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  • Writer's pictureAhmad Austin

St. Joe shuts out Hammonton in renewed rivalry game

(Originally published in The Press of Atlantic City on 11/20/2020)

HAMMONTON — Chase Lomax had tears in his eyes on his way to St. Joseph Academy’s football game against Hammonton.

When he was 8 years old, he dreamt of one day being part of the historic rivalry that he got to watch his older brothers play in.

For Lomax, now a senior lineman, the Wildcats’ 13-0 win at Hammonton was a huge deal.

“This game means more than just the people on the field,” Lomax, 17, said. “It’s for the alumni, it’s for everybody that puts money into this school to keep it running. This game is everything. It was the championship, and we came out on top.”

St. Joseph improved to 5-2. Its defense forced four takeaways en route to the team’s first shutout of the season.

Junior safety Jahqir Haley had three interceptions. On the offensive side, the 17-year-old also made a leaping grab on a 32-yard Ja’son Prevard pass in the third quarter.

“When I see ball, I get ball,” Haley, of Mays Landing, said. “That’s the only thing I know.”

The Blue Devils, now 3-3, forced a turnover on downs on St. Joseph’s game-opening possession. They ran five plays on offense before Haley made his first interception. The Wildcats took advantage of the takeaway with an 11-yard touchdown run from Ahmad Ross.

Hammonton got a big momentum boost on a 37-yard pass from Kyle Vandever to Brock Weissman. The team got to St. Joseph’s 30-yard line before Haley found himself in position for another pick from a broken play.

Despite the turnovers, Hammonton went into halftime with momentum after making a goal-line stand to end the second quarter. The team’s first play in the second half was a 57-yard option run from Vandever. With their backs to the endzone, however, the Wildcats continued their ball-hawking ways. Another broken play led to Tyler Paige picking it off at the 4 yard-line.

St. Joseph used that takeaway to go on a 10-play drive culminating in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Prevard to Cohl Mercado.

“I definitely feel for the seniors,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said, “but you turn the ball over that many times, you’re not going to win a game.”

Ross finished with 22 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown. Prevard had 143 yards through the air with a touchdown.

Hammonton’s Jaiden Abrams went down with a leg injury on Vandever’s 57-yard run to start the second half. He sat out two plays, and went down again when he tried to run. Before the injury, the senior had eight carries for 15 yards.

Before Friday, the two schools hadn’t played since 2013 due to Hammonton moving out of the Cape-Atlantic League into the Tri-County Conference and West Jersey Football League. The rest of the CAL merged with the WJFL in 2016, but scheduling conflicts resulted in the teams opting not to renew the rivalry that began in 1962.

Last week, St. Joseph lost 12-7 to Ocean City in a WJFL Pob B game, and Hammonton fell 14-13 to Williamstown in Pod C. Both teams had no opponents to play in the consolation round due to schools dropping out because of COVID-19, resulting in the matchup unexpectedly making itself available.

For St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco, it was a special win after a summer of uncertainty. He was thankful to share it with the players who stuck by him even when the future of the program was in jeopardy after the closure of St. Joseph High School.

“It’s been a tough year for everybody, but it’s been a tough one for the St. Joseph Wildcats because in late August, we still didn’t have a school,” Sacco said. These kids could have gone other places, but they didn’t.”

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