LOWER TOWNSHIP - The only time St. Joseph High School football star Gordon Hill left the field Friday night was when the Wildcats retreated to the locker room at halftime of their game against host Lower Cape May Regional.
Besides playing running back and defensive back, the senior also lined up on every special-teams unit.
"I'm not allowed to come off the field unless I get injured," Hill said with a laugh. "But I don't mind. The way I look at it, the more I'm out there, the more opportunities I get to make big plays."
Hill made a lot of them against the Caper Tigers. He scored five touchdowns to help St. Joe end Lower's quest for the first undefeated season in school history with a 41-10 victory.
St. Joe (4-1), ranked sixth in The Press Elite 11, notched its second straight win since a loss to No. 1 Holy Spirit. By knocking off Lower (4-1), the Wildcats took over sole possession of first place in the Cape-Atlantic League's new United Division and strengthened their bid to earn a spot in the upcoming state playoffs.
Lower entered the game as one of the CAL's early-season surprises. Their 4-0 start was an impressive turnaround for a program that had gone 1-29 the previous three years.
"I don't think our kids will lose any confidence from this," Lower coach Mike Wilson said. "Our guys knew going into this that it was going to be a tough game. We hung with them for a while, but they were just stronger than us. Now we're hoping to win two of our next three games and make the (South Jersey Group II) playoffs."
Both teams lost a fumble on their first possessions, but only St. Joe was able to capitalize. Hill snatched a Lower fumble and raced 70 yards to the end zone just 4 minutes, 44 seconds into the game. He also scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter and then added two more touchdowns in the second quarter by recovering a blocked punt in the end zone and scoring on another 1-yard run.
St. Joseph linebacker Pat Casey broke through to block the punt and Hill pounced on it.
"Pat deserves all the credit for blocking the punt," Hill said. "I just saw the ball and went after it."
Offensively, St. Joe had trouble holding onto the football, coughing up four fumbles, but when the Wildcats did maintain possession, they usually scored. Hill, who rushed for 71 yards on 14 carries, scored his fifth TD on another 1-yard plunge in the third quarter. Sophomore Zach Grant added a 34-yard TD while rushing for 98 yards on just seven carries.
St. Joseph's defense offset its offensive miscues by forcing five turnovers and holding the Caper-Tigers' offense scoreless until junior quarterback Mike Mulligan connected with sophomore wide receiver Jordan Hazel for an 83-yard touchdown after the Wildcats had built a 41-2 lead. Aside from that play, Lower gained 112 yards, including 14 on the ground.
The Wildcats collected three sacks - one apiece by defensive linemen Kaiwaan Lewis, Corey Litton and Mike Mazzeo - and punished Lower's running backs.
"The fumbles are really frustrating," St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said. "I don't believe fumbles are anything more than mental mistakes. I think we had more tonight than we've had in the last two years. But I'm still happy with the win because I think we answered some questions. People were wondering if we could go on the road and beat a good team and we did that."
Contact David Weinberg:
St. Joseph 14 13 14 0-41
Lower Cape May 0 0 2 8-10
SJ-Hill 70 fumble recovery and return (kick blocked)
SJ-Hill 1 run (Hill pass from Giagunto)
SJ-Hill recovers blocked punt in end zone (run failed)
SJ-Hill 1 run (Bockarie kick)
SJ-Grant 34 run (Bockarie kick)
SJ-Hill 1 run (Bockarie kick)
LCM-Hazel 83 pass from Mulligan (Matthews pass from Mulligan)
First Downs-SJ 12, LCM 9; Total Rushing Yards-SJ 287, LCM 14; Total Passing-SJ 35, LCM 181, Turnovers-SJ 4, LCM 5.
Rushing-St. Joseph, Grant 7-98, Hill 14-71, Pogue 6-63, Paulhill 4-45, Giangunto 3-13, Todoro 1-(-1), Smith 1-(-2); Lower Cape May, Hall 15-25, Ziegler 5-10, Sole 5-4, Kocher 1-2, Alicea 1-(-4), Mulligan 5-(-27).
Passing-St. Joseph, Giangunto 2-3-30, Smith 1-1-5; Lower Cape May, Mulligan 14-25-181-1-2.
Receiving-St. Joseph, Hill 2-30, Valles 1-5. Lower Cape May, Hazel 2-90, Alicea 3-45, Ziegler 3-25, Matthews 3-9, Kocher 1-7.
Records-St. Joseph 4-1; Lower 4-1.