By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
BUENA VISTA — Vineland came into Friday night’s game at LaRosa Field looking to prove it was up to the challenge of taking down undefeated St. Augustine Prep. It was, but the Hermits proved they are one of South Jersey’s best teams by taking the Fighting Clan’s best punch, and delivering a few of their own.
St. Augustine built a 20-0 halftime lead on a pair of second-quarter touchdown runs by quarterback Josh Zamot, held a third-quarter Vineland surge in check, then got a 79-yard touchdown gallop by True Robinson in the fourth quarter to cement a 26-7 win and improve to 9-0. Vineland (7-1) played tough football throughout, even after losing star running back Daivon Seymore in the first quarter to a shoulder injury, but aside from a touchdown pass from Isaih Pecheco to Nihym Anderson in the third quarter, couldn’t break through the Hermits’ stout defense.
“Vineland is a great football program and their coaches prepared them well to come out here and play us hard and play us physical. This was a great warm-up for next Saturday (and the state playoffs). That’s a testament to our head coach, Mark Reardon. He preaches intensity, he preaches tenacity, and we go out and execute his game plan to the best of our ability,” said Zeke Ennis, who had an interception and helped limit Vineland to 136 yards of offense to go along with a receiving touchdown. “Our philosophy always is, if we’re going to bend, bend but don’t break. We battle back and fight hard, and that showed great resolve that we got out of that (third quarter) only giving up seven points. We’re proud of that.”
“We love these games. Whenever a team like this comes here, it’s their Super Bowl. We love that. We love quieting their crowd, too,” said Prep offensive lineman Paul Meduri.
Vineland got off to a great start, as Pecheco picked off a Zamot pass at midfield on the Hermits’ first drive and returned it all the way to the Prep 12-yard line. Linebacker Dean Kolonich made a touchdown-saving tackle, and that was huge, as Vineland’s drive stalled a few plays later.
The Hermits then drove down the field and Zamot hit Ennis on a short pass, with Ennis tip-toeing the sideline for a 25-yard touchdown catch-and-run that gave St. Augustine a 6-0 lead. Zamot capped off a time-consuming second-quarter drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, then kept the ball again on the two-point conversion to make it 14-0. After a Fighting Clan punt, the Hermits tacked on another Zamot touchdown run, this time from three yards out that pushed the lead to 20-0 just seconds before halftime.
“Josh is a phenomenal quarterback, as I’ve said many times. He’s come a long way from his sophomore year to his junior year,” Ennis said. “We stuck him in as the starting quarterback after never having played varsity, and he’s doing a great job. He’s going to keep it up this year, into next year, and on to college.”
With Vineland bottling up star running back Kyle Dobbins — who finished with a season-low 70 yards — Zamot had to make some plays for the Hermits, and he did.
“The offensive line played great today, and that’s not taking anything away from the skill position players — they were great also. We really worked hard today. Josh played a great game today, as did True and Dobbins,” Meduri said. “Josh has really impressed me throughout the year. This summer he did great, and I think we’re going to make a good showing in the playoffs this year.”
“This year is our year. I think our team is a lot better than we’ve ever been before. We have so many weapons, it’s really hard for teams to try to stop us,” Zamot, a junior in his first year as the starting quarterback, said. “I feel like I have to make plays every game. I can’t leave all the work to Kyle. I make plays when I have to and do what I can.”
Zamot spent much of the second quarter running to his right, and for good reason. He was following the blocking of Andrew Silver and Meduri.
“I love playing with Paul. It sucks I’m only going to have one year with him, but he’s one of the best linemen in South Jersey, if not the best,” Zamot said. “He’s able to open holes for me, Kyle and True all the time. We love running behind him.”
Zamot said he was more impressed with St. Augustine’s defensive effort — spearheaded by senior linebacker Quinn Dolan — than the two rushing touchdowns he had.
“Our defense definitely doesn’t get enough credit. They are one of the best defenses in South Jersey and they shut down so many teams,” Zamot said. “Quinn played fantastic. It’s his senior year, this was senior night, and he played a heck of a game on defense. But he wasn’t the only one. Our defense played fantastic all night long.”
The Hermits will travel up to Bergen Catholic next weekend for the first round of the state playoffs, and Meduri said it was important for Prep to get a tough test before the postseason. The Hermits got that against Vineland.
“They are definitely one of the most physical teams we’ve played this year,” Meduri said. “They have some big guys on that team and it was tough running the ball for a little bit, but once we hit our stride, there’s no stopping us.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN