By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
RICHLAND — There usually is a fair share of chirping going on between opposing sides prior to any big football game. There was probably a little bit of trash talking happening on Nov. 6, 1869, when Rutgers and Princeton played in the first college football game. If there’s one thing that’s never in short supply for young men in football helmets, it’s bravado.
Holy Spirit senior quarterback Josh Zamot knew there was going to be plenty of talking going on in the week leading up to Friday’s showdown with St. Augustine Prep — the school he guided to nine wins a year ago before transferring. He just didn’t listen, instead choosing to narrow his focus down to what he had to do on each play to help his team be successful when the clock hit triple zeroes.
For the third straight week, Zamot, the Stony Brook University commit who also plays safety, led the Spartans to a comeback victory — sealing a 22-17 win over the host Hermits with an interception with less than 50 seconds to play.
Trailing by five and facing 4th-and-7 at the Holy Spirit 25-yard line, St. Augustine Prep junior quarterback Chris Allen was flushed from the pocket and tried to find one of his Hermits receivers in the end zone. But Zamot stepped in front of the pass at the 5 and returned it about 80 yards before he was caught from behind. After taking a knee twice, Zamot and his Spartans teammates had their fourth straight win since a Sept. 15 loss to St. Joseph.
The crowd was raucous from the beginning, with St. Augustine Prep’s infamous student cheering section, dubbed the “Richland Rowdies”, working themselves into a frenzy to try to psyche out Zamot. He said he knew what he was in for.
“It was crazy. My mind was spinning everywhere, coming back to the place where I played three years. For us to play the way we did and come out with a win, it meant everything to us. I couldn’t be happier with my team right now. They’ve been against me since I left. All game I was giving them little gestures here and there, and when I got that interception to end the game I gave them a finger over my facemask, just to quiet them down and make sure they knew what just happened,” said Zamot, who finished with 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries while also adding 53 passing yards. “I think I handled it well. Kids were talking trash on social media, but myself and my teammates, we didn’t say anything all week. We decided to let our actions speak on the field. We came out, played our game, and ended up winning the game. For us to win the way we did, I can’t be more proud of this team.”
“They were talking about him a lot and were trying to get into his head, but he just blocked everything out. He came out here, balled out, got the pick to end the game,” said offensive lineman Demetrius Pali.
“He went out there and balled out. No talk fazes him. I saw so many messed up tweets, I can’t even put it into words,” added senior center Anthony Lord. “But he came out here, overcame adversity and played his best — and he does that every week. That’s why I love having a quarterback like him. He always has a positive mindset.”
St. Augustine struck first when Allen hooked up with Jaylen DeCoteau on an 81-yard scoring strike to put the Hermits (3-3) up 7-0. But Holy Spirit (5-1) responded with a pair of Zamot touchdown runs in the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead. The second score came after a 95-yard drive that featured a couple of big runs by Zamot and E’lijah Gray, and a key pass play to tight end John Bee. A 27-yard field goal by Nate Fondacaro just before halftime cut the Spartans’ lead to 14-10.
“We just worked hard all offseason, and it’s really showing at the end of these games when we’re able to come back and win,” Bee said. “We were just thinking, ‘let’s just come out here and compete and get the win.’ This is three weeks in a row we’ve come back and won. It just shows how hard we fight. It started in the offseason, lifting every day. The day after we lost in the state championship game we got right back into the weight room, and it’s showing.”
Holy Spirit was backed up on its own 1-yard line on its first possession of the second half after forcing a St. Augustine punt. Three times Fondacaro pinned the Spartans inside their own 5-yard line, but each time Spirit was able to work its way out of danger. On that first possession of the second half, Spirit marched 99 yards and the drive featured just one passing play. Lee Dawson capped the drive off by scoring on an 18-yard run around the right side, and he added the two-point conversion to stretch the lead to 22-10.
“You want a blowout every week, but with these games, you feel better afterward. To come out and beat the Prep is a fantastic feeling. They are known as the bullies of South Jersey, so to come here, win and shut the crowd up is a great feeling,” Pali said. “If you can finish out games, that’s what matters the most, and that’s something we’ve been coming out and doing.”
“We got the win and that’s all that matters. We played physical, played strong and showed who we are tonight. We’re a physical, strong team and we’re going to come out here and give it our all. (Offensive coordinator Charlie) Roman was really proud of us and we try to make him proud every week. We have to give 100 percent effort every time,” Lord added. “It’s all just a positive mindset. We’re going to run the ball down your throat and we’re not going to be stopped. That’s the mindset we have to have and I try to put that in the other linemen’s heads. We’re starting to get it and the cohesion along the offensive line is starting to get pretty good. We just have to keep carrying that into the next game.”
Prep shaved the lead to 22-17 late in the third quarter when Allen hooked up with Shamere Collins on a long pass play down the right sideline. Collins did the rest, reversing field two times before racing to the right corner of the end zone to score.
“Shamere is a baller. The way he played, man, he can catch everything. So, to come out here and beat these guys is great,” Pali said.
In the end, however, the Hermits couldn’t stop Holy Spirit’s relentless rushing attack. The Spartans racked up 320 rushing yards on 50 carries, and grinded out 21 first downs. Gray chipped in with 121 yards on 22 carries while Dawson added 55 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Spirit’s defense also limited St. Augustine to 44 yards on 18 carries. Allen put up 222 yards on 12-of-19 passing.
“I tip my hat to (the offensive line). They played a heck of a game. The fact that we were on the 1-yard line twice and drove down the entire field and didn’t pass the ball once, and scored, I think that just shows how dominant our offensive line has been and how good our running game is. They opened the holes for myself, E’lijah and Lee and we didn’t have to do much, just make the plays that they opened for us,” Zamot said. “This team has no quit in them. We may be down, but we’ll never be out. We’ve been down before and we’ve come back, just like tonight. Every time we get down, I tell the guys not to get their heads down, that we play four quarters for a reason.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays