HAMMONTON - Jarred Bianchini spun out of a tackle near the line of scrimmage.
The St. Joseph High School running back then burst into the open and sprinted 67 yards for a first-quarter touchdown Saturday afternoon.
The Wildcats and their fans cheered.
More importantly, they exhaled.
St. Joe evened its record and began to reclaim its season with a 45-7 win over Middle Township in a Cape-Atlantic League National Conference football game.
The Wildcats, a perennial power, began the season with high expectations. But Bridgeton upset them 14-6 in their opener Sept. 11.
"This whole win felt great for us," Bianchini said. "I had to start something. I had to pick up the team. We had to let other teams know that last week was a fluke and this was the start of our season."
St. Joe also started slow against Middle Township. But Bianchini's touchdown gave the Wildcats an 8-0 lead with 4 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first quarter. St. Joe dominated from there.
"I think all the coaches (after Bianchini's run) said now we can breathe a big sigh of relief," Wildcats coach Paul Sacco said.
Few teams in New Jersey can match St. Joe's tradition of success. The Wildcats won a state-record eight straight playoff championships from 1999-2006. But they finished 5-5 last season.
St. Joe appeared to be back to its old self with impressive efforts in preseason scrimmages, but then came the Bridgeton loss.
"Maybe we had too much confidence," Sacco said. "We had three great scrimmages and dominated all three teams. But (the Bridgeton) game is done. We can't change it."
Middle Township is rebuilding and features one of the CAL's best quarterbacks in senior Nolan Quinn. The Panthers moved the ball on their first possession to the St. Joe 27-yard line behind Quinn's running and passing. But the drive stalled when St. Joe defenders Kaiwan Lewis and Sean Clark sacked Quinn for a 9-yard loss on fourth down.
"I told the kids this week that there has to be doubt in (St. Joe's) minds," Middle coach Lee Chappine said. "Had we scored early, it might have been different. But by and large, they beat us up physically up front. I don't care what you do. That's the name of the game."
St. Joe controlled the game with its running. The Wildcats rushed for 283 yards and averaged 9.4 yards per carry. After Bianchini's touchdown, St. Joe scored on three straight possession to build a 32-0 halftime lead. Sophomore Kaheem Reynolds returned the opening kickoff of the second half 94 yards for a touchdown. Clark carried three times for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Bianchini (five carries, 81 yards) left the game with a knee injury in the second quarter but said he was fine afterwards.
The win was just what the Wildcats needed, but their postgame celebration was subdued.
St. Augustine Prep (2-0) and Holy Spirit (2-0) have established themselves as the conference's top teams two weeks into the season.
"We just have to get better," Sacco said. "We used to be the team everybody feared. Now everybody has second thoughts and rightfully so. We're not playing like we did in the past. But I really believe once we get some confidence we'll be fine."
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Middle Township 0 0 7 0-7
St. Joseph 8 24 13 0-45
SJ-Bianchini 67 run (Smith run)
SJ-Reynolds 18 run (Smith run)
SJ-Clark 55 run (Hill pass from Smith)
SJ-Hill 1 run (Hill pass from Smith)
SJ-Reynolds 94 kickoff return (Bockarie kick)
SJ-Clark 19 run (kick missed)
MT-Quinn 1 run (Quinn kick)
First Downs 10 7
Rushing 90 283
Passing 106 35
Turnovers 1 0
Rushing-Quinn 15-65 MT, Williams 8-31 MT; Hill 7-39, Bianchini 5-81, Smith 1-9, Reynolds 3-24, Clark 3-75 SJ.
Passing-Quinn 12-16-0-106 MT; Smith 2-2-0-35 SJ.
Receiving-Cooper 4-69 MT; Casey 1-25, Hill 1-11 SJ.
Records-Middle 0-1, St. Joseph 1-1