Football – Non-Public Group II Championship Preview: Mater Dei Prep vs. St. Joseph (Hammonton)
NON-PUBLIC GROUP II FINAL
WHO: 3-Mater Dei Prep (8-1) vs. 1-St. Joseph (Hammonton) (11-0)
WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 3, 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Rowan University
MATER DEI ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated Holy Cross, 42-22, in the quarterfinals; defeated Holy Spirit, 35-34, in the semifinals.
ST. JOE'S ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated St. Mary's, 54-6, in the quarterfinals; defeated Immaculata, 64-26, in the semifinals.
MATER DEI'S BEST WIN: 35-34 over Holy Spirit in the semifinals.
ST. JOE'S BEST WIN: 22-10 over St. Augustine on Oct. 28.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Mater Dei is 6-10 all-time in the postseason in 11 playoff appearances, but this group cannot be compared to Seraphs teams of the past. Last season Mater Dei, fueled by a new, high-profile head coach and several impact transfers, went 12-0 and captured the program's first NJSIAA state title...St. Joe's is one of New Jersey's most decorated programs and has dominated the Non-Public Group I/II bracket with 25 state titles and 33 championship game appearances. The Wildcats are 47-13 all-time in 38 postseason berths. They had won seven straight state titles before Mater Dei knocked them off in last season's semifinals, 26-0.
Defending champion Mater Dei is back in the state final after a thrilling 35-34 comeback victory over Holy Spirit in the semifinals. Senior quarterback George Pearson ran for three touchdowns and threw the go-ahead 11-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Clarence Lewis with 56 seconds left in regulation.
Pearson, a four-year starter who is committed to Central Michigan and has won two NJSIAA titles in his career (the first came as a freshman with Matawan) leads a Seraphs offense that enters averages 32.1 points per game. Sophomore Malik Ingram is the featured running back along with junior Sincere Saunders and senior Kyle Devaney leads the receiving corps.
Mater Dei’s defense is among the best in the Shore at 14.3 points per game allowed and is led by junior defensive lineman Izaiah Henderson and junior linebackers Russell Ferrisi and Shittah Sillah.
The Seraphs’ only loss this season came to Delbarton, 28-26, in a game that came down to the Green Wave stopping Mater Dei’s 2-point conversion attempt on the final play.
One season after going 7-4 in a rare down year for the South Jersey juggernaut, St. Joseph is back as a dominating force. The Wildcats have one of New Jersey’s most illustrious postseason resumes with a whopping 25 sectional titles, 33 finals appearances and a 47-13 playoff record. They have bludgeoned pretty much everyone in their path this season, including a 42-26 win over Holy Spirit, a 58-26 win over Allentown and a 22-10 win over St. Augustine. They blasted Immaculata, 64-26, in the Non-Public Group II semifinals.
St. Joe’s offense is averaging 46.8 points per game this year and scored a total of 515 points in 11 games. The Wildcats have been running the Delaware Wing-T offense for 36 seasons under legendary head coach Paul Sacco, so Mater Dei will know what’s coming. Stopping it is the hard part.
Senior Qwahsin Townsel and sophomore Jada Byers are the vaunted 1-2 punch in the backfield with over 2,700 yards rushing between them. Townsel has rushed for 1,374 yards and 28 touchdowns on an average of 6.8 yards per carry while Byers has 1,373 yards and 19 touchdowns on 11.9 yards per carry. Junior Nick Johnson has chipped in with 534 yards and six touchdowns on 9.4 yards per carry.
The Wildcats rarely throw it, but junior quarterback Mitchell Donovan has completed 64 percent of his passes for 418 yards and five touchdowns.
On defense, the Wildcats are allowing just 9.5 points per game with four shutouts. Senior Sencere Tapp has a team-high 61 tackles with 22 hits for a loss and freshman linebacker Angelo Vokolos has 57 tackles with 21 tackles for a loss. Half of Brad Lomax’s 50 tackles have been behind the line of scrimmage and junior Sean Morris has 21 tackles for a loss and a team-high 6.5 sacks. Vokolos has five sacks and Tapp has four sacks on the season.
Johnson leads the Wildcats with four interceptions while Byers and Cejai Parrish have three interceptions apiece.
Byers is also an elite kick and punt returner with four punt return touchdowns and a kickoff return for a touchdown. He also has an interception return for a touchdown. Freshman Ahmad Ross also has a punt return for a touchdown.
When Mater Dei and St. Joseph meet at Rowan University more than a state championship will be on the line. The Seraphs beat the Wildcats, 26-0, in last season’s Non-Public Group II semifinals to end their seven-year reign as state champs, and if they can do it again this season in the final it will signal a changing of the guard among small-school parochial programs in New Jersey. Last year’s St. Joe’s team wasn’t a vintage group but this year’s squad certainly appears to be. This looks to be Mater Dei’s biggest challenge of the past two seasons, and if they can pass the test it will go down as its biggest win in history.
The Seraphs are definitely the underdog given how St. Joe's has dominated this year, but to count out Mater Dei after how clutch they've been in the playoffs would be foolish.
Prediction: Mater Dei, 35-34
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.