SOMERVILLE — To be a running back for the Immaculata football team this year has meant to often play in the shadows of an explosive passing attack that has accumulated more than 2,000 yards in the air.
But in the playoffs the Spartans know that they need to be able to run the ball to be successful, and Friday night Dustin Parker was up to the challenge.
The sophomore back ran the ball 23 times for 138 yards and three short touchdown runs to power third-seeded Immaculata to a 35-0 victory over No. 6 Holy Cross in the opening round of the NJSIAA Non-Public Group II playoffs.
“We know that this time of year, playoff time, you’ve got to run the ball. You have to,” Immaculata coach Tom Falato said. “We do like to throw the ball, I’m not going to tell you we don’t. But we know this time of year you have to run the ball.”
The Spartans will take on the winner of today’s game between Holy Spirit and St. Joseph of Hammonton in its quest for its fifth state title.
Immaculata amassed its 35-0 advantage in the first half and coasted through a 26-minute second half played with a running clock.
Turnovers played a big role as Immaculata intercepted four passes, two by Stuart Cundiff, and recovered a fumble. And the Spartans passing game was its usual formidable self as John Phelan completed 11 of 22 passes for 194 yards, with Derek Walker on the receiving end of seven of those passes for 111 yards.
But it was the running game that ignited Immaculata on Friday, with Parker rushing for an even 100 yards and all three scores on 17 first-half carries.
“We really believe in our offensive line and they really did a great job this week,” Parker said. “We like to keep it on the ground a little bit our passing game is also pretty good. We like to mix it up a little bit.”
Immaculata’s first drive stalled at the Holy Cross 16 but the Spartans recovered almost immediately, as Walker intercepted a pass on the Lancers’ fourth play from scrimmage and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown.
The Spartans reached the end zone on each of its next four possessions, and got the ball right back when Holy Cross fumbled the kickoff after the first score and James Kerwin recovered, setting up Parker’s first touchdown.
Cundiff recorded his first pick on Holy Cross next possession as the Lancers turned the ball over three times over its first seven plays from scrimmage.
Immaculata not only ran the ball effectively, amassing 169 yards on 41 carries, but it limited Holy Cross’s running game to 46 yards.
“Our defense has been good all year,” said Falato, whose team has allowed 107 points in 10 outings. “There’s all young kids on that defense so we have a lot to look forward to, that’s for sure.”
HOLY CROSS (5-5) 0-0-0-0-0
IMMACULATA (8-2) 21-14-0-0-35
I – Walker 54 interception return (pass failed)
I – Parker 2 run (Walker pass from Phelan)
I – O’Neil 2 run (Walker kick)
I – Parker 1 run (Walker kick)
I – Parker 1 run (Walker kick)
Rushing – HC: Rodolico 14-44, DeGeorge 6-5, Undercuffler 2-minus 3; I: Parker 23-138, Sivets 6-19, Phelan 6-14, O’Neil 4-8, Manning 2-minus 10
Passing – HC: Undercuffler 6-19-4-105; I: Phelan 11-22-1-194.
Receiving – HC: Cooks 2-42, Longley 2-37, DeGeorge 1-22, Baxter 1-4; I: Walker 7-111, Hofmann 2-62, Costantino 2-21.