Mater Dei Prep Shuts Out 7-Time Defending Champion St. Joe’s to Reach Non-Public Group II Final
MIDDLETOWN — As Mater Dei Prep began building steam and bulldozing every opponent in its path during the regular season, the question still remained as to exactly how good the Seraphs are.
They answered that question emphatically on Saturday afternoon in one of the biggest moments in program history.
Led by a ferocious defense and fueled by big plays, second-seeded Mater Dei shut out third-seeded St. Joseph (Hammonton), 26-0, in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Non-Public Group II playoffs on Saturday afternoon, ousting the 7-time defending champion Wildcats and moving one win from securing the first sectional title in school history.
"We had to show everybody that doubted us they were wrong," said senior Eddie Lewis. "We've been wanting to make a statement all year, since my freshman year. We're trying to show the whole Shore and the state that Mater Dei is here to make a statement."
"It's no surprise to us," said senior Marvin Pierre. "We knew they were a real good team so we practice hard all week and came in ready to play."
St. Joseph has long been the standard for small non-public programs in New Jersey and entered the playoffs with a staggering 25 sectional titles under Hall of Fame coach Paul Sacco. Mater Dei sent the clear message that it is ready to win now by dominating from start to finish against a team that is used to being the one pushing opponents around this time of year.
The Seraphs will play fourth-seeded Holy Spirit in the Non-Public Group II championship game at 1 p.m. on Saturday Dec. 3 at Kean University.
"They were a very good team and the difference in the game was our kids were really prepared for everything they did," said Mater Dei head coach Dino Mangiero. "There was great attention to detail this week and that's what's going to win games."
A 48-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback George Pearson to senior Marvin Pierre early in the second quarter ended up being the only points Mater Dei (11-0) would need to advance to just its second sectional final in program history and first since 1999. Pierre added a 4-yard touchdown run to build a 13-0 halftime lead, and Lewis returned a punt 95 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Justin Mcrae polished off the win with a 5-yard touchdown run after a blocked punt late in the fourth quarter.
It was the Seraphs’ defense that set the tone, however, keeping St. Joe’s Wing-T rushing attack in check all afternoon. Mater Dei entered the game with the Shore Conference’s No. 1 defense allowing a paltry 4.9 points per game, and proved that number was a true indicator of their defending prowess. Mater Dei finished with 11 tackles for a loss or no gain, 5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Pierre had two tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks at linebacker, while senior linebacker Jonathan Lubintus had three tackles for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. Senior defensive end Shane Mastro also had two tackles for a loss.
"This type of an offense (Wing-T), when you get them behind their schedule and now it's first-and-15 they have to go deeper into their playbook," Mangiero said. "They're a type of offense that wants to get 5, 6, then 3, then 4 and then play action and hope to catch you sleeping. That's why we took some chances with some run blitzes called because we knew if we got them behind schedule we would have a better chance to beat them."
After a scoreless first quarter, Mater Dei took the lead for good on the second play of the second quarter when Pearson lofted a perfect pass into the hands of Pierre, who looked over his shoulder to make the catch before shedding a tackler to get into the end zone.
Following a St. Joe’s punt Mater Dei moved in for its second score when junior wide receiver Kyle Devaney hauled in a 34-yard catch to give the Seraphs first-and-goal at the 10-yard line. Two plays later, Pierre walked in from four yards out to push the lead to 13-0.
The score remained that way through halftime as both defenses took turns forcing punts. After Mater Dei stopped St. Joe’s with a sack, a tackle for a loss and a pass breakup by Lewis to force a punt from near midfield, Lewis put on a show with a dazzling special teams play. The FBS recruit showed why he counts Iowa, North Carolina Rutgers, Indiana and Syracuse among his scholarship offers by taking the kick back 95 yards for a score to put Mater Dei up 19-0.
The way the Seraphs were playing defense it was evident Lewis’ score had put the game away. Mater Dei had two drives stopped inside St. Joe’s territory, one on a sack and another after it couldn’t convert a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line, but those missed opportunities were easily absorbed because of a lights-out effort on the other side of the ball.
The special teams unit made its second big play when a St. Joe’s punt was low and into the back of one of its blockers, and was recovered by Pierre at the 5-yard line. On the next play Mcrae, a senior, scored up the middle to push the lead to 26-0. The rout was on, and so was the party at the Middletown school ready to embrace its new-found success.
The final mountain to climb for immortality is Holy Spirit, which has a rich history with 10 sectional titles. If the Spartans weren't sure if Mater Dei was for real, they, just like everybody else, found out on Saturday.
"I feel like this game right here showed the state how good we really are," Pierre said. "It feels good for the whole community and I know the whole school will be at this game."
Mater Dei Prep 26, St. Joseph (Hammonton) 0
Mater Dei Prep
St. Joseph (7-4) 0 0 0 0 — 0
Mater Dei (11-0) 0 13 6 7 — 26
Marvin Pierre 48-yard pass from George Pearson (Roan Maxwell kick)
Marvin Pierre 4-yard run (kick failed)
Eddie Lewis 95-yard punt return (kick failed)
Justin Mcrae 5-yard run (Roan Maxwell kick)
RUSHING — SJ: Qwahsin Townsel 10-35, Diego Martinez 1-25, Jada Byers 4-5, Nate Johnson 5-(-3), Cejai Parrish 2-(-2), Kyle Cantz 1-(-2), Matt Tucker 7-(-22); MDP: Sincere Saunders 8-47, George Pearson 14-29, Marvin Pierre 2-5, Justin Mcrae 1-5, Russell Ferrisi 1-3, Kyle Devaney 1-0, Alex Mercado 1-(-14).
PASSING — SJ: Matt Tucker 4-12-0 43; MDP: George Pearson 7-12-0 109.
RECEIVING — SJ: Qwahsin Townsel 2-26, Kyle Cantz 1-11, Diego Martinez 1-6; MDP: Eddie Lewis 3-26, Marvin Pierre 1-48, Kyle Devaney 1-34, Sincere Saunders 1-1, Russell Ferrisi 1-0.
Football 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.