22-20 in overtime Friday night in the season opener for both Cape-Atlantic League American Conference teams. Williams (16 carries for 84 yards) also scored Hammonton’s overtime touchdown on a 9-yard run.
“Coach (Pete Lancetta) always says it might come down to one play, and tonight it did,” Williams said.
The game was one of the most anticipated of the opening weekend. It marked John Iannucci’s debut as Holy Spirit’s coach. The Spartans are the defending state Non-Public II champion. Hammonton, a perennial power, is No. 3 in The Press Preseason Elite 11.
A young Spirit team that ran the triple-option offense hurt itself with six turnovers.
“It’s growing pains,” Iannucci said. “It’s a young team. It’s a new offense. As long as we keep getting better and better, we’ll be fine.”
Hammonton also overcame adversity. Blue Devils wide receiver, defensive back and kicker Alex Padovani injured his knee catching a pass early in the first quarter when the game was scoreless. The junior, who is one of the region’s top players, did not return. The injury meant Hammonton could not attempt an extra point or field goal for the rest of the game.
“Forget about us,” Lancetta said. “I feel so bad for him. It took the wind out of my sails. It shouldn’t have, but I’m human.”
Still, Hammonton dominated the first half behind the running of Williams and twin brother David (18 carries for 64 yards).
But the score was tied at 14 at halftime because of two Spirit plays. Gerald returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and quarterback C.J. LaFragola threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Taylor, who leaped between two defenders in the end zone, on the final play of the first half.
Neither team mounted another serious scoring threat until overtime. In high school football, each team gets at least one possession at the opponent’s 25-yard line.
Hammonton got the ball first and scored in four plays. Williams swept around the end and across the goal line. Ben Bevan then ran across the goal line for the two-point conversion to put the Blue Devils ahead 22-20.
Spirit took just one play to score. Gerald took a pitchout and weaved through the Blue Devils’ defense for a 25-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to two.
Spirit pitched the ball to the speedy Gerald for the two-point conversion. He appeared to be headed for the corner of the end zone. Dom Williams shed his block and was the only defender between Gerald and the end zone. Lancetta said afterward he thought Gerald would shake Williams and score.
“I had no choice but to go low,” Williams said of his tackle. “He’s fast.”
Gerald stretched for the end zone as he fell toward the grass, but the ball banged off the turf inches short of the goal line.
Hammonton celebrated. Spirit slumped in the defeat.
“That’s as close as you can get to getting in with not getting in,” Iannucci said with a shake of his head.
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