ABSECON - Steve Hartley grabbed the first interception of his season Thursday morning.
The Holy Spirit High School senior wasn't satisfied.
He later scored the first touchdown of his career.
The linebacker picked off three passes and returned one for a score as the undefeated Spartans football team beat rival Atlantic City 33-18. The contest was the last home game for Hartley and the rest of the Spirit seniors.
"It's a great way to go out," Hartley said.
Spirit dominated from the start. The Spartans led 33-0 with 4 minutes, 12 seconds left in the third quarter. Spirit running back Donta Pollock rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns.
Spirit (11-0), No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, has one more game left. The Spartans will play St. Joseph-Montvale (8-3) for the state Non-Public III title at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3 at Rutgers University.
"All I want is a state championship," Hartley said. "I would rather have zero tackles and win a state championship then have three picks and lose."
Meanwhile, Atlantic City (7-4), No. 10 in the Elite 11, finished the season with its most wins since 2006.
Atlantic City vs. Holy Spirit is Atlantic County's oldest rivalry. The Vikings lead the series 48-30-4, but the Spartans have won six straight and seven of the last eight games.
Fans packed the home and visiting bleachers Thursday. The 50/50 prize was $1,050.
Spirit played without running back Nigel Jones and linebacker Rocky Figueroa, who sat with ankle and knee injuries, respectively. Both are expected back for the state title game.
Spirit had a simple game plan.
"We wanted to win, obviously," coach Charles Roman said, "but more importantly, we wanted to get our guys out (of the game) as quickly as possible and come out of this thing healthy. We managed to do both."
The Spartans dominated early behind Pollock's powerful running.
Spirit drove 76 yards in 10 plays on its opening possession to take a 7-0 lead with 7:38 left in the first quarter. Pollock carried nine times on the drive for 73 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run.
Atlantic City committed the first of its five turnovers on its first possession. Spirit defensive back Ryan Jones picked up a fumble at the Atlantic City 20-yard line and returned it 10 yards. Four plays later, Pollock scored on a 1-yard run to give Spirit a 13-0 lead. Spirit led by at least two touchdowns the rest of the game.
"You give a good team too many opportunities, and they're going to stomp on you," Vikings coach Thomas Kelly said.
Hartley's first interception came in the first quarter. He intercepted his second pass on Atlantic City's first drive of the second half.
"After the second pick, I was like, 'I have to get in the end zone,' " he said.
Hartley's touchdown came in the third quarter. He intercepted a pass in the flat near the Holy Spirit bench and sprinted 32 yards to the end zone to make it 33-0.
"It was an under screen pass," he said. "We practiced all week for it. I jumped (the route) and got lucky there."
Hartley wasn't Spirit's only defensive standout. Josh Popper had two sacks. Rob Evans and Ryan Donovan each contributed a sack.
Atlantic City did its best to rally in the fourth quarter. Despite Thursday's defeat, the Vikings left the field feeling good about their season. After going 1-9 last year, they won their first playoff game since 1999.
"We're ecstatic with what we established," Kelly said. "We're happy with our development. We're excited about the future. This group of seniors lost nine games last year. They could have easily packed it in. They never did."
What makes the Spirit vs. Atlantic City rivalry fun is the players grow up knowing each other. Hartley is from Ventnor. Pollock, who is from Brigantine, spoke with several Vikings after the game.
"It's fun to play against your friends," Pollock said. "We hang out throughout the whole season. There's no hard feelings. It's just football."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Atlantic City 0 0 0 18-18
Holy Spirit 13 7 13 0-33
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