HAMMONTON - Darryl Smith smiled as teammates and friends patted him on the back after the St. Joseph High School football team beat Holy Spirit on Saturday.
Redemption can make a big win feel even better.
Smith threw one touchdown pass and ran for another score to propel the Wildcats to a 34-7 win over Spirit in the highly anticipated Cape-Atlantic League game. Spirit (2-2) is No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, while St. Joe (3-0) is No. 2.
"I've been waiting for this game since August," Smith said. "After last year, I had to bring it for this game."
No one wanted to talk to Smith after last year's St. Joe-Holy Spirit game. Now a running back, the Mays Landing resident started at quarterback last year. He fumbled several snaps and overthrew countless receivers. Spirit won 35-0 and Smith was benched after the contest.
"Last year put me down," Smith said. "It took awhile to get over. I went home and cried sometimes."
Smith wasn't the only one who couldn't wait for Saturday's game. Spirit coach Charles Roman called it his team's Super Bowl.
Fans filled the bleachers and circled St. Joe's field. The 50/50 raffle prize was $1,000.
Spirit and St. Joe won state titles last season, and both are favored to do so again this year - St. Joe in the Non-Public I enrollment group and Spirit in Non-Public II.
The defeat stunned the Spartans.
"The credit goes to St. Joe," Roman said. "They played fantastic football. I have to find a way to do a better job."
Spirit fans' only chance to cheer came early. Alex Penny blocked St. Joe's first punt to give Spirit the ball at the Wildcats' 23-yard line. Three plays later, Spirit quarterback Tom Hehre threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Steeb to give Spirit a 7-0 lead with 8 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first quarter.
St. Joe dominated from there.
The game turned in the Wildcats' favor later in the first quarter after Spirit roughed the St. Joe punter to give the Wildcats a first down.
One play after the penalty, Eli Pogue (seven carries for 109 yards before leaving with a shoulder injury in the first quarter) ran 59 yards for a touchdown. Quarterback Anthony Giagunto ran into the end zone for the two-point conversion to give St. Joe an 8-7 lead with 3:55 left in the first quarter. The Wildcats never trailed again.
Smith threw a 4-yard option pass to Miles Pease for St. Joe's second touchdown late in the second quarter. Smith actually tried to talk St. Joe coach Paul Sacco out of calling the play.
"I told Coach we were too close to the end zone to run the play," Smith said.
Sacco had more faith in Smith than the player had in himself, however.
"I said, 'Throw the ball, and that's it,' " Sacco said. "He did a great job."
Smith (six carries, 62 yards) gave St. Joe a 27-7 lead when he scored on a 36-yard run up the middle in the third quarter.
That was part of St. Joe's domination of the third and fourth quarters. The Wildcats - despite having nine starters play both offense and defense - wore Spirit down.
"A couple of our kids came off the field and said, 'Can you give us a break?' " Sacco said. "We told them there are no breaks."
The Wildcats' defense shutdown the Spirit offense. The Spartans had just three first downs midway through the fourth quarter.
St. Joe standouts were everywhere on defense.
Giagunto and Pease intercepted passes in the first half. Linemen Mike Adams and Roy Lucas made tackles for losses. Defensive ends Max Valles and Kaiwan Lewis each had one sack. Defensive back Robert Thompson capped St. Joe's defensive performance with a leaping, one-handed interception in the third quarter.
Spirit running backs Donta Pollock and Nigel Jones had combined to run for more than 1,000 yards in the first three games. They ran for 58 yards Saturday.
"We saw them on every film that guys would hit (Pollock and Jones) in the backfield, and they wouldn't go down," Lewis said. "We had to get 11 hats to the football and stop the run. They thought they were going to keep running the ball on us. We didn't' want that to happen."
Roman put plenty of emphasis on Saturday's game. Spirit had not lost on the field since Nov. 21, 2009 in the state playoffs against St. Joseph-Montvale. The Spartans' other loss this season was a forfeit against Oakcrest due to an ineligible player.
"You lick your wounds," Roman said. "What I said last week I meant. This game was critical to us. We came up short. Now, we have to salvage what is left of the season."
St. Joe leads this rivalry, which began in 2000, 9-4. These teams clearly enjoy beating each other.
Spirit plays the Johnny Cash song "Ring of Fire" after home victories. That song rang out at St. Joe on Saturday.
Smith celebrated with his teammates. He admitted he thought about transferring after last season but stayed because of his teammates.
"I love my boys," he said. "I love the school."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Holy Spirit 7 0 0 0-7
St. Joseph 8 6 13 7-34
HS-Steeb 18 pass from Hehre (Worthington kick)
SJ-Pogue 59 run (Giagunto run)
SJ-Pease 4 pass from Smith (pass failed)
SJ-Giagunto 1 run (Valles kick)
SJ-Smith 36 run (kick failed)
SJ-Reynolds 16 run (Valles kick)
Rushing-Holy Spirit, Jones 11-25, Pollock 11-33.St. Joseph, Reynolds 17-69, Pogue 7-101, Smith 6-62, Pease 7-3.
Passing-Holy Spirit, Hehre 12-24-3-97.St. Joseph, Giagunto 3-14-0-37, Smith 1-1-0-4.
Records-Holy Spirit 2-2; St. Joseph 3-0