• Dan Russoman

St. Joe cruises to playoff win


St. Joseph’s Kevin Mayfield (6) breaks a tackle on his way into the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter of last week’s win. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—A strong third-quarter performance led St. Joseph Academy’s football team to a 45-12 win against a pesky St. Thomas Aquinas team last weekend, sending the Wildcats into this week’s Non-Public B semifinals.


St. Thomas Aquinas entered last week’s game with a 9-0 record and for a half it looked like the Trojans might escape last week’s game against St. Joe with another victory.


The Wildcats trailed twice in the first quarter before taking the lead for good in the second period and breaking the game open with three third-quarter touchdowns.


The game was St. Joe first in almost three weeks, but head coach Paul Sacco refused to blame the long layoff for the Wildcats sluggish start against Aquinas.


“No [we weren’t rusty],” Sacco said.


“I think we just have some kids who sometimes get a little overconfident. We knew they [St. Thomas Aquinas] were a good football team, and to their credit, they didn’t change things up much today. They came out and did what we expected them to do. They did a nice job early in the game and they had us on the ropes a little,” Sacco said.


A strong wind impacted the game, especially in the third quarter when it knocked down a pair of Trojan punts that helped set up scores for the Wildcats.


St. Thomas Aquinas struck on the game’s opening drive as Jayden Young hit Jonathan Wyatt on a 44-yard touchdown pass that gave the Trojans an early 6-0 lead.


St. Joe answered back, driving 60 yards in six plays, the biggest a 34-yard pass from Ja’son Prevard to Cohl Mercado. That set up Mercado’s 3-yard run that put the Wildcats on top 7-6 with 3:24 left in the first quarter.


Aquinas quickly fought back, as Sherrod Hudson broke free for a 45-yard touchdown run that put the Trojans back in front 12-7.


“They were playing with confidence and took it to us,” Sacco said.


Once again, St. Joe answered, driving 70 yards, all on the ground, and moving back in front when Kevin Mayfield scored the first of his two touchdowns on the day, this one an 11-yard run.


The Wildcats added two points on St. Thomas Aquinas’ next possession. Forced to punt from its own 34-yard line, the Trojans snap sailed over the head of punter Jack Joyce. With the ball about to roll into the end zone, Joyce kicked it past the end line, giving St. Joe a safety and a 15-12 halftime lead.


What had been a brisk wind picked up in intensity early in the third quarter and had an impact on the game and field position for the Wildcats.


Playing into the wind, St. Thomas Aquinas punted twice in the period, the first covering just a yard while the second traveled just 15 yards. Both gave St. Joe’s offense a short field and the Wildcats took advantage, scoring two touchdowns.


The Wildcats had appeared to score on the first play of the second half, when Mayfield broke loose for a 65-yard touchdown run. That play was negated on a holding penalty, and the drive stalled.


After the Trojans’ punt went just one yard, St. Joseph took over at the Aquinas 18-yard line and scored on Mayfield’s 6-yard run. He then added a two-point conversion to put the Wildcats ahead 23-12.


“I just do what I have to do. If Coach [Sacco] wants me to run, I run. If he wants me to block, I block,” Mayfield said.


With the wind wreaking havoc on the pass game, St. Joe went to its traditional ground game, led by Mayfield and Mercado.


“He [Mayfield] doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he had a great day for us. Kevin is a senior and he does whatever we ask. He’s waited a long time for his turn and he ran hard today,” Sacco said.


Mayfield’s ability to gain tough yards up the middle eventually opened up the edge for Mercado, who finished with 103 rushing yards.


“They were focused on him [Mercado] so we went with our fullback game and it helped open some things up for Cohl [Mercado],’ Sacco said.


On the Trojans’ next drive, Jahmeer Cartagena intercepted a 6-yard run. Mayfield then added a two-point conversion to put the Wildcats ahead 23-12.


The senior fullback finished the game with 130 yards rushing on 20 carries.


“I just do what I have to do. If Coach [Sacco] wants me to run, I run. If he wants me to block, I block,” Mayfield said.


With the wind wreaking havoc on the pass game, St. Joe went to its traditional ground game, led by Mayfield and Mercado.


“He [Mayfield] doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he had a great day for us. Kevin is a senior and he does whatever we ask. He’s waited a long time for his turn and he ran hard today,” Sacco said.


Mayfield’s ability to gain tough yards up the middle eventually opened up the edge for Mercado, who finished with 98 rushing yards.


“They were focused on him [Mercado] so we went with our fullback game and it helped open some things up for Cohl [Mercado],’ Sacco said.


On the Trojans’ next drive, Jahmeer Cartagena intercepted a Young pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown that broke the game open.


Another short St. Thomas Aquinas punt set St. Joseph up at the Trojans’ 35-yard line and with 47 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Mercado scored on a 29-yard run to put the Wildcats ahead 38-12.


It was St. Joe’s turn to fight the wind in the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats managed one more scoring drive, keeping the ball on the ground for eight plays that covered 77 yards and ended with Prevard’s 1-yard touchdown run that made the final score 45-12.


The victory sends St. Joseph into the semifinals this week against Red Bank Catholic (RBC). That game will be played at RBC on November 19.


The Caseys are 9-1 and ranked among the top teams in the state.


“We’re not used to traveling for the semifinals, but these kids are used to adversity with what they’ve gone through the last two years,” Sacco said.


“We only had 24 kids dressed today, we played a tough schedule and we’re 8-2. We dealt with it all and here we are. So, now we just have to keep going,” Sacco said.