By MARK TRIBLE
South Jersey Glory Days Football Writer
MEDFORD — He considered it an act of God.
With his crystal blue eyes as big as saucers underneath strawberry blonde curls, Trevin DelGozzo claimed divine intervention here on Friday night in the Cherry Hill Dodge Game of the Week.
The improbability of what occurred made it hard to argue.
The senior prayed before his kick, he said. He asked the Lord to help him land his boot and the ball where it needed to be.
Actually, DelGozzo did it three times.
Three “acts of God.” That’s what it took here as St. Joseph Academy topped Lenape, 29-28. Three prayers answered — two of them onsides kicks, and the other a 34-yard field goal that soared through the uprights with 00:01 on the clock.
“It just worked out in our favor. I guess the game was meant for us to win,” DelGozzo said. “That’s what I consider it, exactly.”
Behind DelGozzo’s right-footed wizardry, the Wildcats (5-1, 2-0 West Jersey Football League Independence), ranked No. 3 in the South Jersey Football Frenzy Show/Glory Days Best 11 rankings, mustered three scores in the last six minutes without the fifth-ranked Tribe (4-3, 3-1 WJFL American) having possession once.
The pink tape on the toe of this cleat stood as a reminder of how shabby the now-famous boot is. DelGozzo won’t wear the new pair his father, Greg, told him to try.
“I’m going to stick with these for the rest of this season at least,” DelGozzo said. “They have the good juju.”
Undoubtedly. DelGozzo had never kicked a successful onsides kick in his life before this history book entry. He took to the craft at age 11. He practices at St. Joe on a field far from this brand-new turf that took his decent bounces and made them magnificent.
A fourth quarter of special teams seemed to go all the way of the hosts on this fancy field until the arrival of the acts of salvation — or juju, or whatever the Wildcats had on their side.
A 48-yard punt return from Lenape’s Michael LeMay made it 21-13 with 9 minutes, 26 seconds left. Even that one came courtesy of the turf. A short kick, it bounced and rolled before it popped right to LeMay’s chest. He had to field it. Then, he took it to the house.
The next score came when Macon Lincoln blocked a punt after St. Joe’s ensuing possession. Again, the turf assisted. The ball bounced right up to Ethan Craig, he ran it in for another Tribe score.
Action stood at 28-13 with 6:27 to play.
The Wildcats quickly moved down the field and got back six on Nasir Mahmoud’s 9-yard run. They went for two and failed. It felt like the night had met its end.
Then, DelGozzo got onsides kick No. 1. To the right, the ball bounced and hit a foe. Richard Chandler recovered.
Jimmy Mantuano capped a short-field drive with a touchdown run from 6 yards out. The clock read 3:01 with Lenape ahead, 28-26.
DelGozzo got onsides kick No. 2. To the left, the ball bounced and hit a foe. Chandler recovered.
“This was my first time recovering an onsides kick, my first time,” Chandler said, even though he did it twice. “I’m glad it happened like this and this was the outcome.”
Mantuano maneuvered St. Joe into range. No play stood bigger than his slant to Mahmoud to move the chains and push closer to DelGozzo territory.
“Having a good kicker helps us a lot because those are two big kicks and I don’t know many high school kickers who can make two like that with beautiful bounces for our guys to make the plays like that,” Mantuano said. “I don’t know any kicker like that.”
After a timeout with six ticks left, DelGozzo went out to kick. The Tribe called timeout. This is when that final prayer got sent for answer.
“I was worried there,” coach Paul Sacco said. “I’m thinking, ‘Is thing going to make it or not?’ It just went through and I’m glad we’re on the winning side.”
Sacco relayed his thoughts at the end of an interview that began with emotional pauses. To collect himself, the Wildcats’ coach of 41 years — who will not return next season — tried his best to hold back the tears.
He spoke of what it meant that his team kept the fight alive. That they wouldn’t quit, his “no name” bunch, despite the odds.
This poignant moment happened in a place far from the areas where Sacco ran the roost for so many seasons. Prior to the classic, Lenape and St. Joe had never played before.
They do not need to ever play again.
Nothing will top this comeback and this finish, considered by the hero and most who saw it, to be an act of a higher power.
Mark Trible is a special high school football writer for South Jersey Glory Days. You can follow him on Twitter @MTrible. Also, catch his high school football show (The South Jersey Football Frenzy Show) every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at facebook.com/sjglorydays, and his “Hat’s Off” Podcast every Sunday at 9 a.m.