VOORHEES — It was only fitting that E’lijah Gray scored the game-winning touchdown Saturday afternoon.
His 2-yard score with 1 minute, 15 seconds left in regulation capped a dominant performance from the junior running back and linebacker.
Gray ran for 228 yards and three touchdowns to lead Holy Spirit High School to a 30-22 victory over Eastern Regional in a West Jersey Football League Royal Division game. The game was postponed Friday night due to stormy weather.
“The first couple plays of the game, we weren’t connecting,” Gray said. “We went to the sideline and regrouped and got everything together. But the O-line, they did their job, and I’ve got to give it all to them.”
It was a slow start offensively for both teams. But the Spartans, ranked ninth in The Press Elite 11, eventually opened the scoring late in the second quarter.
Gray ran for 66 yards on second-and-1 to bring Holy Spirit to Eastern’s 14-yard line. Two plays later, the 16-year-old from Somers Point scored on a 3-yard run. Quarterback Ryan Yost then connected with Azim Baker-Coley for a two-point conversion to give the Spartans an 8-0 lead.
Holy Spirit (1-1) was coming off a loss to Mount St. Joseph in Maryland.
“After that loss, we came out hungry,” Gray said. “We didn’t sleep on this team. We just had to come back fighting. We have a lot of heart, and everyone on the team did their job.”
Eastern (0-1) responded when quarterback Andrew Heck scored on a 10-yard run. Heck hit Jordan Diaz in the back of the end zone for the two-pointer to make it 8-8.
“We just talked about overcoming adversity,” Holy Spirit coach A.J. Russo said. “And adversity can happen at anytime. Our captains and our seniors led the way with that, and we had the opportunity to take the win, so they did a great job at overcoming the adversity thrown to them.”
Holy Spirit’s Ahmad Brown made three crucial plays with 50 seconds left in the first half. Brown, a junior, caught passes of 30 and 9 yards to get to Eastern’s 26 with 2.9 seconds remaining.
Brown then caught a pass from Yost in the end zone to give his team a 14-8 lead at the half.
“It felt really good,” Brown said. “These are my brothers, and I would do anything for them. I see them every day, so my bond just gets better and better with them. I just want to do anything I can to help the team.”
Brown had 88 receiving yards. The wide receiver and defensive back also had an interception in the first quarter.
“We came together as team,” said Brown, 16, of Egg Harbor Township. “When we come together as a team, we can do big things.”
Eastern opened the second half with a touchdown to take its only lead.
After tight end Isaiah Gerena’s 57-yard catch-and-run on the ensuing drive, Gray scored on a 7-yard run that gave the Spartans a 22-15 lead.
“That kid is a workhorse.” Russo said. “He has an amazing work ethic. He is one of our captains, and there is a reason for it because of the type of kid he is on and off the football field.”
Eastern made the game 22-22 with 5:58 remaining, but the Holy Spirit defense finished the game strong, setting up the offense with great field position.
“Our defense played lights out,” Russo said. “They did some things to us early, and the kids just balled out at the end of the game. They left everything out on the field, and I am very proud of them.”
Holy Spirit;0 14 8 8—30
Eastern; 0 8 14 0
HS: Gray 3 run (Yost to Baker-Coley good)
ER: Heck 10 run (Heck to Diaz good)
HS: Brown 26 reception (2-point attempt failed)
ER: Kiet 25 reception (Fulleylove good)
HS: Gray 7 run (Yost to Gerena good)
ER: Benson 8 reception (Fulleylove good)
HS: Gray 2 run (Yost to Gerena good)