MAYS LANDING - Holy Spirit High School's football team was more relieved than elated after its season-opening game at Oakcrest on Friday night.
The Spartans, the top-ranked team in The Press Elite 11, needed a 20-point surge in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 41-16 victory in the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference game.
"I came in thinking that we were going to play a lot better," Spartans coach Charlie Roman said. "We wound up in a street fight."
Holy Spirit relied on a one-two punch to prevail in the brawl.
Senior running backs Donta Pollock and Nigel Jones took turns pounding Oakcrest's defense until it finally softened in the final 12 minutes.
Pollock rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. Jones, who also played safety, scored two of his game-high three touchdowns in the fourth quarter while rushing for 117 yards on 20 carries.
"I missed a lot of time last year because I was hurt, so I was really motivated during the offseason," Jones said. "I got in the weight room and got bigger and stronger. I wound up losing the weight, but I kept the strength, so I'm able to run hard on every play."
Holy Spirit, which is now 33-2 in its last 35 games against public schools, appeared headed for an easy win. Jones scored on a 45-yard dash and Pollock capitalized on an Oakcrest turnover with a 27-yard touchdown in the first quarter to give the Spartans a 14-0 lead.
But Oakcrest, the No. 6 team in the Elite 11, didn't wilt under the pressure. Falcons quarterback Quaashie Jetter and wide receiver Mark Clements brought the home crowd to its feet by combining for a 77-yard touchdown, and then place-kicker Brian Camey booted a 34-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10 in the second quarter.
Pollock pushed the lead to 21-10 with an 11-yard jaunt just before halftime, but Oakcrest fought back again when running back Brandon Bell converted a screen pass into an 8-yard TD. A two-point conversion pass failed, but the Falcons were still in striking distance at 21-16 with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
"I'm really proud of my team," Oakcrest coach Chuck Smith said. "I don't think too many people expected this game to be as close as it was for as long as it was, but the kids stepped up to the challenge. A lot of teams would have rolled over in a game like that and been intimidated by the hype (surrounding Holy Spirit). But we kept fighting and we had them on the ropes for a while."
But the Falcons couldn't keep them there.
Jones capped off a 69-yard drive with an 11-yard TD to make it 28-16. Then sophomore cornerback A.J. Dawson, who had two of Holy Spirit's three interceptions, returned a deflected pass 20 yards for a touchdown less than a minute later to up the lead to 35-16.
Jones capped the scoring with a 9-yard TD with 4 minutes, 32 seconds to play. Pollock broke off a 40-yard run on the game's final play to go over the 200-yard mark.
Those kinds of efforts enabled Holy Spirit to overcome three turnovers (all fumbles) of its own.
"We're a good football team," Roman said. "I don't doubt that for a second. But we have to remedy those turnovers right away or it's going to come back to hurt us."
Contact David Weinberg:
Holy Spirit 14 7 0 20-41
Oakcrest 7 3 6 0-16
HS-Jones 45 run. (Worthington kick)
HS-Pollock 27 run. (Worthington kick)
O-Clements 77 pass from Jetter. (Camey kick)
O-Camey 34 field goal.
HS-Pollock 11 run. (Worthington kick)
O-Bell 8 pass from Jetter. (pass failed)
HS-Jones 11 run. (Worthington kick)
HS-Dawson 20 interception return. (Worthington kick)
HS-Jones 9 run. (kick failed)
TEAM STATS HS O
First downs 18 10
Rushing yards 313 57
Passing yards 7 186
Turnovers 3 3
Rushing-Holy Spirit, Pollock 32-201, Jones 20-117, Hehre 1-(-15). Oakcrest, Jetter 19-63, Muhammad 1-6, Santiago 3-2, Bell 4-(-1), Adkisson 3-(-13).
Passing-Holy Spirit, Hehre 2-6-17. Oakcrest, Jetter 9-22-186-3.
Receiving-Holy Spirit, Rubino 2-17. Oakcrest, Clements 3-115, Johnson 1-21, Adkisson 1-13, Bell 1-8, Wilson 1-7, Muhammad 2-5.
Records-Holy Spirit 1-0; Oakcrest 0-1.