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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Late TD lifts St. Joseph past Cedar Creek

THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. St. Joseph quarterback Jimmy Mantuano attempts a pass during last week’s game at Cedar Creek.

EGG HARBOR CITY—Despite some second-half breakdowns, St. Joseph Academy’s football team scored a late touchdown to pull out a 21-14 victory at Cedar Creek last week, the Wildcats third-straight win.

“It’s a win and we’ll take it. But we have to get better or we’re going to be in a lot of trouble,” St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said.

Ty Mercado’s 31-yard touchdown catch from Jimmy Mantuano with 22 seconds left in the game gave the Wildcats the win in game that looked headed for overtime after the Wildcats coughed up a 14-0 halftime lead.

“We made some plays when we needed to, but we just can’t continue to play like this,” Sacco said.

The late score capped a three-play 45-yard drive for the Wildcats in the game’s final minutes.

Prior to that series, St. Joseph had allowed Cedar Creek to claw its way back into a game that the Wildcats looked to control in the first two quarters.

Following a scoreless first quarter that saw both teams turn the ball over, St. Joseph put the first points on the scoreboard when Mantuano hit Nasir Mahmoud down the left sideline for a 26-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 Wildcats lead.

That score was set up by Devon Theophile’s fumble recovery.

Cedar Creek missed a chance to grab the lead early in the second quarter when Justin Castillo caught a pass and rumbled through several tacklers toward the end zone, but lost the ball and fumbled out of the end zone for a St. Joe touchback.

Another fumble on Cedar Creek’s ensuing drive set up St. Joe’s next score as James Steel’s recovery gave the Wildcats the ball at the Pirates’ 17-yard line. A holding penalty pushed St. Joe back to the 35, but on second-and-long, Mantuano handed to Mahmoud on a reverse and the wide receiver pulled up and connected with a wide-open Zach Cruet for a 35-yard touchdown pass that gave St. Joe a 14-0 halftime lead.

Cedar Creek quarterback Billy Smith was knocked out of the game late in the half, but in the third quarter, backup Zaire Pilgrim led a Pirates comeback that tied the game 14-14.

Early in the third quarter, Pilgrim lofted a pass down the right sideline that found receiver Alim Parks who raced 77-yards for a touchdown.

After the teams traded punts for three-straight drives, Cedar Creek was back on the board when Mekhi Parks broke through the middle and outran the St. Joseph defense for a 41-yard touchdown run that tied the game.

Neither team could mount much offense in the fourth quarter, and with 2:36 left in the game, St. Joe fumbled the ball to Cedar Creek. The Pirates took over deep in their own territory and were forced to punt out of their end zone.

The Wildcats took over at the Cedar Creek 45 with 1:24 left in the game and after Jaevien Swain’s 7-yard run, Mantuano hit Steel for a six-yard gain. The Wildcats appeared to be setting up a field goal attempt, but with 22 seconds left, Mantuano hit Mercado down the right sideline and the junior broke a tackle before diving into the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown pass.

“I went out to the flat, cut it up and the next thing you know the ball was in my hands. He [Mantuano] puts it on my hands every time. He’s always looking for me,” Mercado said.

“We have a great kicker, but coach (Paul Sacco) is spicy, he likes to go for the long ball. Especially with this team, we have a bunch of great athletes on this team and a great QB, so if we spread the ball around, we’ll be fine,” Mercado said.

“We took a shot there and it worked out. I’m glad we made that play because they [Cedar Creek] had all the momentum,” Sacco said.

The game was another where St. Joe was able to force turnovers and make big plays when they needed them.

“There were a lot of ups and downs in this game. We could have put them away, we had it in the red zone with about three or four opportunities,” Mantuano said.

“Give credit to Cedar Creek, their kids played hard all the way to the final whistle. But also credit to my teammates. We really hung in there. I threw an interception and that’s on me. But we just hung in there as a team and got it done, and that’s all that matters,” he said.

The win was St. Joe’s third-straight since an opening night loss at St. Augustine Prep. The Wildcats have made several mistakes in each victory, but have found ways to win every game.

“I don’t know how we’re doing it. We have freshmen playing, and we make way too many mistakes, but we’re getting it done. I’m disappointed in our lack of discipline and all the mental mistakes because we shouldn’t be making those, but we need to get better or we’re going to be in trouble. You can only win so many games like this,” Sacco said.

St. Joseph’s next game is at Ocean City on October 7 at 6 p.m.

“We can’t play this sloppy down there [at Ocean City] or they’ll hammer us,” Sacco said.


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