• Dan Russoman

St. Joseph takes down Cherokee


St. Joseph’s Cohl Mercado catches a long touchdown pass early in the Wildcats win at Cherokee last week. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

MARLTON—Cohl Mercado scored a pair of touchdowns and St. Joseph Academy’s football team used a balanced offensive attack to take control early in the game and post a 38-21 win at Cherokee last week.


Mercado, a senior running back, rushed for 91 yards in the game and added four catches for 93 yards in St. Joseph’s win.


“I’ll do whatever needs to be done, run or catch, whatever it takes to help us win. This was a big game for us,” Mercado said.


On a night where St. Joe was trying to bounce back from its first loss of the season against Holy Spirit on September 3, Mercado and the Wildcats dominated the first half, grabbing a 31-7 lead through two quarters.


“We felt that we would be more physical than them, especially on the offensive line,” St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said.


“I think we did a nice job up front tonight. They [Cherokee] put eight guys in the box, so we had to throw more, a lot of short passes, and we were able to make some plays down the field that helped open up the run game for us later in the game,” Sacco said.


Cherokee fumbled the opening kickoff of the game, giving St. Joe the ball at the Chiefs’ 17-yard line. It took St. Joe four plays to score. A holding penalty pushed the Wildcats to the Cherokee 33-yard line, but on third down Ja’son Prevard connected with Mercado on a 33-yard touchdown pass that put St. Joe ahead 7-0.


Following a Cherokee punt, St. Joe added another touchdown, driving 35-yards in seven plays and scoring when Prevard plunged into the end zone from a yard out.


Early in the second quarter, St. Joe mounted another scoring drive, this one covering 66 yards.


A 48-yard completion from Prevard to Mercado put the Wildcats deep into Cherokee territory and the drive ended with Kevin Mayfield’s 6-yard touchdown run.


Cherokee answered back later in the half, driving 71-yards and putting its first points on the board when Ryan Bender hit Brandon Boria for a 51-yard touchdown that made the score 21-7.

“He’s [Boria] probably their best player and we left him open,” Sacco said.


St. Joe responded with a quick drive, sparked by Mercado’s 61-yard kickoff return. Starting at the Cherokee 18-yard line, the Wildcats kept the ball on the ground and took a 28-7 lead on Mercado’s 4-yard run.


The senior shifted around the backfield during the game, seeing time at halfback, on the wing and at fullback.


“[Fullback] Kevin Mayfield was cramping up, and we don’t really have a backup, the other kid hasn’t played much. So we put Cohl [Mercado] at fullback and I told him, ‘We’re going to run you until the wheels fall off,’” Sacco said.


With time running out in the half, St. Joe added a score, driving from its own 37-yard line to the Cherokee 21, where Trevin DelGozzo hit a 38-yard field goal.


A strong first half didn’t come without mistakes for the Wildcats, who were penalized four times and missed a few assignments. Those miscues continued in the second half, when Cherokee began to mount a comeback.


“I thought we played well in the first half, but we made some mistakes and then they carried over and we let Cherokee back into the game,” Sacco said.


Two penalties hurt St. Joe’s opening drive of the second half, and faced with a fourth down at the Cherokee 21-yard line, the Wildcats tried another field goal. This time, DelGozzo’s kick just missed wide left, and score stayed 31-7.


Cherokee quickly made St. Joe pay for its mistakes, as Bender was able to scramble free and sprint down the right sideline for a 59-yard touchdown run.


“He [Bender] isn’t a runner, but he was able to make a few moves and break a run. We can’t let that happen. Our kids took some bad angles and missed tackles,” Sacco said.


On its next drive, two holding penalties forced St. Joe into a third-and-19 situation and Prevard was intercepted deep in Cherokee territory.


Another big play then put the Chiefs back on the scoreboard, as Bender’s pass looked to be intercepted by Jahqir Haley, but he lost control of the football and it fell into the hands of Cherokee receiver Jake Zubrzycki, who ran 61-yards for a touchdown that cut St. Joe’s lead to 31-21.


The Wildcats quickly regrouped, and added a touchdown when Prevard found Jahmeer Cartagena open down the left sideline for an 82-yard touchdown pass that put St. Joe up 38-21.


Cherokee’s next drive stalled and St. Joe took over at its own 39-yard line where the Wildcats used up the remaining time in the game with a 7-minute possession that ended at the Chiefs’ 1-yard line.


After the game, Sacco was pleased with the win, but frustrated by his team’s continuing sloppy play.


“We were able to overcome all that tonight, the penalties, missed blocks, poor tackling. But next week? Maybe not. We can’t keep playing like this and expect to win games,” Sacco said.


St. Joseph’s next game is September 17 at St. Augustine Prep at 6 p.m.