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  • Dan Russoman

DePaul Outlasts St. Joe in playoff win


THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. St. Joseph’s Ty Mercado (23) races past DePaul defender John Villata (11) during last week’s Non-Public B semifinal game.

WAYNE—An undermanned St. Joseph Academy football team fought well in its Non-Public B semifinal game at DePaul last week, but the Wildcats eventually wore down against the deeper Spartans, who came away with a 35-14 victory and a spot in this week’s state championship game against Red Bank Catholic.


“They [DePaul] are just so deep. Nobody goes both ways for them. We have 28 players. You look at their sideline and they have 70. We just couldn’t compete with that,” St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said.


In a game that turned into a battle of attrition, DePaul’s ability to rotate players in and out of the game at almost every position proved to be the Spartans biggest advantage against a St. Joseph team that twice fought back from seven-point deficits before fading in the fourth quarter.


“Give our kids a lot of credit. They fought for four quarters when a lot of teams would have just packed it in. But that’s what they’ve done all year. I’m so proud of them and how hard they worked. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back this year, but I’m glad I did. They’ve made it all worth it,” Sacco said.


The loss ended Sacco’s final chance to add another state title to his resume at St. Joe. The coach announced in August that this would be his final season at the school.


DePaul entered last week’s game as a heavy favorite, but for much of the game St. Joseph held the Spartans in check. On a chilly night that featured a few snow showers, DePaul was frustrated by both a stingy St. Joseph defense and its own miscues.


The Spartans started well, marching 70 yards on the game’s opening series with an efficient 10-play drive that ended with Derek Zammit’s 22-yard touchdown pass to De’zie Jones.

St. Joe struggled to move the ball on its first two possessions, but its defense forced punts on DePaul’s next two drives.


The teams continued to trade punts into the second quarter, before Javien Swain forced a fumble with a hit on DePaul’s Anthony Almeida that was recovered by Jamaad Davis at the Spartans’ 36-yard line.


The Wildcats’ drive looked headed nowhere when on fourth-and-10, Jimmy Mantuano sent a pass down the left sideline that was tipped by a DePaul defender and caught by Wildcats tight end Zach Cruet for a 30-yard gain.


Two plays later, Ty Mercado lunged into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown that tied the game 7-7.


Having gained the momentum, St. Joe stopped DePaul’s next drive, but an interception with less than two minutes left in the half gave the ball back to the Spartans, who quickly drove for a go-ahead score.


Three-straight pass completions moved the ball to the Wildcats’ 15, and three plays later, Almeida broke a few tackles on a 14-yard touchdown run with three seconds remaining on the clock.


“We were in the game. All year long, we’ve been able to make some big plays and we did with the pass and a score to tie the game, and then we turn the ball over and give up that score at the end of the half. If it stays tied, who knows what happens in the second half,” Sacco said.


The beginning of the third quarter looked more like the first half, as neither team moved the ball well.


DePaul’s first drive of the half was plagued by penalties, as the Spartans began at their own 24-yard line and eventually punted from their end zone.


Set up at the Spartans’ 30-yard line, St. Joe used a holding call against DePaul and a 17-yard run from Nasir Mahmoud to set up Mantuano’s 1-yard touchdown plunge that tied the game 14-14 with 4:34 left in the third quarter.


Like the end of the half, however, DePaul was able to quickly seize the momentum from St. Joe when Jadin Johnson fielded the ensuing kickoff at his own 3-yard line and weaved his way through the Wildcats coverage for a 97-yard touchdown return that put the Spartans back in front 21-14.


“We just couldn’t get ahead. They made big plays and we didn’t,” Sacco said.


DePaul had the lead and the Spartans ability to substitute at will hurt the Wildcats. The Spartans rotated several running backs into the game and were able to use several strong runs from Maxamillion McMillon to set up Zammit’s 1-yard touchdown run that put DePaul ahead 28-14 early in the fourth quarter.


St. Joe had time to battle back, but two drives stalled and the next ended in an interception.

DePaul converted that turnover into points, as McMillan scored on a 6-yard run to seal the win.


“We didn’t make play. The turnovers hurt us in the second half and they just had a little too much for us. We gave it our best, but I think we just wore down in the second half,” Sacco said.


St. Joseph will end its season on November 23 when it visits Winslow at 6 p.m.

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