Late play secures state football championship for Mater Dei


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By Matthew Rocco

The NJSIAA Non-Public, Group II championship game between Mater Dei Prep and Holy Spirit High School came down to one final play.

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The Seraphs had the ball with 11 seconds left, and they still had half the field in front of them. But with one flick of the ball, the Mater Dei sideline erupted in joy.

Quarterback George Pearson connected with Kyle Devaney on a short 5-yard pass near the left sideline. It was the next split second that made Mater Dei a state champion for the first time. Devaney made a quick turn toward the center of the field and sent a lateral to Eddie Lewis, who carried the ball the extra 45 yards for the game-winning touchdown in a 26-20 victory at Kean University Dec. 3.

The win, which completed an undefeated season for the Seraphs at 12-0, marks another first at Mater Dei, whose boys’ basketball team won the first Shore Conference Tournament title in school history earlier this year.

Not bad for a school that was supposed to close its doors for good 18 months ago.

Before the Seraphs set up the wild finish on the gridiron, they had to stop Holy Spirit’s momentum on the scoreboard.

The Seraphs had a comfortable lead, 20-6, at halftime, thanks to three touchdowns in the air.

On Mater Dei’s first possession of the game, Pearson completed a quick pass to Lewis, and the senior wide receiver traveled most of the way home for a 67-yard score. Later in the first quarter, two catches by Marvin Pierre set up a Pearson-to-Izaiah Henderson connection that went 18 yards for the Seraphs’ second touchdown, giving them a 13-0 advantage.

Pearson found Pierre again with a minute to go in the second quarter on a 26-yard pass that gave Mater Dei its 14-point cushion.

Holy Spirit responded at the start of the second half. With favorable field position at the 35-yard line, Holy Spirit’s Reggie Jean Charles kept the ball on the ground to pull his team within seven points.

In the fourth quarter, Holy Spirit (9-3) evened the score when Pearson was stripped of the football on a sack. James Marcheski recovered the fumble and ran it into the end zone.

The defense gave the Seraphs their final shot at winning in regulation. Shittah Sillah and Shane Mastro combined efforts on a sack as the last seconds ticked away, forcing Holy Spirit to turn the ball over on downs with enough time for one more play.

With their first state championship now in the record books, the Seraphs put to rest any notion that their regular-season dominance was a fluke.

Mater Dei entered the state playoffs having won every game by a margin of victory that was at least 22 points. Their success didn’t end there, as the Seraphs easily knocked out Saint Anthony High School and Saint Joseph High School (Hammonton) in the state tournament before taking the field against Holy Spirit.

The team’s success also may not end with the 2016 season, with several key players expected back next year. Pearson, who completed 11 of 19 passes for 214 yards in the title game, already has two championships on his résumé before his senior season. As a freshman, Pearson led Matawan Regional High School to a sectional crown.

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