HAMMONTON — Jada Byers woke up Saturday morning, listened to music and enjoyed two sausage, egg and cheese croissants from Wawa.
The junior running back then dominated on the field.
Byers rushed for 164 yards and scored six touchdowns to lead top-seeded St. Joseph to a 56-6 victory over eighth-seeded Immaculate Conception, of Montclair, in the first round of state Non-Public II playoffs on a windy afternoon at Bendig Field.
St. Joseph, ranked No. 7 in the Press Elite 11, will host the winner of fourth-seeded Immaculata and fifth-seeded Holy Cross Prep next Friday in the semifinals. Those teams were set to play Saturday night.
“We just came out here and tried to handle business the best we can,” said Byers, 16, of Bridgeton. “The first half went well, (and) the line was doing everything they could do. We just had to come out here and do what we do best.”
But Byers, who has scored 29 TDs this year, is focused on the next step.
“We’ve got to come to practice and watch film,” he said after his second six-TD performance of the year. “Study it slowly and take it day by day.”
Byers, along with other starters, did not play in the second half as the Wildcats took a 46-0 lead into halftime.
“We wanted to come out of the gate and get a good start,” St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said. “We wanted to not start slow like we have the last couple of weeks. Just get out there, do what we need to do, not make mistakes. ... and we did that.”
Byers opened the scoring with an 18-yard TD run and, on the Wildcats’ next possession, ran 2 yards for another score to cap a 4-play, 52-yard drive.
Byers added a 40-yard TD run late in the first quarter to put the Wildcats up 24-0.
“Listen, Jada is Jada,” Sacco said. “When the kids block for him, he does a great job. He is so exciting to watch, and he did a great job again today. We expect nothing but exciting things from him.”
Byers had a 10-yard TD run and then a 26-yard score early in the second quarter. Byers also caught a 38-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Jayden Shertel.
Shertel finished with 72 passing yards and 37 rushing yards. The 15-year-old from Hammonton also did not play in the second half.
“It’s great to get this win and continue the season, especially in a way like this with a good score,” Shertel said. “I think that will carry over to next week, and (it puts us) in a good mood.”
The Wildcats captured the title last season when Shertel was a freshman. St. Joseph has won 26 state titles in program history.
“If we go four straight in my high school career,” Shertel said, “I would love nothing more than to do that with my brothers because I consider all these guys my family. I love them.”
Byers also wants another title, but Saturday the Wildcats played for something else.
St. Joseph honored 11-year-old Cody Ammerman, who recently was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Ammerman, of the West Tuckerton section of Little Egg Harbor Township, was an honorary team captain and received a game ball from Sacco.
Nate Johnson and Cohl Mercado also contributed in the passing and running game. Ahmad Ross and Chase Lomax made an impact on defense.
“We need to take care of the little things,” Sacco said. “If we do and have anther good week of practice, then we should be good. ... Next week is going to be a much tougher game than it was today.”
Immaculate Conception 0 0 6 0—6
St. Joseph 24 22 8 2—56
SJ — Byers 18 run (Byers run)
SJ — Byers 2 run (Johnson run)
SJ — Byers 40 run (Mercado run)
SJ — Byers 10 run (Ross run)
SJ — Byers 26 run (Johnson pass from Shertel)
SJ — Byers 38 pass from Shertel (2-point failed)
SJ — Mayfield 19 run (Johnson run)
IC — Waxter 26 run (2-point failed)
SJ — Safety
Records: St. Joseph 8-2; Immaculate Conception 5-5