ABSECON - Holy Spirit High School's new quarterback, TJ Anderson, and a good corps of running backs gave coach John Iannucci his first win with the Spartans on Friday night against Mainland Regional.
Holy Spirit pulled away in the second half to beat the Mustangs 21-6. The Spartans led only 7-6 at halftime, but Anderson threw for a touchdown and ran 1 yard for another in the second half. Holy Spirit played ball control much of the way but broke through for some big plays.
Following two close losses and an open week, Holy Spirit improved to 1-2 overall and in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference. Mainland is 1-3 overall and 0-3 American.
Anderson, a junior, took over at quarterback following the recent transfer of C.J. LaFragola to St. Joseph. Anderson is a former running back. He ran and threw admirably considering that he has had only one week of practice at the position, according to Iannucci.
"I'm more happy for the kids than about me getting my first win, because they had a lot of adversity the last two weeks," Iannucci said. "We just sat there for two weeks with all the naysayers. This is their game, and I'm happy for them. I've been coaching 33 years and I've a had a lot of wins."
Holy Spirit got on top right away. Anderson ran 15 yards on a keeper on the first play from scrimmage, and running back Dandre Dennis gained nine yards. On the next play, running back A.J. Dawson broke one 56 yards for a touchdown down the left side with just 1 minute, 11 seconds gone in the game. Franco Rifici booted the first of three extra points and it was 7-0 Spartans.
"The first play really helped me, and the first touchdown really gave me a lot of confidence," said Anderson, 17, of Absecon. "My teammates really helped. I'm coming off a shoulder injury and I was a little stiff throwing the ball at first. A got more comfortable throwing as the game went on."
Anderson rushed 11 times for 25 yards and connected on 3-of-7 passes for 74 yards and one touchdown.
"I told TJ that he didn't have to win the game. He only had to manage it," Iannucci said. "He played great. The important thing is that he didn't make the big mistake."
Mainland kept it close with field goals of 27 yards and 30 yards by Jim Cooper. The second field goal was set up by Dylan Swenson's 28-yard pass to wide receiver Joe Sutor.
The game was 7-6 in the third quarter, and two back-to-back plays broke it open. Holy Spirit went three-and-out and Rifice punted from his own end zone, but the ball went off a Mainland player and was recovered by Holy Spirit's Joe DiBuonaventura at his own 38-yard line.
On the next play, Anderson fired to a wide-open Dawson up the middle and the junior took it into the end zone for a 62-yard TD.
Holy Spirit scored one more time. Rifici got a first down on a fake punt as he broke tackles around right end for 23 yards to the Mainland 22. Running back Taalib Gerald ran 18 yards to the 1-yard line, and Anderson took it over on a quarterback sneak.
Mainland missed its best chance late in the first half, with the score 7-6. A Holy Spirit punt snap went well over Rifici's head, but he ran back and got to it, and managed to get off a pretty good punt. The half ended three plays later.
"We played hard, but we made mistakes at crucial times," Mainland coach Bob Coffey said. "But it wasn't from lack of effort. The fake punt was a big play and we missed a tackle on it. In our bye week (coming up), we'll work on trying to avoid big mistakes. But I'm proud of our team. They played well, as always."
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