Taalib Gerald of Holy Spirit and Alex Padovani of Hammonton remember last season's high school football opener with regret.

Tonight, each will use those memories as motivation.

Hammonton and Holy Spirit open their 2013 season at 7 p.m. today in Absecon.

Hammonton won last year's opener 22-20 in overtime.

Gerald scored two touchdowns but the game ended with the ball in his hands.

The senior running back grabbed a pitch out in overtime and sprinted toward the corner of the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt. He seemed almost certain to cross the goal line and tie the game. But Hammonton tackled him inches short of the end zone.

"That play has been in the back of mind since last year," Gerald said. "It adds fuel to the fire for (tonight). They say it's a game of inches. Being the competitor that I am, you don't want to lose by an inch. You want to get that extra inch."

Padovani, a senior wide receiver and defensive back, stood on the sideline for the game's deciding play.

He went out for a pass in the first quarter of last year's game. A Holy Spirit defender hit Padovani on the knee with his helmet. Padovani broke his femur.

Padovani, who has verbally committed to play football at Villanova University, missed the rest of the game and several games that followed.

"We've watched the film of last year's game, and I've seen that play a lot this week," Padovani said. "The only motivation from that is that I never got a chance to play Holy Spirit as a receiver. I'm going to try to show them what I can do."

Tonight's game - like last year's contest - is one off the most anticipated of the opening weekend of high school football.

Spirit has won three straight state titles and is No. 1 in The Press Elite 11. Hammonton is a perennial power with 30 playoff appearances.

Unlike some openers, both Spirit and Hammonton will have a good idea of where they stand after tonight.

"I would rather play a tough (opening) game because it's easier to have a good preseason," Spirit coach John Iannucci said. "I've always liked to open up against somebody good."

The Hammonton Blue Devils are looking to bounce back from last season's 5-5 record.

Hammonton's strength is a veteran offensive and defensive line. Linemen Bob Frederico and Brandon Alfonso are three-year starters.

Meanwhile, Spirit features a host of college prospects most notably defensive tackle Ray Ellis and linebacker Jeff Steeb.

"We have to shutdown Spirit's triple-option attack," said Padovani, who also plays defensive back. "I think the game is going to be more of a defensive battle than people think."

Spirit will be without defensive back and running back A.J. Dawson, who is out with a separated shoulder. Villanova has offered the speedy Dawson a scholarship. He is expected to be out one to three weeks.

"It's tough," Dawson said of the injury. "We went through so much to prepare for the season. I was a little down when it happened, but I'm going to come back fully healed."

Both teams spent the week anticipating tonight. Many players on both teams have lifted weights since the end of last season. Preseason practice began Aug. 12. The teams have been studying each other for weeks.

"This week is always special, but playing Spirit boosts it," Padovani said. "We can't wait to get in there and start the season off."

Contact Michael McGarry:

609-272-7185

Hammonton

vs. No. 1 Holy Spirit

When/where: 7 p.m. today at Holy Spirit

Radio: 97.3 FM

Updates: GameDayExtra.com and HSLive.me

Why this game is important: These Cape-Atlantic League American Conference teams are perennial powers. Spirit is the defending state Non-Public II champion and No. 1 in The Press Preseason Elite 11.

Recent meetings:

2012: Hammonton 22, Holy Spirit 20

2011: Hammonton 37, Holy Spirit 14

2010: Holy Spirit 28, Hammonton 7