Mater Dei Prep’s football team put up a fight in its bid for a second straight state sectional playoff championship, but the Seraphs were unable to solve a formidable opponent in Saint Joseph High School of Hammonton.
The two teams battled for championship glory in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 2 title game at Rowan University in Glassboro on Dec. 3. Saint Joseph came through with a convincing victory to capture the crown by a score of 30-14.
The victory gave Saint Joseph its 26th state playoff championship, the most in New Jersey history.
The Seraphs found themselves playing from behind early after the Wildcats scored early on a 1-yard run by Qwahsin Townsel in a fourth-and-goal with seven minutes remaining in the first quarter. Townsel was successful on a two-point conversion run to put Saint Joseph up, 8-0.
Townsel added to the Wildcats’ lead by running in from 1 yard out with 9:36 left in the first half. The Wildcats failed on a two-point conversion attempt, but they were still up on the scoreboard, 14-0.
The Seraphs battled back and cut their deficit almost in half on a 44-yard pass from senior quarterback George Pearson to junior wide receiver Gunny Bloodgood that was good for a touchdown with only 27 seconds left to go in the half. Mater Dei missed the extra-point kick and went into halftime down, 14-6.
In the second half, the Wildcats added to their lead on a 19-yard run into the end zone by Jada Byers. A successful two-point conversion run by Byers increased the Wildcats’ lead to 22-6 with a little over a minute left in the third quarter. With 4:22 left to go in the fourth quarter, Saint Joseph scored again on a 7-yard run from Byers to go up, 30-6, after another two-point conversion run by Byers.
Pearson threw a 14-yard touchdown to senior receiver Kyle Devaney and sophomore running back Malik Ingram ran in the two-point conversion with only 2:57 left to go in the game to narrow Mater Dei’s deficit to 30-14, but the game was already out of reach. The Wildcats ran out the clock to seal their victory.
The Seraphs finish the season with an 8-2 record. They fell short in repeating as Non-Public Group 2 champion after claiming the title last year with a 12-0 record and 26-20 victory over Holy Spirit High School in the championship game. Mater Dei had defeated Saint Joseph in the semifinals of last season’s tournament to advance to the finals.
Saint Joseph previously captured the Non-Public, Group 2 championship in 2015.
Mater Dei coach Dino Mangiero was proud of his team’s effort, stating that the Hammonton school was just the better team that day.
“They’re just a great team,” Mangiero said. “We knew coming in that they were a great team. The amount of film that we watched on them was ridiculous, so we had a lot of respect for them coming in. We knew that we were going to have to play a great game to win, and unfortunately, they made more plays than we did.”
Mangiero also stated that he believes this season will be the building block for next year’s team, noting that he expects his players to be back in this position a year from now.
“This was a business-as-usual year for us,” the coach said. “We expect to be in the state championship game every year. That’s what this program was built on, and now the kids will take a collective breath. They’ll take a little break then get back in the weight room in January so we can start working on 2018.”
Pearson, who threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns against Saint Joseph, blamed himself for not being able to make enough plays to help out his defense more.
“Offensively, we couldn’t really protect well, but that’s not our fault,” Pearson said. “We got to give them their credit. They’re a great team. I thought our game plan was good coming into the game, but we need to execute better. Defensively, we had a big stop in the third quarter, but it’s my fault that we didn’t capitalize on it.”
During his high school career, Pearson made it to the state championship game in three out of his four seasons, including a Central Jersey, Group 3 title-winning campaign during his freshman year in 2014 with Matawan Regional High School. Pearson transferred to Mater Dei in 2016 as a junior.
“At the end of the day, I love my team,” Pearson said. “It’s a pleasure to make it here to the state playoffs, especially three times for me.”
According to Pearson, the Seraphs never lacked confidence.
“We were confident in the first half and the second half,” he said. “Even in the fourth quarter, we were confident. We had some stops in the second half, but the offense has to capitalize. It’s our fault; we put a lot of pressure on the defense, and that’s my fault. But I think they’ll be back next year better than ever.”