• Dan Russoman

St. Joe takes down Northeast


St. Joseph’s Cohl Mercado leaps past two Northeast defenders to catch a touchdown pass during last week’s victory. (THG/Dan Russoman)

OCEAN CITY—A few big plays and a strong defensive effort helped lead St. Joseph Academy’s football team to a season-opening 31-18 win against Northeast on a sweltering, muggy afternoon in Ocean City last week.


Playing the opening matchup of the 11-game “Battle at the Beach,” St. Joe broke open a close game with a 28-point second quarter to earn its first win of the 2021 season.


“I think the first half was a big key for us today. We wanted to wear them down. We came up with some big plays,” St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said.


Senior Cohl Mercado led the way for the Wildcats, scoring a pair of touchdowns as the Wildcats took control in the second quarter. He finished the day with two catches for 78 yards.

Mercado and Jahmeer Cartagena each had 36-yard touchdown catches for the Wildcats.


Both teams were sluggish at the start, as the close-to 100 degree temperature on the field and high humidity appeared to be affecting each squad.


After trading punts throughout the first quarter, St. Joseph finally broke through when it took over at the Northeast 33-yard line and eventually settled for a 37-yard Trevin DelGozzo field goal and a 3-0 lead.


DelGozzo’s ensuing kickoff pinned Northeast inside its own 20-yard line and a pair of penalties pushed the Vikings closer to their own goal line. On second down, Jahqir Haley stepped in front of a Northeast receiver, intercepted a Sabor Stevens pass and raced 10-yards for a touchdown that gave St. Joe a 10-0 lead.


Northeast quickly answered back. On the first play of its next drive, Jordin Jones broke loose for a 66-yard touchdown run that put the Vikings back into the game.


That was as close as Northeast would get, however, as Mercado and the Wildcats took the momentum back on their next possession.


Faced with a third-and-16 at the Northeast 64-yard line, St. Joseph quarterback Ja’son Prevard rolled right and heaved a pass downfield toward Mercado, who outleaped two Northeast defenders, broke a tackle and raced into the end zone for his first score of the afternoon.


“I saw Ja’son [Prevard] rolling out, and he was like, ‘Go deeper, go deeper.’ He just launched it. I just jumped, and it landed in my hands,” Mercado said.


A turnover set up St. Joe’s next score, as Zach Cruet recovered a fumble at the Northeast 5-yard line. Three plays later, Mercado scored on a 3-yard run to give St. Joe a 24-6 lead.

The Wildcats weren’t done.


After Northeast stalled at the St. Joe 8-yard line, the Wildcats put together another scoring drive.


Kevin Mayfield’s 12-yard run and a 42-yard pass from Prevard to Mercado set up a 36-yard scoring strike from Prevard to Cartagena, who jumped over a defender to make the catch.


“Those two catches [Mercado and Cartagena], you can’t ask for more, they came back, found the football went up and made the catch,” Sacco said.


Normally, Sacco wants to keep the ball on the ground, but last week St. Joe’s coach used the pass to produce results against Northeast.


“We had to throw deep. As soon as they [Northeast] lined up, we knew we weren’t getting on the edge,” he said.


Cartagena’s touchdown came near the end of the first half and capped the scoring for the Wildcats.


Northeast was able to put two second-half touchdowns on the board to keep the game close, but St. Joe used its run game to close out the win.


“I think the first half was a big key for us today. We wanted to wear them down. We came up with some big plays. We had a great day in our fullback game, they’re big inside and we wore them down. Second half, they didn’t change anything, I think we got a little tired,” Sacco said.

The game was played in extreme heat and humidity. Rain also poured throughout the second half.


“All week we were preparing for these conditions,” Mercado said.


“We knew it was going to be hot. From it being 90 degrees in the first half to downpour rain in the second half where we couldn’t even hold onto the ball, I think we did a pretty good job,” he said.


Both Mercado and Sacco felt the win was a confidence-builder for the Wildcats.


“Coming into this season, I think we had a lot of doubters. We were missing a lot of players, but we came out pretty strong and set a good tone for the rest of the season,” Mercado said.

Sacco agreed.


“I think this is big for us to win the first game because they’re not going to get any easier. Some of the other teams we play aren’t going to have the athletes that they [Northeast] have, the big kids the receivers, so hopefully this will give us a little bit of confidence going into that big game next week [against Holy Spirit],” he said.


St. Joe’s coach admitted his team made some mistakes in the win, but was pleased to pick up a victory in difficult conditions.


“In all, we’re happy with a great job our kids did in some brutal weather. Happy to be 1-0,” Sacco said


St. Joseph plays at Holy Spirit on September 3 at 6 p.m.