GLASSBORO – The St. Joseph High School football team was playing for a lot of prizes on Sunday afternoon.
The hungry Wildcats certainly were shooting to avenge losing to Mater Dei last season and having their staggering seven-year run of state titles snapped.
They also wanted to be the first St. Joseph football team to finish a season 12-0.
And, of course, the little school in Hammonton wanted to win the Non-Public Group 2 title and start a new streak with a team of mainly underclassmen.
But, most of all, it seemed the Wildcats we’re playing for pride in the 30-14 domination of the defending state champion Seraphs at Rowan University.
“We wanted to quiet all the doubters,” said St. Joseph’s rugged fullback Qwahsin Townsel after rushing 32 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
St. Joseph, the No. 1 ranked team in the South Jersey Sports Digest Top Ten, was coming off a 7-4 season last year. Townsel acknowledged he heard the talk outside the program that the Wildcats were slipping and how their run of dominance was over.
Instead, St. Joseph won its 19th title since the state playoffs system was instituted in 1993 and 26th overall championship, including the old Parochial B sectional crowns.
“I was determined to win this game,” Townsel said in what could be considered an understatement after how hard he played on both sides of the ball. “It feels like the biggest win of my life.
“And we’re the first St. Joseph team to go 12-0.”
Indeed, of all the great teams under coach Paul Sacco in the last three and a half decades, the 2017 version owns the best record.
However, Sacco didn’t use any of these intangibles to motivate his team.
“In my speech before the game I said we weren’t going to win this on emotion but on execution,” Sacco said. “I can’t be any more proud of these kids.”
Sacco also acknowledge he heard the chatter of St. Joseph stumbling.
“I don’t think anyone thought we would be in this position,” Sacco said after the program’s 34th trip to a championship game.
Mater Dei (8-2) had won 20 of its previous 21 games before meeting up with the Wildcats. The Seraphs beat St. Joseph in last year’s semifinals.
“My whole thing was just one more play,” Sacco said, “that was our motto all week.
“I can’t be more proud of our seniors.”
Sacco did stress how this team was young with only a handful of seniors playing regularly. The talented youth of the Wildcats was highlighted by the shifty Jada Byers, a sophomore running back.
Byers carried 27 times for 198 yards to compliment the power and speed of Townsel. Byers also carried extra motivation.
“This was for my grandmother, who passed away two weeks ago,” Byers said solemnly.
Byers started the scoring with a 1-yard dive in the first quarter and Townsel added the conversion run. In the second quarter, Townsel added a 3-yard TD run. The conversion run was stuffed and the Wildcats settled for a 14-0 lead.
"We came out hungry and the offensive line opened the holes," Townsel said.
Mater Dei, which defeated Holy Spirit 35-34 in the semifinals, kept the game close when Gunnison Bloodgood caught a 44-yard pass from quarterback George Pearson, a Central Michigan commit with 27 seconds left in the first half, The kick failed and the Wildcats held a 14-6 lead at the break.
But, Townsel scored his 30th touchdown of the season in the third quarter on a 19-yard run and Byers added the conversion run to pad the lead to 16 points.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Byers added a 7-yard scoring run for his 29th TD and he tacked on the conversion run.
‘I just want to finish my last 48 minutes of my high school career for my teammates and coaches,” Townsel said.
He did. They all did.
"We have been working hard since last year in the winter, in the weight room, and in the summer training," Townsel said. "It feels great to get this win."
Mater Dei 0 6 0 8 - 14
St. Joseph 8 6 8 8 - 30
SJ – Jada Byers 1 run (Qwahsin Townsel run)
SJ – Townsel 3 run (run failed)
MD – Gunnison Bloodgood 44 pass from George Pearson (kick failed)
SJ – Townsel 19 run (Byers run)
SJ – Byers 7 run (Byers run)
MD – Kyle Devaney 11 pass from Pearson (kick failed)