• Dan Russoman

St. Joe wins postseason opener


THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. Nasir Mahmoud runs for a short gain in St. Joe’s win against Immaculate Conception.

BUENA—There haven’t been many pretty wins for St. Joseph Academy’s football team this season, and the Wildcats continued their trend of winning ugly last weekend, taking down Immaculate Conception 17-0 in a Non-Public B quarterfinal playoff game at Buena Regional High School.


“A win’s a win, and we’ll take it,” St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said.


“Nobody expected us to win many games after we lost to St. Augustine (30-10 to open the season), but we have six wins. Nobody thought we’d do that, but here we are. When we do things the right way, we’re pretty good. It’s great to be this far into the postseason,” Sacco said.


Just eight teams are in the Non-Public B playoffs this season, and last week’s game was originally scheduled for November 11. The Wildcats hadn’t played since losing to Delsea on October 21, so Sacco and Immaculate Conception agreed to play the game this week.


“I didn’t want us to go three weeks without a game. We only have 20-some players, so it’s tough to practice and we need to play, so we moved it up. Now we’ll have two weeks, but maybe it’ll help us,” Sacco said.


Both teams played sloppy football last weekend. Each committed turnovers and there were multiple penalties against both. Despite the miscues, St. Joe was able to make plays when it needed to, and overcame the mistakes to win the game.


“We cannot make those kind of mistakes in our next game and expect to win. We were lucky today that they [Immaculate Conception] didn’t make us pay for all those mistakes,” Sacco said.


Weather was also a factor, as the game was played in near 80-degree temperatures.

“It was hot,” St. Joseph quarterback Jimmy Mantuano said.


“We hung in there and a win is a win, but it was a little weird playing a playoff game when it’s almost 80 degrees,” Mantuano said.


Both teams struggled to move the football, but it was St. Joe that managed to find the end zone.


The Wildcats grabbed an early lead when Julius Wilson tackled Immaculate quarterback Jordan Jenkins in the end zone for a safety with 5:50 left in the first quarter.


Early in the second, the Wildcats drove 29 yards for a touchdown after a short Lions punt, taking an 8-0 lead on Javien Swain’s 8-yard run.


Swain helped set up St. Joe’s second touchdown when he caught a 44-yard pass from Mantuano. Three plays later, Mantuano hit Ty Mercado for a 27-yard gain that led to Mantuano’s 1-yard touchdown run and a 15-0 lead.


“When coach asks me to throw, I have to do my job. We’ve thrown the ball a lot this season, not as much today, but my job is to hit the open guy. Let our playmakers make plays. Those two passes were huge momentum shifters,” Mantuano said.


Leading 15-0 at the half, Sacco let his defense and ground game close out the win.

Richard Chandler and Demarion McCoy led a stingy St. Joseph defensive effort that kept Jenkins and Immaculate’s playmakers from gaining any momentum.


“We spied their quarterback and we knew we had to shut him down,” Chandler said.

“We saw on tape that they could make big plays and we worked to keep them from breaking anything,” McCoy said.


Offensively, St. Joe leaned on its run game for the final two quarters. Chandler led a strong ground attack that was able to move the ball and run time off the clock.


“These kids have done everything we’ve asked of them,” Sacco said.


“We don’t have any depth, and on a hot day, we were cramping, but the kids just kept working. I tell them they have to stay out there because we don’t have anyone else to put in the game. We’re finding ways to win games. It’s been a wild run this season and hopefully, we can keep it going,” Sacco said.


St. Joseph will be idle this weekend and will take on the winner of DePaul and Immaculata the weekend of November 11.


“Either way [DePaul or Immaculata], we need to play better. We can’t make mistakes or we won’t be in the game against anyone,” Sacco said.