The St. Joseph High School football team rallied to beat Absegami 37-29 in Week 1.
The Wildcats scored with 15 seconds left to beat Holy Spirit 7-0 in Week 2.
Week 3 doesn't get any easier.
St. Joseph (2-0) plays Millville (2-0) at 7 p.m. today in a highly anticipated Cape-Atlantic League American Conference game. Fans are expected to fill the bleachers at Millville's Wheaton Field.
"Every week no matter what the crowd is like or who we're playing we're excited to play football," Millville senior lineman Jimmy Cessna said. "But when you have lots of people at your home field you can feel the energy level. You're way more excited to play."
St. Joe has won 20 straight and is No. 1 in The Press Elite 11. The Wildcats are the defending state Non-Public I champion. Millville is No. 10 in the Elite 11. The Thunderbolts reached the South Jersey Group IV final last season and have won 17 of their last 20 games.
Tonight is also Millville's home opener and few local towns are more passionate about high school football. Millville sells season tickets to games. The Thunderbolts started playing football in the late 1800s.
"It's a great atmosphere there," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. "Their program is rich in
tradition. Our kids like playing on Friday nights because we don't have lights."
St. Joe's football tradition is also impressive. The Wildcats have won 20 playoff championships, including three consecutive state titles.
But this is the first season the Wildcats have consistently played the CAL's larger public schools. St. Joe has a sophomore through senior class enrollment of 281 students, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
All but two of its opponents have a similar enrollment of at least 1,000 students. Millville's sophomore through senior class enrollment is 1,424, according to the NJSIAA.
St. Joe hasn't played Millville since the mid-1980s when the schools split two meetings. St. Joe's success and its No. 1 ranking also makes it "the big game" on all of their opponents' schedules.
"We stepped up the intensity in practice this week because of how good St. Joe is," Cessna said. "I think we're all excited to play a team of that caliber."
St. Joe features some of the state's most talented players. The CAL's public schools would argue that parochial schools like St. Joe have an advantage because they can attract players from all over South Jersey.
But with 10 Wildcats playing both offense and defense, one of St. Joe's biggest concern this season was whether the tougher schedule would wear the Wildcats down.
Wildcats running back Miles Pease missed most of the season-opening win over Absegami when he separated his shoulder in the first quarter.
Standout St. Joe lineman Roy Lucas left last week's game against Holy Spirit in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and is questionable for tonight, according to Sacco. St. Joe beat Spirit when quarterback Anthony Giagunto threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Pease with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
"The Holy Spirit game was a physical game," Sacco said. "Every hit there was a crack. Kids were making plays all over the field."
Tonight's game should be filled with entertaining plays.
Millville relies on an offense that can score quickly from anywhere on the field with running back Rob Ennis, quarterback Rashon Sorrell and wide receiver DeQuan Bowman.
Millville has scored nine touchdowns this season. The average distance of those scores is 32.3 yards. The Thunderbolts scored three touchdowns in the final 3 minutes, 25 seconds of the first half in last Friday's 35-7 win over Mainland Regional.
St. Joe failed to convert on several scoring opportunities against Absegami and Spirit. Sacco said that can't happen tonight.
"We need to have a great defensive effort," he said, "and when we get in the red zone (on offense) we have to score. (Millville) is not a team where you're going to score seven points and beat them."
Contact Michael McGarry:
St. Joseph (2-0) at Millville (2-0)
When/where: 7 p.m. today at Wheaton Field
Why this game is important: Both teams are among the region's best and Cape-Atlantic League American Conference contenders. St. Joe is No. 1 in The Press Elite 11 and the defending state Non-Public I champion. Millville is No. 10 in the Elite 11 and was a South Jersey Group IV finalist last season.
Key players: St. Joe: Anthony Giagunto, QB/DB, 14-of-30 for 220 yards and three touchdowns; Cody Sampson, FB/LB, 30 carries for 145 yards; Kevin Goldsmith, OL/DL, 16 tackles.
Millville: Rob Ennis, RB, 42 carries for 318 yards and three touchdowns; Rashon Sorrell, QB, 18-of-28 for 271 yards and three touchdowns; DeQuan Bowman, WR, nine catches for 165 yards; Antoine White, DT; Jimmy Cessna, OL.