HAMMONTON - The St. Joseph High School football team seemed sluggish in the first quarter against St. Augustine Prep on Saturday afternoon.
Hermits running back Calvin Cass ran untouched through the St. Joe defense for a 53-yard touchdown on St. Augustine's first possession.
The score gave the Hermits the lead.
It also snapped St. Joe out of its funk.
The Wildcats responded to Cass' touchdown with 35 unanswered points en route to a 42-14 win in this matchup of undefeated Cape-Atlantic League teams. St. Joe sophomore Rocco Ordille rushed for three touchdowns.
"We weren't awake," Ordille said. "That (Cass touchdown run) woke us up."
The Wildcats (7-0) are No. 1 in The Press Elite 11 and have won 25 straight, dating back to a 35-0 loss to Holy Spirit on Oct. 1, 2010.
"We're ready for any challenge," Ordille said. "We just want to show everyone we're ready for the big league."
The crowd filled the bleachers at St. Joe's field for this matchup. Many more fans stood along the fence that surrounds the field. Both teams came in with 6-0 records. St. Joe leads the CAL American Conference while the Hermits are tied with Cedar Creek for the CAL National Conference lead.
These parochial schools are also intense rivals. St. Augustine hadn't beaten St. Joe since 2009.
The Wildcats were at their best after St. Augustine touchdowns Saturday.
The Hermits scored in the fourth quarter on Justyce Pollitt's 73-yard yard fumble return to cut St. Joe's lead to 35-14.
On the Wildcats next play from scrimmage, Ordille (seven carries for 136 yards) burst into the open and sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown to put the Wildcats up 28 points with 2 minutes, 33 seconds left in the contest.
St. Joe methodically wore the Hermits down. Quarterback Anthony Giagunto ran for a touchdown and threw for another score. Fullback Cody Sampson ran for 93 yards and a touchdown.
On defense, St. Joe picked off four passes. Defensive lineman Kevin Goldsmith intercepted a pass and was a constant presence in the St. Augustine backfield. Wildcats lineman Charles Cade had a sack.
St. Augustine employed an unusual offensive strategy to try to catch St. Joe by surprise.
Running back Cass (18 carries for 103 yards) played quarterback in the Wildcat formation for most of the game. Cass leads the CAL in rushing with 1,403 yards and in scoring with 152 points.
"We had concerns about being able to run the ball between the tackles," St. Augustine coach Mark Reardon said. "They're very stout. We figured we might be able to keep them off balance with some formations and get more guys out of the box. Ultimately, we didn't execute what we do very well."
When St. Augustine did throw, they concentrated almost solely on short slant patterns. Cass and regular Hermits quarterback Alex Hughes combined to throw for 120 yards. They averaged a combined 3.4 yards per attempt.
Neither team played particularly sharp. Both drew numerous offsides and false-start penalties.
Reardon said his team might be have been a bit shaken by the game's importance.
"I think this was the first game where we tightened up a little bit," Reardon said. "We want to be in many of these types of games as we can. St. Joe is a very good team. They're as good as advertised. We just have to get to this level. That's something we're working toward."
Meanwhile, Saturday was another victory in another highly anticipated game for St. Joe. The Wildcats are playing the toughest regular-season schedule in school history with their move to the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference, which features local schools with the largest enrollments.
Five of St. Joe's seven wins have come against teams with winning records.
"It beats you up," Goldsmith said of the schedule.
The Wildcats can clinch the conference with a win at Mainland Regional (2-5) on Friday.
"You hear people say we're an all-star team," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. "We're far from an all-star team. But we find ways to win, It's a credit to them (the St. Joe players). They're doing what they have to do to win."
Contact Michael McGarry:
St. Augustine 7 0 0 7 - 14
St. Joseph 7 21 7 7 - 42
SA-Cass 53 run (Snow kick)
SJ-Sampson 3 run (Ryker kick)
SJ-Giagunto 1 run (Ryker kick)
SJ-R. Ordille 7 run (Ryker kick)
SJ-Pullyblank 27 pass from Giagunto (Ryker kick) THIRD QUARTER SJ - R. Ordille 32 run (Ryker kick) FOURTH QUARTER SA - Pollitt 73 fumble return (Snow kick) SJ - Ordille 60 run (Ryker kick)
Rushing-SA. Cass 18-103; SJ. Ordille 7-126, Sampson18-93
Passing-SA. Hughes 12-27-3-59, Cass 5-8-1-61; SJ. Giagunto 9-16-1-118 Receiving - SA. Smith 4-28; SJ. Mi. Pease 2-34, LaFragola 3-28.
Records-St. Augustine 6-1; St. Joseph 7-0