St. Joseph Ends Mater Dei’s Reign to Reclaim Non-Public Group II Throne
GLASSBORO — Last season Mater Dei Prep announced its arrival by ending St. Joseph’s streak of seven straight state titles, taking down the Wildcats in the semifinal on the way to winning its first-ever state championship.
This season the Wildcats were out to remind everybody in their path they are still the kings of small-school parochial football, and on Sunday afternoon they finished off their revenge tour.
Senior running back Qwahsin Townsel ran for 232 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries and sophomore running back Jada Byers ran for 199 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries as the Wildcats rolled up 440 yards rushing and beat Mater Dei, 30-14, in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group II championship game at Rowan University. The state title is the 26th overall for the Hammonton school and 19th since the NJSIAA shifted from sectional to group tournaments for non-public football.
St. Joseph’s offensive and defensive lines controlled the game with 62 rushing attempts and also limiting Mater Dei (8-2) to 194 yards of offense, including just 66 on the ground. Mater Dei senior quarterback George Pearson was held to 94 yards on 8 of 17 passing with two touchdowns and one interception.
“Hats off to St. Joe’s, they’re a great team,” said Mater Dei Prep acting head coach Shannon Hoadley. “We knew they were going to bring the blitz and with the size of their lines we would have to try to find some matchups. They wore us down.”
“Offensively we couldn’t really protect well, but give them credit, they’re a great team,” Pearson said. “I thought our game plan was good coming in. Defensively they had a big stop in the third quarter and that’s my fault, but at the end of the day I love my team and just being here is a good feeling. Everyone doesn’t make it (to the final) and it’s three times for me.”
As a freshman, Pearson led Matawan to the Central Jersey Group III title and last season piloted the Seraphs to the Non-Public Group II title, the program’s first.
St. Joes flexed its muscles from the first possession, forcing Mater Dei three-and-out before embarking on a five-play scoring drive to take the lead for good. Townsel busted a 56-yard run on the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage and Byers finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal.
Mater Dei started its next drive in promising fashion with a 23-yard pass from Pearson to Devaney, but the drive fizzled out thanks to a penalty and two negative plays caused by a swarming St. Joe’s defense.
A fumble recovery by Mater Dei’s Clarence Lewis stopped a St. Joe’s drive that had moved into Seraphs territory, but Mater Dei was unable to turn the turnover into any points by going three-and-out.
Starting from its own 38-yard line, St. Joe’s went 62 yards in eight plays to take a 14-0 lead. An 11-yard run by Townsel moved the ball into Mater Dei territory and a 30-yard run by Byers put the ball at the Seraphs’ 16-yard line. Three plays later Townsel scored on a 3-yard run to give the Wildcats a two-score lead with 9:36 left in the second quarter.
Mater Dei was able to get on the board late in the first half when Pearson fired a 44-yard touchdown pass to Gunnison Bloodgood with 27 seconds left, trimming the deficit to 14-6. Despite being outplayed and St. Joe’s dominating the time of possession, Mater Dei was right back in the game heading into halftime.
“That was my coaching point at halftime,” Hoadley said. “(St. Joe’s) was walking around not knowing what went wrong after controlling the time of possession and now it’s a 14-6 game. We were confident so the kids were not down by any stretch of the imagination.”
The Seraphs then opened the third quarter with a defensive stop to get the ball back, albeit at their own 1-yard line. Mater Dei got out of its own end when running back Isaiah Noguera was able to recover a fumbled direct snap and connect with Devaney for a 34-yard gain. Devaney later converted a fourth-and-1 with a great effort and it seemed like Mater Dei’s postseason magic was going to come through again. The Seraphs drive ended, however, with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-3 at the St. Joseph 46-yard line.
“We was confident the first half and the second half, even in the fourth quarter,” Pearson said. “Our defense got a good stop to start the second half and the offense had to capitalize. We put a lot of pressure on our defense and that’s my fault, I’ll take the blame for that.”
After taking over following the turnover on downs, the Wildcats extended their lead to 22-8 with a six-play, 54-yard scoring drive. Townsel finished off the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run with 1:06 left in the third quarter.
An interception by Byers on a deep pass intended for Devaney set the stage for a 15-play, 87-yard drive that essentially put the game away. Byers had a 23-yard run to get the ball out from inside the 20-yard line and the Wildcats methodically moved down the field before Byers scored from seven yards out. He then ran for the two-point conversion to give St. Joe’s a 30-6 lead with 4:18 remaining.
Mater Dei scored with 2:57 left on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Pearson to Devaney, but St. Joseph recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock to return to the top of the Non-Public Group II landscape.
Over the last two seasons Pearson, a Central Michigan recruit, led a new era of Mater Dei football as the Seraphs went from a 3-7 team in 2015 to a team that went 12-0 in 2016 and 8-2 this year. After a storybook 2016 season, Mater Dei hit some bumps this year when the program was put on probation for violating the NJSIAA’s transfer rule and head coach Dino Mangiero and athletic director/offensive coordinator Lance Bennett were suspended from game-day coaching.
“We had to face a lot of adversity with the eligibility of the transfers and then our coaches not being here, so to make it here is a good thing and a good experience for the young guys,” Pearson said. “Two years ago we were 3-7 and then the coaching came in with some new players to add to guys like Eddie Lewis and Marvin Pierre that were here since they were freshmen.
“Mater Dei is going to be a great program. They’re on the come-up.”
“Ultimately we wanted to thank some of the press the way we were labeled in the paper, it was just fuel for the fire,” Hoadley said. “We do not let outside distractions go into it and ultimately that’s why Mater Dei Prep students will rise above adversity because that’s all they’ve known from the school closing to bouncing back. They’ll be stronger young men and contribute greatly to life because they know how to battle through adversity.”
St. Joseph (Hammonton) 30, Mater Dei Prep 14
|Mater Dei||St. Joseph|
Mater Dei (8-2) 0 6 0 8 — 14
St. Joseph (12-0) 8 6 8 8 — 30
SJ — Jada Byers 1-yard run (Qwahsin Townsel run)
SJ — Qwahsin Townsel 3-yard run (run failed)
MD — Gunnison Bloodgood 44-yard pass form George Pearson (Gavin Toth kick)
SJ — Qwahsin Townsel 19-yard run (Jada Byers run)
SJ — Jada Byers 7-yard run (Jada Byers run)
MD — Kyle Devaney 11-yard pass from George Pearson (Malik Ingram run)
RUSHING — MD: Malik Ingram 11-50, Kyle Devaney 4-10, Isaiah Noguera 4-4, George Pearson 2-2; SJ: Qwahsin Townsel 33-232, Jada Byers 25-199, Cejai Parrish 2-13, team 2-(-3).
PASSING — MD: George Pearson 8-17-1 94, Isaiah Noguera 1-1-0 34, Kyle Devaney 0-1-0 0; SJ: Mitchell Donovan 0-1-0 0, Cejai Parrish 0-1-0 0.
RECEIVING — MD: Kyle Devaney 3-68, Gunnison Bloodgood 2-53, Clarence Lewis 1-7, Isaiah Noguera 2-4, Malik Ingram 1-(-4).
INTERCEPTIONS — SJ: Jada Byers 1-0.
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