By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Los Angeles Dodgers ace lefty Clayton Kershaw pitched a no-hitter on June 18, 2014, striking out 15 in an 8-0 win over the Colorado Rockies. Dodgers broadcaster Charlie Steiner said, when recalling the game, that Kershaw may not have been in a class by himself that night, but that it wouldn’t take long to call roll.
It doesn’t take long to call roll for undefeated West Jersey Football League teams that formerly were in the Cape-Atlantic League — there are only three of them. After Friday night, there will be one less, as St. Augustine Prep (5-0) and Holy Spirit (5-0) square off in Absecon at 6 p.m. Vineland (4-0) is the only other former CAL team that is undefeated, and the Fighting Clan — who trail the Hermits by a half game in the WJFL Continental Division standings, travel to Clearview.
The 2016 season grinds to a halt in front of Holy Spirit High School on Friday night — or at least traffic will on Route 9 — as all eyes turn to Ed Byrnes Stadium to see who the most elite team in the area is. St. Augustine staked its claim to that title last season when it blitzed through the CAL competition, and the Hermits haven’t seen much of a drop-off this year despite losing veteran quarterback Jose Tabora and middle linebacker Jim Brady, who was the Press of Atlantic City’s Player of the Year.
This year’s Hermits are just as tough on defense, led by guys such as Dean Kolonich, Garrett Dolan, Victor Mahar and Joe Bonczek. But they’ll be up against perhaps their toughest assignment of the season — stop Reggie Jean-Charles. Holy Spirit’s 220-pound, bulldozing running back has rushed for nearly 600 yards in the past two games. Holy Spirit’s defense has been just as good, allowing only 34 points in five games, but the Spartans, too, will be facing their toughest challenge so far.
The beat St. Joseph, 17-14, in overtime, and slipped past Delsea Regional, 14-7, on a late Jean-Charles touchdown. So Holy Spirit has been tested. But St. Augustine brings a lot of weapons on offense. Quarterback Josh Zamot has filled the shoes of Tabora nicely, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 586 yards and seven touchdowns, and also has rushed for 382 yards and seven touchdowns. Running back Kyle Dobbins, one of the best in the state, already has 749 yards and eight touchdowns, and recently received college scholarship offers from schools such as Northwestern and Rutgers in the Big 10 Conference.
“He plays with an edge. It’s important that he continues to do that. Kyle is an explosive, fast, great vision, great-change guy. But probably the most important thing about him is his commitment to his teammates. He deflects a lot of the stuff that happens to the offensive line, or his quarterback or the other kids he’s playing with,” Hermits coach Mark Reardon said during an interview on 97.3 ESPN FM last weekend. “He’s really a selfless kid, and he’s really developed over the last couple of years.”
There’s also some history involved in this game, as Reardon and Charlie Roman, an assistant coach at Prep, both used to coach at Holy Spirit. And Roman is a former Holy Spirit player.
“I graduated from there and Charlie was a coach there and played there, so, obviously, the history with us is one that’s very good and we have very fond memories of (Holy Spirit),” Reardon said. “And even guys on their staff, we’re close with and friendly with. For us, it’s a little bit of a homecoming for our staff, but their kids have done a tremendous job.”
Holy Spirit may not have the flashy talent that Prep has with guys such as Dobbins, True Robinson and Zeke Ennis, but Reardon said he is not underestimating the Spartans one bit.
“I think the thing you take off of film — which I respect because it’s what we try to do — is they just play harder than people. They are more physical than people. They may not, in certain spots, be better than you, but they’ll play like it. That has a great deal to do with the message that is being sent through their staff,” Reardon said. “The kids are real impressive with how hard they play. It’s fun to watch, because that’s what our ideals are here: run the ball, play good defense, be able to use play-action when you can, and be great on special teams. It’s a little bit like looking in the mirror for us.”
Putting aside the Xs and Os, Reardon said it’s just a great night for high school football. He expects the stands to be jam packed and there has been plenty of hype in local media and on social media sites throughout the week. Perhaps the biggest challenge for each team will be controlling their emotions at the start, but Reardon said that’s what you want as a coach and player. You want games that test your ability to respond to intense situations.
“It’s awesome. It’s great for us, it’s great for Spirit. In my opinion, it’s great for the area to have a game where there is some rivalry involved with two competitive teams. I love it,” Reardon said. “I love the fact that in the second week of October we’re talking about (a game like this). It’s just awesome. We’re really fired up to go down there and play them. It’s going to be fun.
Other Friday night games
Middle Township at Ocean City, 6 p.m.: This is a huge game for the visiting Panthers, who are sitting at 3-2 and in line for a playoff spot. The Red Raiders would love to spoil that, and have the talent to do it. They’ll have to stop Middle’s running game to have a chance, though. It’s also Ocean City’s homecoming, which may give the Red Raiders a little bit of a spark.
Triton at Absegami, 6 p.m.: The Braves got Ifreke Andy on track last week, as he rushed for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 27-14 win over Ocean City. Look for more of the same, as the Braves try to gain some momentum toward a possible state playoff berth.
Bridgeton at Mainland Regional, 6 p.m.: Both teams have struggled, but one with go home with its first win of the season. The host Mustangs have played pretty good defense at times this season, and they’ll need a consistent effort to contain a Bulldogs offense that has some talent, but also has been inconsistent.
Egg Harbor Township at Washington Township, 7 p.m.: The Eagles also are searching for their first win and have a good opportunity against the Minutemen. Atlantic City nearly beat Township, and EHT almost pulled out a win over Atlantic City, so the Eagles definitely can hang with the Minutemen. An early score would go a long way toward building some confidence.
Pleasantville at Wildwood, 7 p.m.: The Greyhounds were feeling good about snapping a 21-game losing streak and getting off to a 2-1 start before Holy Spirit roughed them up last week in a 52-13 win. This is gut-check time for Pleasantville if it wants to contend for a state playoff berth.
Millville at Hammonton, 7 p.m.: Watch out for the Bolts. They are 3-1 and proved they can bounce back from adversity. After being throttled by St. Augustine Prep, Millville came out last week and took care of Williamstown, 22-14.
Vineland at Clearview Regional, 6 p.m.: The Fighting Clan jumped out to a 4-0 start, now we’ll see if they can keep it going after a bye week. This might be Vineland’s toughest game so far, as Clearview is 3-1, the Pioneers’ only loss coming to Timber Creek, the top team in South Jersey. They’ve scored 36 points or more in their three wins.
Lower Cape May at Oakcrest, 7:30 p.m.: A little bit later start due to Wall of Fame inductions, but Oakcrest should be ready to go. Senior QB Kendall Elliott has been banged up, and the Falcons might keep him out of this one because they have a bye next week, which would give Elliott three weeks to heal up. They lost 26-6 to St. Joe’s last week, but look for the Falcons to get back on track.
Buena Regional at Cedar Creek, 1 p.m.: The Chiefs got blown out by the Pirates last year, so they’ll be looking for some revenge. They might not have the offensive firepower to keep up with Cedar Creek, however. The Pirates come in with a 4-1 record, having bounced back from a loss to Camden with a 41-0 win over Mainland last Saturday in sloppy conditions. Five different players scored for Cedar Creek, and Kamal Reed had the best game of his career, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown. To say the Chiefs will have their hands full defensively would be an understatement.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN