HAMMONTON - The St. Joseph High School football team had three weeks between games. Some observers might have thought the layoff would hurt the Wildcats, but they needed just two plays before they alleviated any fears.
In the 50th edition of the Thanksgiving week game between St. Joseph and Hammonton, the Wildcats thumped the visiting Blue Devils 32-3 on Saturday. Hammonton still leads the series 26-23-1.
After the Blue Devils (9-2) opened the game with a 60-yard pass that put them 8 yards from the end zone, St. Joseph (9-0) - No. 1 in The Press Elite 11 - held No. 7 Hammonton to a field goal.
"We had to knock the rust off," St. Joseph senior tight end/linebacker Kaiwan Lewis said. "Teams should know that once they get down there, no one is going to score on us."
St. Joe's defense looked better than its offense. The Wildcats held Hammonton to 7 rushing yards for the entire game, which certainly seems like good preparation for next week's state title game.
"I think we made a statement," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. "Here's a (Blue Devils) team that is 9-1 and came back in two playoff games.
"I told the kids if they want to keep their No. 1 ranking, they have to make a statement."
Both teams play next weekend. St. Joseph goes up against St. Mary's of Rutherford for the state Non-Public I title at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Hammonton will face Timber Creek for the South Jersey Group III title at Rowan University in Glassboro at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Having to play for a championship next weekend factored into how Hammonton used its players. Coach Pete Lancetta played his starters in only first half. He said he wanted to see how the game played out before deciding what to do with them.
"It wasn't happening. They are an excellent football team," Lancetta said. "We've got bigger fish to fry, as they say. We've got a big game ahead of us in Timber Creek. We are pretty healthy coming out of it, and I made the decision at halftime (to take the starters out)."
St. Joseph was disappointed because the Wildcats haven't played many full games this season. They now have outscored opponents 423-19, so teams frequently pull their starters early against the Wildcats. And they got a bye straight to the state final, so they haven't gotten to play a playoff game yet.
"I got to play most of it and I wish I got to play more," St. Joseph running back Eli Pogue said. "(After Hammonton's first play), I wasn't worried at all. I thought that was just us trying to get the bugs out."
Hammonton is one of the best teams St. Joe has faced this season. The Blue Devils have a dynamic running game with several skilled players. They also usually mix in the pass well.
Against St. Joe, they weren't able to do any of that.
After Hammonton's Christian Mortellite hit Bob Barbieri for a 60-yard pass, the Blue Devils couldn't do much else. A false start on the 2-yard line hurt Hammonton as well.
The Blue Devils settled for sophomore Alex Padovani's 24-yard field goal to go up 3-0 with 9 minutes, 19 seconds left in the first quarter.
"We can't play like we did today (next week)," Lancetta said. "We didn't show up. We are not good enough to just show up and roll the balls out. We have to play hungry and we have to play with desperation."
St. Joe didn't score on its first possession, but the Wildcats got into a good flow quickly after.
They scored on Pogue's 4-yard run to go up 7-3 with 1:54 left in the first.
The Wildcats then scored on three straight possessions - Lewis' 35-yard touchdown catch and Pogue's 61- and 2-yard runs to take a 26-3 lead going into halftime.
"Our starters have played in three full football games this year," Sacco said. "We were going to let our starters stay in as long as possible today. These kids are seniors and they haven't played much."
This was a memorable game for Pogue. He finished with 91 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries.
The Estell Manor resident missed a significant portion of the season with a dislocated shoulder, so he was happy to get in the game, even if he only played for three quarters. It gives him hope for next week when St. Joe goes for another state title and he will be in the mix.
"It has been very frustrating for me," Pogue said. "Next week, I hope we keep rolling and take this momentum and keep going."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj:
Hammonton 3 0 0 0-3
St. Joseph 7 19 0 6-32
H-Padovani 24 field goal
SJ-Pogue 4 run (Ordille kick)
SJ-Lewis 35 pass from Giagunto (Ordille kick)
SJ-Pogue 61 run (kick failed)
SJ-Pogue 2 run (kick blocked)
SJ-Smith 7 run (kick blocked)
Team statistics H SJ
Rushing yards 24-7 43-286
Passing yards 1-60 3-97
First downs 1 15
Turnovers 0 2
Rushing-Hammonton, Da. Williams 7-12, Forchion 2-0, Mortellite 3-(-)17, Brown 2-4, Darby 1-3, Siligato 4-4, Fucetola 1-0, Tomasello 1-2, Maimone 2-(-)4, Bevan 1-3. St. Joseph, Smith 8-70, Giagunto 4-20, Pease 3-20, Reynolds 14-85, Pogue 13-91, Sampson 1-0.
Receiving-Hammonton, Barbieri 1-60. St. Joseph, Valles 1-40, Lewis 1-35, Thompson 1-15.
Passing-Hammonton, Mortellite 1-3-60-0. St. Joseph, Giagunto 3-5-97-1.
Records-St. Joseph 9-0, Hammonton 9-2.