HAMMONTON — St. Joseph High School picked a great time to play one of its best games of the season.
The host Wildcats advanced to the State Non-Public II championship game with an impressive performance that produced a 52-0 victory over Immaculata on Saturday.
St. Joseph (9-2) will try for its 20th state title Dec. 1 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford against Holy Spirit (7-3). It will mark the second meeting of the season between the Atlantic County rivals. St. Joe won the first contest 28-14 on Oct. 26, rallying from a 14-0 deficit.
“I’m so happy for the kids that we’ve gotten to this point,” St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. “It’s been a rough year for us in many aspects. But we’ve overcome the adversity, and now we’re hoping to get it done at MetLife.”
The top-seeded Wildcats had no trouble beating fourth-seeded Immaculata (5-5), of Somerset County. Their defense scored four touchdowns, including two by sophomore defensive end Keshon Griffin. Junior running back Jada Byers rushed for 135 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries and added a two-point conversion.
Byers has 210 points this season with one game remaining. Former Holy Spirit running back William Washington holds the Press-area, single-season scoring record with 226 points in 2007.
“Our only goal was to come out here today and play our best, and I thought we did that,” Byers said. “It was a great win, and now we’re ready to go to MetLife.”
The Wildcats took immediate control against Immaculata, jumping to a 32-0 lead in the first quarter.
Griffin started the scoring on the Spartans’ first series. He scooped up a fumble in Immaculata’s backfield and scored a 15-yard TD that put the Wildcats ahead 8-0 just over a minute into the game. Later in the quarter, the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder recovered a blocked punt and scored from 30 yards away.
“I was just at the right spot at the right time,” Griffin said. “But it was pretty cool since they were my first touchdowns this season.”
Senior defensive tackle Sean Morris also scored his first TD of the season in his final home game for the Wildcats. The 6-3, 285-pounder pounced on a fumbled handoff in the first quarter and rumbled 5 yards into the end zone.
“I scored a touchdown last season, but this one was definitely better because this was a playoff game,” Morris said. “We wanted to set the tone right away as a defense, especially up front.”
Senior defensive back Nate Johnson provided the fourth defensive TD in the third quarter when he made a nifty one-handed interception and sprinted up the right sideline for a 25-yard score. He also rushed for 60 yards on seven carries.
Byers led a dominant offensive effort with touchdowns from 21, 6 and 3 yards, respectively.
The Wildcats led 38-0 at halftime and 52-0 after three quarters.
“I’m very happy about today,” Sacco said. “And now we have three weeks to heal up and get ready for Holy Spirit.”
Immaculata 0 0 0 0—0
St. Joseph 32 6 14 0—0
SJ — Griffin 15 fumble return (Byers run)
SJ — Byers 21 run (Johnson run)
SJ — Morris 5 fumble return (Shertel run)
SJ — Griffin 30 blocked punt return (Johnson pass from Shertel)
SJ — Byers 6 run (Pass failed)
SJ — Byers 3 run (Monacelli kick)
SJ — Johnson 25 interception return (Monacelli kick)
Records: Immaculata 5-4; St. Joseph 8-2