By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
RICHLAND — He may be one of the least talked-about wide receivers in the West Jersey Football League, but that probably won’t last for long. If you haven’t heard about St. Augustine Prep sophomore Paris Pratt, a Camden native who now lives in Williamstown, that’s about to change.
Pratt need just two first-quarter catches on Friday night to put the game out of reach for the Hermits, who rolled past Camden Eastside, 30-0, in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week. Prep is now 6-2 and has won four straight games since a 21-7 loss to Millville, the No. 1 team in the South Jersey Glory Days/South Jersey Football Frenzy Show Best 11 rankings. The Hermits, ranked No. 3, made sure the visiting Tigers didn’t harbor any thoughts of an upset by blitzing them with 21 first-quarter points.
It didn’t take long, as Prep capped off its opening drive with a scoring strike from quarterback Ryan Gambill to an almost inexplicably wide open Pratt, who was all alone at about the 15-yard line, cradled Gambill’s pass and strolled into the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown. Antonio Freund added the extra point, and less than three minutes into the game Prep had the lead for good.
“On the first one — I only had two catches on the night, but I’m not complaining because I had two touchdowns — the first catch was nice an easy, a nice little warm-up to start the game. They left me wide open. They had no safety over the top, they were playing man and the both came down. On the second touchdown I just beat my man, I just ran right by him,” said Pratt, who had 114 yards on just two catches and has more than 500 yards on 24 grabs this season. “I was a little confused. I looked around and I was like, ‘what’s going on?’ I didn’t even have to sprint to get a touchdown. I was a little nervous because I was too wide open. It was surprising to me. I was shocked.
“They had no safety over the top. They were all in man coverage, and they all triggered when they saw run (on the play-action). I was surprised (at that type of defense) but I guess they were confident in their corners.”
“We were watching film and they weren’t really putting anyone over the top, and I trust my receivers to get open and I just put it where they can catch it,” said Gambill, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior from Mantua. “I was reading the safety and he bit on the run, so I just had to get it out there. I was just praying I didn’t mess that up, because he was way too open.”
Pratt, a 6-foot-1, 175-pounder, caught his second touchdown on the Hermits’ next drive, after the defense forced the first of many Tigers punts. After a loss of six yards on the first play, Gambill found Pratt down the right sideline and Pratt did the rest, racing 75 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 4:53 left in the opening quarter.
Again the St. Augustine Prep defense forced a punt, and again the offense cashed in, as the Hermits got some nice runs from Julian Turney and Tristan McLeer to march down the field. Turney capped the drive off with the first of his two touchdowns as the Hermits’ lead swelled to 21-0 with still two minutes left in the opening quarter. Turney finished with 139 rushing yards and two scores on 16 carries.
Freund added a 28-yard field goal to Prep’s total a few minutes before halftime, as the Hermits (6-2, 3-1 West Jersey Football League American) took a 24-0 lead into the break. Turney scored again, this time from 16 yards out, to open the fourth quarter and close the book on the Tigers (4-3, 2-1 WJFL Liberty).
Just as impressive was St. Augustine’s defense, which forced a couple of turnovers and had a handful of sacks. The defensive line, led by junior Ronnie Kraus, made life difficult all night long for the Tigers’ spread passing game. The Hermits have three shutouts this year and have allowed just six points the last two weeks.
“These dudes are some dogs out here,” Pratt said of the defense. “I sometimes get to play defense, and I really love it. These guys are really good. They swarm around the ball very well. As soon as one person is hitting (the ball carrier), everybody is hitting him. And they have a really close bond out there, we hang out all the time.”
“They have been lights out,” Gambill added. “It helps the offense so much when we can rely on our defense to hold the other team to less than 10 points every game. They all just communicate, rally to the football, and work hard every day in practice, getting better and better.”
St. Augustine Prep finishes out its regular-season schedule next week with a trip to Lenape before preparing for the state playoffs.
“We’re getting better day by day,” Pratt said. “I think we can improve everywhere, but we just need to win out so we can get a good playoff seed.”
Added Gambill, “we just have to get back to work and focus on the next game, don’t worry about the weeks ahead. We just have to focus on the next opponent and prepare.”
WHAT’S NEXT: St. Augustine Prep travels to Lenape on Friday at 7 p.m. Camden Eastside travels to Delran on Friday at 6 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays