• Dan Russoman

2nd half rally pushes Holy Spirit past St. Joe


St. Joseph’s Jahmeer Cartagena (1) races toward the end zone on his way to a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown in last week’s game against Holy Spirit. (THG/Dan Russoman)

ABSECON—A pair of big plays in the second half led Holy Spirit High School’s football team to a 35-24 victory against St. Joseph Academy in a matchup of two of the region’s top teams last week.


The game featured several momentum swings, but the last two went in favor of the Spartans who notched their third-straight win against the Wildcats.


“They just make big plays. Every time it looked like we had them down, the came up with a big play,” St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said.


St. Joe has historically struggled early in games at Holy Spirit, and last week’s contest was more of the same as the hosts jumped out to a quick 14-0 first-quarter lead.


Penalties, miscues and defensive breakdowns hurt the Wildcats early in the game. On its opening drive, Holy Spirit drove 77 yards, aided in part by four St. Joseph penalties that moved the ball 50 yards for the Spartans. Trevor Cohen’s 3-yard run with 6:10 remaining in the quarter gave Holy Spirit an early 7-0 lead.


After a St. Joseph punt, Holy Spirit took advantage of two more Wildcats penalties to add another score when Cohen connected with Sean Burns on a 33-yard touchdown pass.


“There’s something about coming down here. Every time we come down here, we should just put 14 points on the scoreboard (for Holy Spirit before the game begins). We fought back and we fought back, but they just kept making plays.


St. Joe was frustrated by both the officials and the Spartans, who seemed to always make a play when they needed one.


“You can’t give up big plays. I don’t care what the officials did in the first quarter. Forty-five yards in holding penalties on the first drive; we can’t change that, they’re making the calls. And the more you holler, the worse it gets,” Sacco said.


While Spirit was moving the ball almost at will, St. Joe was struggling offensively. The Wildcats were unable to gain yards on the edges, as the Spartans were focused on keeping speedy St. Joe back Cohl Mercado in check. Mercado, one of the more versatile runners in the area, finished the game with -1 yard rushing on six carries.


“They [Holy Spirit] did a good job taking Cohl [Mercado] out of it. We couldn’t run outside, so we had to throw much more than I like to. Eventually, we were able to get our fullback game going and I thought [fullback] Kevin [Mayfield] had another good game,” Sacco said.


Trailing 14-0, St. Joe began to fight back early in the second quarter.


Starting at the Holy Spirit 37-yard line, the Wildcats used a pass interference penalty to move to the Spartans 15, and four plays later, Trevin DelGozzo nailed a 30-yard field goal to put St. Joe on the scoreboard.


Having gained some momentum, St. Joe’s defense took control in the second quarter, pressuring Cohen, Holy Spirit’s quarterback, stuffing the Spartans run game, and forcing three turnovers.


Midway through the second quarter, Nasir Mahmoud intercepted a Cohen pass and two plays later, Ja’son Prevard hit Jahmeer Cartagena down the right sideline for a 54-yard touchdown pass that put St. Joe back in the game.


“We had to pass, and we have some good receivers,” Sacco said.


The Wildcats then grabbed their first lead of the game on Holy Spirit’s next possession, as Cartagena intercepted a Cohen pass near midfield and raced 55-yards for a touchdown that put St. Joe ahead 17-14.


Holy Spirit responded on its next drive, as Cohen hit Burns for a 52-yard completion that set up Micahel Weaver’s 2-yard touchdown run, putting the Spartans back in front 21-17.


With less than two minutes remaining in the half, St. Joseph used a 33-yard completion from Prevard to Jahqir Haley to move deep into Holy Spirit territory, but the drive ended on an incomplete fourth-down pass with 12 seconds remaining.


In the third quarter, both teams had drives stall before St. Joe was able to retake the lead. Jimmy Mantuano’s third-down completion to Zach Cruet kept the Wildcats’ drive going, and on the next play after Cruet’s 6-yard gain, Mayfield rumbled around the left side for a 14-yard touchdown run that gave St. Joe a 24-21 lead.


The Wildcats didn’t hold that lead for long, however, as on its next drive Holy Spirit converted on its own third down play as Gavin Roman broke through the middle and sprinted 62 yard for a go-ahead touchdown.


After a St. Joe punt, the Wildcats intercepted Cohen again, this time when Cartagena pulled down a pass in the Wildcats’ end zone, thwarting what could have been another Holy Spirit touchdown drive.


The Wildcats failed to capitalize on the turnover, punting the ball back to the Spartans.


St. Joe’s defense made a quick stop, but on the first play of its next drive, Roman intercepted a Prevard pass, setting the Spartans up at the Wildcats 36-yard line.


With less than five minutes left in the game, Holy Spirit sealed the win when Cohen hit Roman down the hash marks for a 35-yard touchdown pass that gave the Spartans a 35-24 lead and the win.


“Every time we play them [Holy Spirit], they come up with a big fourth down play. That run [Cohen’s touchdown], it was like fourth-and-seven and the kid’s off to the races. Someone doesn’t close, someone doesn’t take the outside gap and that’s it. Here at the end, the Cohen kid is that good. He puts the ball up and he has a lot of people who can catch the football. We were right there and we let them make big plays,” Sacco said.


The loss dropped St. Joe to 1-1 this season. The Wildcats’ next game is September 10 at Cherokee at 6 p.m.