By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Quitting is easy. I mean, really easy. It’s easy to lay around on the couch all day on a Sunday and watch football rather than go to the gym. Doesn’t take much effort at all. It’s easy not to finish a job. You can mow the lawn, but doing the edging and weed whacking takes an extra half hour or so, and some more effort. Easier just to call it a day, head inside and grab an iced tea. You can run your car through the car wash, get home and not wipe down the windows, or apply the tire shine.
It’s easy to quit while you’re ahead, and even easier to quit when you’re behind.
The Holy Spirit football team had every reason to quit in the fourth quarter during their game against Delsea Regional on Sept. 29. All game, the calls weren’t going their way. There was a play late in the first half when a Delsea receiver made a catch, then fumbled, then recovered the ball and the referees ruled there was still one second left on the clock. That allowed the Crusaders to kick a field goal that put them ahead, 16-13.
Then there was the play in the second half when Delsea appeared to fumble inside the Holy Spirit 5-yard line. But officials ruled an inadvertent whistle had blown prior to the fumble, and Delsea was able to retain possession. That led to another field goal and a 19-13 Delsea lead. After the Spartans took a 21-19 lead on a touchdown pass from Josh Zamot to Alvaro Lora and a subsequent two-point conversion run by E’lijah Gray, Delsea ripped off a pair of scoring drives to take what seemed like a commanding 35-21 lead with 8:42 remaining.
The Holy Spirit defense had a difficult time stopping Delsea’s high powered offense the entire night, so there was no reason to believe the Spartans could come up with a big defensive stand or two in the final eight minutes. It should have been easy for the Spartans to quit. But, while Holy Spirit may have some inexperience on the defensive side of the ball after graduating all three of their linebackers from a year ago, you’ll never see an A.J. Russo-coached team quit. Doesn’t matter what the score is, or what the odds against the Spartans are.
Zamot, who came over from St. Augustine Prep, is the type of kid who makes others around him believe, and that’s exactly what you want in a quarterback. He has the composure and demeanor of a championship caliber quarterback, and against Delsea he showed he also has the skill set to match.
On the drive after Delsea took a 35-21 lead, Zamot hooked up with Isaiah Gerena to convert a 4th-and-12, then ran to convert another fourth down before rolling to his right and finding Danny Tarsitano for a 2-yard touchdown that brought Holy Spirit within 35-27 with 4:23 to go. Spirit still needed its defense to come up big to get the ball back to have any kind of shot to tie the game. And the boys came through, forcing a punt with 3:09 left.
That was plenty of time for Zamot, who led Holy Spirit on a 66-yard drive that was capped off with a beautiful fade to Lee Dawson in the end zone, then another rollout pass to Tarsitano for the two-point conversion that ultimately pushed the game into overtime. Zamot led the Spartans to the 2-yard line on their first overtime possession before calling his own number to score and give Spirit a 43-35 lead. Again, the defense was tested, and again they came through, stuffing the Crusaders on four straight plays to seal the win.
“It’s insane. We were down for a while, but we just kept fighting. That’s what this school is about, and that’s what this football team is about,” said senior defensive lineman Owen Kramer.
“This is a big one for us. It’s a great feeling. I heard their quarterback at one point say ‘this game is over, we won.’ But in my head, I said, ‘no, this isn’t over. You don’t know the Spartans.’ It was fourth down and he said that if they stopped us the game was over. But they didn’t stop us, and the game wasn’t over. We never gave up,” added Tarsitano.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Holy Spirit was able to come back and win that game is because of the confidence Zamot shows. No matter how many times a pass might fall incomplete, or if he gets sacked, he keeps trusting his line to protect him when it counts, and he keeps going back to receivers who may not have made a play earlier in the game. Sure, he gets frustrated and shows it at times on the sidelines, like every quarterback, but when you’re on the sidelines, you can tell his teammates believe that he can make the plays that will get them back into the game.
“My mind is everywhere. That was such a crazy game. For us to be down 35-21 and to come back and win in overtime, that was just an amazing game. I’m so happy with the way my team played. I’m proud of them. We were down, but we told everyone to just keep their heads up. As long as nobody gives up, we can come back from anything. We might be down and out here and there, but as long as we stay together, we can come back and win,” Zamot said after the game. “This defense stepped up in a huge way. Delsea is a great team, and for us to beat them the way we did, I think this is a great feeling for us and will give us a lot of confidence going forward. I think that will give the defense a lot of confidence, too, to be able to stop a team like that on the last drive when they had a chance to tie the game — right now, we’re feeling good. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this game. I’ll remember a lot of games in my high school career, but I think this will be one to remember for the ages. This was a great game, and I’m just happy to be a part of it. I couldn’t be more proud of my team. This shows that we have fight in us, and even if we are losing we’re going to fight back and try to win the game.”
Another guy who hasn’t quit — despite facing odds that the Holy Spirit football program probably never will — is Pleasantville coach Scott Rullan. He’s the skipper for the Greyhounds’ softball and girls soccer programs. Through his first 100 career games coached, Rullan had a record of 0-100. That statistic alone would make just about any other coach hang up the whistle.
But for Rullan, it’s never been about the wins and losses, or the stipend check a coach receives as compensation for the countless hours he puts in. He knew that if he kept believing in his players, and showing that belief every season, eventually it would pay off for him and the teams he coached. Last spring, the softball team finally got a win, the first in his coaching career at Pleasantville.
Then, this fall, the girls soccer team snapped a 61-game losing streak by beating Pennsauken Tech 5-1 on Sept. 18. They followed that up with a 2-0 win over Cape May Tech on Sept. 29, the first shutout in Rullan’s soccer coaching career at Pleasantville.
Rullan never gave up on the girls he coaches, and, in turn, they never gave up trying to win games. Now he has three victories on his coaching ledger, and while that may not seem like a lot to high school sports fans, it means a lot to the Pleasantville softball and soccer programs. They don’t have feeder programs in town, so many of the girls pick up either sport for the first time when they get to high school, which makes things difficult for Rullan and his coaching staffs. But he patiently teaches the basics and continues to build, and when you don’t quit, good things can happen.
The day after Pleasantville beat Pennsauken Tech — which was the first victory any of the girls had ever experienced on a high school soccer field — senior Catherine Palomo said she picked out her best outfit and went to school with a smile on her face, beaming with pride. She finally had a chance to tell her friends and classmates about a win the day before, and got to have a feeling of pride the entire day at school.
That’s why you never quit. Because when you don’t give up, there are going to be days like that.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays