By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Chances are, Paul Sacco will be up before sunrise on Saturday, scouring game film and taking notes of all the little mistakes his players made on Friday night so he can point them out during a film session. You don’t get to 300 wins without being a grinder.
To the St. Joseph High School fan base, there wasn’t too many mistakes to complain about as the Wildcats rolled to a 50-7 victory over Mainland Regional and spoiled the debut of new head coach Chuck Smith, who came over from Oakcrest during the offseason.
“I’m not going to change my thoughts about it. It’s a number. It’s a big number, but I have to credit all those kids who started it. It started with my brother’s class in 1982. Those kids started building that foundation and we’ve just kept it going. I’ve had good support from my wife, my parents and my coaches. It’s taken a lot of time. People say, ‘oh, you guys win all the time.’ But you have to realize, it’s taken so many years for this to come about,” said Sacco, who is now 300-58-5 during a 35-year coaching career. “This is a young team. You could see it to tonight, they were making mistakes, motioning the wrong way. People probably will say, ‘oh, man, they scored 50 points and he’s complaining. But we’re trying to be perfectionists. We’re not going to beat those good teams, whenever they come, with that kind of effort — the wrong guy going in motion, the quarterback handing off the wrong way. You’re not going to win like that.”
With Mainland’s defense stacking the box in an attempt to stop powerful fullback Qwahsin Townsell — who racked up 200 yards in St. Joseph’s season-opening win over Allentown — junior quarterback Matt Tucker took to the air. He threw for a pair of touchdowns and ran for another while racking up 147 yards passing. Townsell got the Wildcats (2-0) on the board early in the first quarter with a 16-yard touchdown run, and later in the quarter Tucker connected with Diego Martinez for a 21-yard scoring strike on fourth down.
Late in the second quarter, Tucker connected with Nate Johnson down the left sideline for a 41-yard touchdown that pushed the lead to 21-0. Tucker then got on the board himself, scrambling out of trouble then bursting down the right side for a 26-yard scoring run that gave the Wildcats a 28-0 halftime lead.
“That was expected,” Tucker said of Mainland’s defensive approach. “Last week, Qwahsin Townsell, our fullback, had a really good game, so I’m assuming they watched that film. They wanted us to throw the ball, and I’m just glad my receivers got open and my line protected me so that I was able to find those open receivers.”
Townsel added an interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, and Eric Graziano’s 23-yard field goal early in the fourth pushed the lead to 37-0 before Mainland got on the board on a 72-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Dean Hall to Marcus Plummer. Tucker actually tipped the ball, but Plummer stayed with it, corralling the deflection and taking it to the house down the left sideline.
Tucker said he was honored to be a part of the team that got coach Sacco his historic win. Sacco became the first South Jersey coach to reach the 300-win milestone.
“Obviously, there are a lot of people who set the foundation for us, but it’s a great feeling to come out here and get (coach Sacco’s) 300th win,” Tucker said. “There’s definitely been a lot of press surrounding coach Sacco’s 300th victory. He’s the greatest coach in South Jersey history. He’s probably relieved, but I’m not sure he’s going to brag about it. He’s happy, internally. He’s an old-school guy. He just wants to come out here and play football, see us do well, and go home. He doesn’t really care about the other stuff.”
“We have good support here. With our new principal (Father Allain Caparas) and our new athletic director, (Anne Marie) Mercado, she is so enthusiastic, and it’s kind of given me a burst of energy,” Sacco said. “She’s working with you every day, and if you need something done you go to her and it gets done. I have to credit the St. Joe family.”
Sacco admitted the hype surrounding his 300th win leading up to the game got a little old after a while. He also said he was surprised at how many Wildcats fans showed up in Linwood.
“There were a lot of people calling in and texting my wife. She got to the point where she said, ‘I’m not answering these things anymore.’ I think people realized how I was and kind of stopped,” Sacco said. “Normally, before a game, alumni will call in and say good luck. I think they knew I wasn’t going to get all caught up in (win No. 300). I came out here pretty relaxed tonight.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN