HAMMONTON - Miles Pease says he loves football.
But he has endured a lot to stay on the field.
The St. Joseph High School senior running back and defensive back missed most of the past three seasons with a variety of injuries, including a broken collarbone and dislocated shoulders.
The Wildcats needed his perseverance Saturday afternoon.
Pease caught a 22-yard touchdown pass with 15.5 seconds left to give St. Joe a 7-0 win over Holy Spirit in a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference game. Pease then clinched the victory by intercepting a Holy Spirit desperation pass at the goal line as time ran out.
"I remember my freshman year, I cried when I broke my collarbone," the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Pease said. "I love football. This win means everything. This is the last time I'll play Holy Spirit."
St. Joe (2-0) has won 20 straight and is No. 1 in The Press Elite 11. Spirit is 0-2 after having lost its opener to Hammonton by two points in overtime.
"This is a test of character for us," Spartans first-year coach John Iannucci said. "They (St. Joe) are used to winning. We have juniors and sophomores. We'll get there. As long as we stand together as a group, we'll be OK."
Spirit vs. St. Joe is one of the region's most passionate rivalries. St. Joe leads the series 10-4. Holy Spirit's 35-0 win over St. Joe on Oct. 1, 2010 is the Wildcats' last loss.
The rivalry is so intense because of the teams are very successful. Holy Spirit has won two straight state championships, while St. Joe has won three in a row. The teams also sometimes compete to attract the same players.
Fans filled the bleachers at St. Joe's field on a sunny, cloudless day. They saw a defensive struggle.
Ray Ellis led a Spirit defensive line that consistently pressured St. Joseph quarterback Anthony Giagunto. Spirit linebacker Jeff Steeb picked off a Giagunto pass at the Holy Spirit goal line in the second quarter. It was the first interception of Giagunto's high school career. Giagunto completed just 2-of-14 passes for 42 yards with both catches by Pease.
Meanwhile, the Spartans' triple option offense struggled to move the ball against the St. Joe defense. Spirit finished the first half with just 15 rushing yards in the first half. St. Joe linebacker Cody Sampson recovered a fumble and had a tackle for a loss. Wildcats defensive end Luke Ordille had two tackles for losses.
As the game progressed, it became clear the first team to score would have a good chance to win.
Pease (15 carries for 63 yards) was one of the few players to generate offense. He almost missed the game. He separated his shoulder in last weekend's 37-29 season-opening win over Absegami.
"They taped me up this week," Pease said. "They said that would work, and it did. I took a couple of big hits, and (his shoulder) stayed in."
St. Joe began its winning drive at its own 31-yard line with 3:47 left in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats moved the ball down the field behind the running of Sampson (14 carries for 53 yards) Giagunto and Pease. The Wildcats also benefited from a pair of Spirit facemask penalties that totaled 20 yards.
The touchdown came on a third down-and-17 play from the Spirit 22-yard line.
"We wanted to take a shot," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. "I said, 'We have nothing to lose.' "
Giagunto rolled left and threw back across the field to Pease, who was sprinting down the sideline.
Pease looked back at Giagunto twice. The first time he didn't see the ball. The second time he did.
"I saw Miles Pease over there, and I just threw it up to him," Giagunto said. "He has a lot of heart, and he's a tough kid. He loves the game of football, and he doesn't want to let any of us down."
The Spirit defender was in perfect position, but Pease adjusted to the ball and caught the pass right on his numbers, beginning a celebration on the St. Joe side of the field.
Giagunto had one thought when he saw the referee signal touchdown.
"Finally," the quarterback said.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Holy Spirit 0 0 0 0 - 0
St. Joseph 0 0 0 7- 7
SJ - Pease 22 pass from Giagunto (Ryker kick)
Rushing - Gerald 9-30 HS. Pease 15-63, Sampson 14-53 SJ.
Passing - LaFragola 3-8-1-60 HS. Giagunto 2-14-1-42 SJ.
Receiving - Nolan 3-60 HS. Pease 2-42 SJ.
Records - Holy Spirit 0-2; St. Joseph 2-0