HAMMONTON - The St. Joseph High School football team had 10 days to think about its first loss in more than two years.
The Wildcats took out their frustration on an overmatched Hudson Catholic team.
Top-seeded St. Joseph scored eight first-half touchdowns and had most of its starters out by halftime in a 72-0 win over fifth-seeded Hudson Catholic on Saturday afternoon in a state Non-Public I semifinal.
"It's awesome," St. Joseph quarterback and defensive back Anthony Giagunto said. "It brought our momentum back, brought our pride back up, and this is a good game to have. It was pretty much a boost for us."
The Wildcats (9-1), ranked No. 4 in The Press Elite 11, will play St. Mary of Rutherford at 4 p.m. Saturday at The College of New Jersey for the state title. St. Joseph beat St. Mary 51-0 in last year's state final.
The Wildcats had their 26-game winning streak snapped last Wednesday against rival Hammonton. But Saturday's win put them closer to their 15th state title since the state Non-Public playoffs began in 1993.
"We lost that game, but we put it behind us," said running back/linebacker Cody Sampson, who ran for two touchdowns and returned a fumble for a score. "Nine days of practice and we're here, we won 70-plus (to) nothing."
That score was in stark contrast to the last time these teams met. Hudson Catholic beat St. Joseph 3-0 in the 2008 state Non-Public II semifinals.
On Saturday, St. Joseph held Hudson Catholic (5-5-1) to minus-4 yards of offense. Giagunto, Justin Kennedy and C.J. LaFragola combined for a sack in the end zone on Hudson Catholic's first possession for a safety, setting the tone for the game.
The Wildcats brought down the ballcarrier at or behind the line of scrimmage on 24 of Hudson Catholic's 30 offensive plays in the first three quarters, and 28 of 38 for the game. Kevin Goldsmith had two sacks.
"We went and just made tackles and even had a safety and a couple fumbles and scores," Sampson said.
St. Joseph started emptying its bench late in the first half. Leading 58-0 at the break, most of the starters had their pads off to start the second half.
Wildcats coach Paul Sacco said he was impressed with his young players. Freshman Salaam Horne had a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown and then, as the third-string quarterback, ran for a 20-yard score.
"We try to get these young kids so many reps," Sacco said, "because they're going to be the future. … You want to make sure that they have work in this situation. And they did well."
Sacco said he expects next week's game to be competitive despite having routed St. Mary last year. On Saturday, St. Mary beat St. Anthony of Jersey City 42-7.
"St. Mary's was a young team last year and they have all their players back," Sacco said. "And I know that they didn't like what happened to them last year in our game, so I think it's going to be a good game."
Contact Jason Mazda:
Hudson Catholic 0 0 0 0-0
St. Joseph 23 35 7 72-72
SJ-Sampson 9 run (Ryker kick)
SJ-Safety (Team sack)
SJ-L. Ordille 38 pass from Giagunto (Ryker kick)
SJ-R. Ordille 1 run (Ryker kick)
SJ-Mi. Pease 23 pass from Giagunto (Ryker kick)
SJ-Sampson 24 run (Ryker kick)
SJ-Sampson 5 fumble return (Ryker kick)
SJ-LaFragola 30 fumble return (Ryker kick)
SJ-S. Horne 50 punt return (Ryker kick)
SJ-Rankin 6 run (Ryker kick)
SJ-S. Horne 20 run (Ryker kick)
TEAM STATISTICS HC SJ
Rushing yards -4 202
Passing yards 0 61
Penalties-yards 2-8 3-25
First downs 2 8
Turnovers 2 0
Rushing-Hudson Catholic, Carter 20-(-10), Smith 12-16, Mullins 1-(-7), Raevon 2-(-3), Tapia 1-0. St. Joseph, R. Ordille 3-20, Sampson 5-43, Mi. Pease 4-59, Giagunto 1-1, LaFragola 1-17, Federico 3-8, Todoro 1-3, Ma. Pease 1-(-3), Wright 2-10, Hankin 2-12, Rankin 2-6, A. Horne 2-6, S. Horne 1-20.
Passing-Hudson Catholic, none. St. Joseph, Giagunto 2-2-0-61.
Receiving-Hudson Catholic, none. St. Joseph, L. Ordille 1-38, Mi. Pease 1-23.
RECORDS-Hudson Catholic 5-5-1, St. Joseph 9-1.