HAMMONTON — The St. Joseph (Hammonton) High School football team has won six consecutive state titles, and on Saturday it did not take Immaculata long to find out why.
The second-seeded Wildcats gashed the usually formidable Spartans’ defense for a rather astonishing 195 yards on the ground in the first quarter alone and opened up a three-touchdown advantage less than one minute into the second in breezing to a 48-6 victory in the semifinal round of the NJSIAA Non-Public Group II Tournament.
Third-seeded Immaculata stiffened after the initial onslaught, limiting St. Joseph to three-and-outs for its next three possessions and even captured the momentum for a brief span in the second half, which included a 4-yard touchdown run by Dustin Parker to reduce the deficit to 21-6. But St. Joseph converted a key fourth-and-one at midfield on its next possession and scored on three straight possessions to break the game open.
“They started out fast and it’s hard to understand why we were a little slow out of the box,” Immaculata coach Tom Falato said. “We seemed to stop the bleeding there for awhile, a long while. We had to do some things where we were just trying to make some plays. When you do that, you get out of your concept.”
A’laam Horne (15 carries for 112 yards) and Qwashin Townsel (14 for 115) each ran for over 100 yards and three touchdowns apiece to power a St. Joseph rushing attack that accumulated an insurmountable 407 yards. The Wildcats’ 48 points were the most Immaculata allowed all season and marked only the second occasion when the Spartans allowed more than 18 points.
Immaculata was down 21-0 when Riley O’Neill returned the second kickoff for 34 yards to near midfield and Parker broke off a 33-yard run on the very next play. Parker, who ran for 103 of his 113 yards in the third quarter, carried on the Spartans’ next four plays as well, finishing with a 4-yard burst up the middle just 1:16 into the second half.
It’s hard to imagine a crucial play in a game that used a running clock over the final 10:30 due to the mercy rule, but the outcome was never in doubt after St. Joseph converted a fourth-and-1 from its 49 with 8:51 remaining in the third quarter. Brock Manning nailed quarterback Salaam Horne behind the line of scrimmage and O’Neil provided a secondary hit that forced a measurement, but St. Joseph was awarded a first down by inches. The Wildcats added five more first downs before Townsel scored from two yards out and St. Joseph was back in control of the contest.
“If we would have gotten the spot on that fourth down to make it our ball, I think it might have been a little different,” Falato said. “I’m not saying we would have won but I think it might have been a little different. But they got that, good field position and they finished it off.”
Immaculata quarterback John Phelan, who had thrown for more than 2,100 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, struggled all day, throwing more interceptions (four) than completions on a 3 of 22 afternoon that produced 46 yards. The Spartans, who had minus 4 yards on the ground in the first half, finished with 90 rushing yards.
“It was a combination of things, they did a real good job of covering us and I think our protection at times broke down,” Falato offered. “It was never one consistent thing, it was one thing here, one thing there.”
The one-sided result does not diminish the rather remarkable season that Immaculata had, reversing an uncharacteristic 3-8 campaign from a year ago for an 8-3 season that came within a game of reaching a state final. Falato made sure to make that point to his team in an emotional post-game talk.
“They have a lot to be proud of, the seniors especially,” Falato said. “They brought us back and gave us a lot of exciting games, days. This wasn’t one of them, but we were here, and they have a lot to be proud of.”
IMMACULATA (8-3) 0-0-6-0-6
ST. JOSEPH (9-2) 14-7-12-15-48
SJ – A. Horne 45 run (Graziano kick)
SJ – A. Horne 6 run (Graziano kick)
SJ – Townsel 1 run (Graziano kick)
I – Parker 4 run (kick failed)
SJ – Townsel 2 run (fumbled snap, no kick)
SJ – A. Horne 18 run (kick blocked)
SJ – Townsel 23 run (S. Horne run)
SJ – Abdus-Salaam 12 run (Graziano kick)
Rushing – I: Parker 16-113, Phelan 8-minus 23; SJ: Townsel 14-115, A. Horne 15-112, Harvin 7-77, S. Horne 8-50, Jackson 3-38, Abdus-Salaam 2-13, Kennedy 1-2.
Passing – I: Phelan 3-22-4-46; SJ: S. Horne 4-7-0-54.
Receiving – I: Walker 1-34, Dwyer 2-12; SJ: A. Horne 2-29, Carey 1-23, Townsel 1-2.