ABSECON — The Holy Spirit High School football team didn’t let a little rain and a lot of mud slow its charge toward a possible state championship Friday night.
The Spartans took control at the outset and never let up in a 48-16 victory over Hudson Catholic in a state Non-Public Group II semifinal game.
“That was the most fun I’ve ever had playing football,” Spartans senior linebacker Walid Jones said after scoring two defensive touchdowns. “And now we get to play for a state title.”
Holy Spirit (7-3) will try for its first state championship since 2012 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on a date to be determined. The Spartans will meet the winner of Saturday’s game between host St. Joseph (Hammonton) and Immaculata in the title game.
A St. Joseph victory would mean playing Holy Spirit for the second time this season. The Wildcats beat the Spartans 28-14 on Oct. 26.
“Playing St. Joe for the state title would certainly be a positive for South Jersey football,” Holy Spirit coach A.J. Russo said. “And I know a lot of fans would want to see it.”
The Spartans capitalized on a huge homefield advantage Friday to beat Hudson Catholic (6-5), which made the trip from Jersey City.
A blinding, torrential rain fell throughout the first half, turning the field at Ed Byrnes Stadium into a quagmire. Both sidelines were brown puddles. The center of the field between the 40-yard lines was a pile of mud.
That worked perfectly for Holy Spirit, which relied on junior running back E’lijah Gray. Hudson Catholic’s passing game was rendered useless.
“We would have needed the permission of the (New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association) to postpone the game, but we didn’t want to do that,” Russo said. “We wanted to play, based on the way our kids perform in conditions like this.”
Gray, a 5-foot-9, 190-pounder, was especially effective. He churned through the mud for 123 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries and threw a TD pass.
When he wasn’t running through gaping holes provided by his offensive line, he was sliding off would-be tacklers for extra yardage.
“I’m used to playing in conditions like that,” Gray said. “When I played for the Somers Point Sharks (of the Atlantic County Junior Football League), our field had a big hole in the middle with mud in it. I had a lot of fun out there.”
So did Jones and the Spartans’ defense.
He opened the scoring early in the first quarter. On Hudson Catholic’s first play from scrimmage, the snap sailed over the head of quarterback Johnathan Bates. Jones recovered it in the end zone to give the Spartans an 8-0 lead.
Jones reached the end zone again on a scoop-and-score. He grabbed another Hawks fumble and raced 25 yards for a TD in the third quarter.
After the game, the Spartans gathered at one end of the field, collectively took a running start and launched into head-first slides through the muck while whooping and hollering.
“The weather didn’t bother us at all,” Jones said. “It’s football.”
Hudson Catholic 0 8 0 8—16
Holy Spirit 16 6 20 6—48
HS — Jones fumble recovery in end zone (Gray run)
HS — Gray 3 run (Gray run)
HS — Lora 19 pass from Gray (Run failed)
HC — Adams 60 kickoff return (Decias run)
HS — Gray 10 run (Run failed)
HS — Gray 13 run (Gray run)
HS — Jones 25 fumble return (Run failed)
HS — Lee 1 run (Pass failed)
HC — Decias 40 pass from Bates (Bates run)
Records: Hudson Catholic 6-5; Holy Spirit 7