The Holy Spirit High School football team wants to correct a first impression tonight.
Spirit (0-1) and Absegami (1-0) kick off at 7 p.m. in Absecon in a highly anticipated Cape-Atlantic League interdivision game. Spirit is No. 1 in the Press Elite 11. Absegami opened the season with an impressive 20-6 win over Egg Harbor Township last Friday.
Spirit felt it didn't play its best in last Friday's 41-16 win over Oakcrest, losing three fumbles.
"I had never seen our team react (after a win) like they did against Oakcrest," Spirit coach Charles Roman said. "You would have thought we lost by 30."
Improving on its season-opening effort isn't the Spartans' only motivation. The Spartans this week forfeited the Oakcrest win because they used an academically ineligible player.
"It's a shame that it had to happen," Roman said. "Now they feel a little bit more energized."
Meanwhile, Absegami is taking a more low-key approach to the game. The Braves and coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. learned a valuable lesson last year.
The Braves beat EHT 17-14 in the 2010 opener and then met Spirit in a contest that generated plenty of pregame hype.
Spirit won 42-7. Absegami, a team that began last season with high hopes, seemed to never recover, finishing 4-6.
"We put a lot of egg in the Holy Spirit basket," Scuderi said. "We spent so much time in the preseason talking about the first two games we forgot about the rest of the season."
The Braves are a more mature team this year, according to Scuderi.
"We played a lot of real young kids last year," he said. "They've been through it. They know one game does not make or break a season. Win or lose, we have a game the following week. The ultimate goal is in December. This is just another one of those obstacles on the road to that goal."
Spirit and Absegami feature some of South Jersey's top players. Absegami quarterback Rashad Kinlaw is already attracting attention from Division I colleges with his ability to run and throw. Kinlaw rushed for 130 yards and threw for 38 yards against Egg Harbor Township. The Braves also rely on speedy running backs Tyler Bing and David Hood.
Roman said he wants as many Spartans as possible to tackle Kinlaw.
"We want to avoid getting one-on-one with him," Roman said. "We need to get lots of guys to the ball."
Meanwhile, few teams in the state can match Holy Spirit's size and athleticism. Running backs Donta Pollock and Nigel Jones are two of the state's best. Pollock ran for 201 yards against Oakcrest, while Jones rushed for three touchdowns.
Linebacker Dan Mastromatteo is headed to the University of North Carolina on a football scholarship.
"They have tremendous size," Scuderi said. "That gives them such an advantage. They're able to wear teams down during a course of the game."
Roman said the Spartans' No. 1 priority tonight will be holding on to the football.
"Oakcrest to their credit played hard and were hitting us, but we don't fumble the ball like that," Roman said. "I feel pretty confident it's not going to happen again."
Scuderi said the Braves want to keep the score close early.
"We have to overcome that initial burst in the first quarter," he said. "If we can keep the game close and make a play here and there, that would be our way of having a shot of beating them."
Contact Michael McGarry:
vs. No. 1 Holy Spirit (0-1)
When/where: 7 p.m. today at Holy Spirit
Radio: 97.3 FM
Why this game is important: Spirit is No. 1 in The Press Elite 11 and the favorite to win the state Non-Public II title. Absegami is also a talented team and a contender for the South Jersey Group IV playoffs.