HAMMONTON - St. Joseph High School football coach Paul Sacco thought his team played about "three-quarters of a football game" Saturday as the Wildcats overpowered visiting Bridgeton 51-0 to wrap up the Cape-Atlantic League United Division championship.
Sacco must be a tough audience.
St. Joseph (6-1), No. 6 in The Press Elite 11, scored on a safety in the first 30 seconds of the game and then added touchdowns on seven of its first eight possessions. Defensively, the Wildcats didn't allow a first down until the second half.
Senior running back Gordon Hill scored on touchdown runs of 5 and 14 yards, and he finished with 134 yards on 15 carries.
Sacco hardly mentioned the United Division title, a new championship brought about this fall as the CAL expanded to three divisions. The Wildcats finished their division schedule at 6-0.
"Bridgeton is always tough, physical and they're big," Sacco said. "I give our kids credit. We jumped on them early and we played hard."
When asked about the division title, Sacco added, "They've grouped some of the smaller schools (in the CAL) together. It was one of our goals to win the league, and I'm happy for our seniors."
Senior St. Joe linebacker Pat Casey set the tone right in the first half-minute of play, tackling Bridgeton running back Jae DeShields in his own end zone for a safety. The play was preceded by a Bulldogs fumble back to the 2-yard line on the kickoff. The Wildcats quickly added to the 2-0 lead as Hill completed a six-play, 49-yard march by plowing up the middle for a 5-yard TD. Kicker Todd Bockarie hit his first of seven straight extra points.
Bridgeton upset St. Joseph 14-6 last year.
"It's a new year this year," Hill said. "I didn't think about that game. Maybe a little in the back of my mind. We focused on what we had to do. Bridgeton's linebackers were shooting the 'A gap', concentrating on the middle, so we had a lot of success just inside the ends, and the blocking was really good."
Casey, a wide receiver on offense, also caught the game's only touchdown pass, a 22-yard strike from sophomore Anthony Giagunto that gave St. Joe a 16-0 lead near the end of the first quarter.
Hill also played a key role in the game's most bizarre play as the second quarter began. From his own 25-yard line, he took it all the way to the Bridgeton 33-yard line but then fumbled. Teammate Max Valles was trailing on the play, and the ball bounced right to him. Valles ran it in for a TD.
Bridgeton (4-4) was playing without four players who had to sit out the game after being ejected for leaving the bench during a scuffle in the Bulldogs' 42-14 win over Middle Township last Friday.
Bridgeton coach Dave Ellen said last week that no punches were thrown. But under NJSIAA rules, any team with three or more players or coaches ejected during the season is ineligible for the post season. Bridgeton, which was a contender in South Jersey Group II, won't even play a consolation game.
"They were all on defense," Ellen said of the four suspended players. "It was tough for us today, and it was tough for (the four) to watch on the sidelines. Those four play offense, too, so that was eight positions that had to be filled. But some other guys moved in and got some experience. St. Joe has a tremendous program, and Paul and his staff do a great job.
"It will be strange for the season to end on Nov. 5. It'll still be warm out. We play Mainland next week (Friday at home), and that's it. But we'll try our best to get a winning season."
Note: Six people were inducted into the St. Joseph Athletic Hall of Fame at halftime: multisport athletes Tara Taulane Raftery (1995), Jason Gomez (2000) and Danielle Mento (2004); former athletic directors Peter Santilli and Robert McCluskey; and the late Angelo Biviano, a longtime football equipment manager and statistician.
Contact Guy Gargan:
Bridgeton 0 0 0 0- 0
St. Joseph 16 21 14 0- 51
SJ-Casey tackle in end zone for safety
SJ-Hill 5 run (Bockarie kick)
SJ-Casey 22 pass from Giagunto (Bockarie kick)
SJ-Valles 33 fumble return (Bockarie kick)
SJ-Hill 14 run (Bockarie kick)
SJ-Pogue 3 run (Bockarie kick)
SJ-Reynolds 4 run (Bockarie kick)
SJ-Smith 68 run (Bockarie kick)
TEAM STATISTICS B SJ
First downs 2 9
Rushing -31 327
Passing 16 59
Turnovers 2 1
Rushing-Bridgeton, Scurry 4-6, Jackson 7--15, Bunton 6--8, DeShields 1-0, Haydak 5-12, Gutierrez 3-0. St. Joseph, Hill 15-134, Smith 1-68, Reynolds 12-53, Pogue 5-46, Grant 3-14, Thompson 2-8, Giagunto 1-2, Reilly 1-2.
Passing-Bridgeton, Jackson 3-8-1-16, DeShields 0-1-1-0. St. Joseph, Giagunto 4-7-0-59.
Receiving-Bridgeton, Bunton 1-6, DeShields 2-10. St. Joseph, Casey 1-22, Hill 2-21, Reynolds 1-16.
Records-Bridgeton 4-4, St. Joseph 6-1.