By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — Friday night’s showdown at St. Augustine Prep between the host Hermits and Hammonton was the kind of game that made everybody happy. The steady rain all day would mean a ton of running plays, good, old-fashioned smash-mouth football, and that makes offensive and defensive linemen happy. The quarterbacks were happy because all that running opened up the passing game a little bit, and receivers were happy because they had opportunities to make big plays when their teams needed first downs. The fans were happy because the outcome was in question until the final two minutes, before a late touchdown pass from Trey McLeer to Nasir Hill provided some breathing room in Prep’s 20-7 victory.
Everybody was happy. Well, except for St. Augustine head coach Pete Lancetta. Tums weren’t going to be good enough to get through this week, he likely had to turn to something stronger. You see, Lancetta was going up against a program in Hammonton that he helped turn into one of the dynasties of South Jersey throughout his 26-year stint as the Blue Devils’ skipper. Playing Hammonton now for him is akin to running a business and having to fire his brother from the staff. The ties run deep, as did the emotions on Friday night.
“Let me just tell you something, it was a brutal week for me, emotionally, psychologically — when I first saw this on the schedule, I wasn’t happy about it. But it is what it is and, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to win the game in the worst way. They’re doing a great job (at Hammonton), they were 2-0 coming into this game, they beat Millville and we didn’t, so I felt a lot of pressure, I really did. But the kids responded and played a great game. The kids responded,” Lancetta said. “(Winning) makes it a much better week, the fact that we won, no question about it. I’m glad it’s over and we can move on and get ready for Mainland.”
It’s rare — and refreshing — to hear a high school football coach admit that he feels pressure, or that he’s struggling with the emotions of a big game. If any of the players on either side felt the nerves, it didn’t really show much at all. Trey McLeer, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound junior, was making his first career start at quarterback, and all he did was throw for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
“Trey is a natural leader, off the field and on the field he leads by example, and I couldn’t be happier for him. I knew he was going to step up today,” said senior tackle Jake Ketschek, a Vanderbilt University commit.
“I was a little nervous, but I just tried to stay as calm as possible and treat it like any other game. We have a lot of weapons, and I trust those guys, so I just have to let them make plays. We knew coming in, with crappy weather, it was going to take a lot of running the ball to win. We knew we had to be tougher than them, and we had to get it done for coach Pete,” said McLeer, who also is a standout wrestler at the school. “We knew we needed to come together and play better as a team after last week, and we definitely did. This was a good bounce-back win against a very good team.”
St. Augustine Prep, a top-10 team in the state coming into the season, needed a win badly after falling 22-21 to Millville in its season opener last week. And that wasn’t going to be easy, going against a red-hot Hammonton team that had just beaten Vineland rather handily a week prior.
McLeer hooked up with Nasir Hill on a 36-yard scoring strike to get things started in the first quarter, but Hammonton responded late in the first quarter when quarterback Kyle Vandever connected with Andrew Ryker on an 11-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-goal. From there, it was a slugfest, as the teams traded haymakers for the better part of three quarters, with neither team able to deliver the knockout blow. Prep scored off its opening possession of the second half on a 12-yard run to the left side by Kanye Udoh, but the Hermits couldn’t put the finishing touches on the Blue Devils until McLeer found Hill over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown on a gutsy 4th-down call from coach Lancetta.
“We knew Nas was 1-on-1 a lot throughout the game and we knew on fourth down we had to get the ball to one of our best players,” McLeer said. “Coach Pete called that play. I thought we were going to give it Kanye, honestly, but coach knows what he’s doing.”
“Our defense did a great job in the second half of adjusting. We took away their sweep and some other things they were hurting us with,” Lancetta explained. “They were very efficient on first down and that’s what was hurting us in the first half, but in the second half our defense played really well and that allowed us to figure out a couple of things. The second half kickoff, we took that down and ended up scoring on that, and that was big.”
Prep’s defense was key, as the Hermits were able to keep Hammonton star running back Jaiden Abrams out of the end zone. The previous week he went for nearly 200 yards and three scores against Vineland, but the Hermits didn’t let him cross the goal line once.
“It brings me back to St. Joe last year. We knew coming into this game we were going to run the ball all game. We imposed our will and we had a great time doing it, running the ball all over. Hammonton is very well coached and they have very good players, so give a lot of credit to them, it feels good getting out of here with a good win,” Ketschek said. “Seeing Angelo Vokolos and Brady Small and those guys flying around, knocking people over, it’s a great sight to see from the sideline. That really gets you going. We knew coming in this was going to be a real competitive matchup. It was more than just a game, so we put in the time all week and it feels good that it paid off.”
What’s next: St. Augustine Prep travels to Mainland on Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. Hammonton travels to Atlantic City on Oct. 23 at 6 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays