By MARK TRIBLE
Glory Days Football Writer
ABSECON — Just like the “Holy War” is supposed to be, the TurnersvilleJeep.com Game of the Week had a bit of everything with the result very much in doubt until late.
A hot start by the hosts in Holy Spirit gave way to a frenzied comeback by St. Joseph — all that in just the first half. As time ticked down in the fourth quarter, the Spartans led 28-24 and assistant coach Tiger Minetti cautioned observers to pay attention closely.
Soon, someone would become hero, he announced.
Gavin Roman accepted the charges in a 35-24 triumph for Spirit (1-1).
Roman, whose 61-yard touchdown run up the middle in the third quarter stood as the winner, came up with a stellar interception at the 5-minute, 35-second mark of the fourth quarter.
A few minutes after that snag, he proved his father a savvy gambler when they cashed a ticket on 4th-and-9. At the 35-yard line — a possession after the team punted around the same area — Charlie Roman, Spirit’s offensive play caller, signaled for all verticals.
“Gavin, he’s the epitome of a high school football player,” coach A.J. Russo said. “A kid who just grinds it out.
“He’s not the biggest kid in the world. He’s not a D-1 kid by any stretch. But, he’s just a very, very good high school football player. He’s just in the right place at the right times.”
Quarterback Trevor Cohen knew the matchup he wanted on that monstrous play. So did Charlie Roman. So did his son. Gavin Roman leapt, grabbed the go-route pass and scored.
“It was a perfect ball,” Gavin Roman said. “I was thinking, ‘Just catch it with your hands, don’t catch it with your body.’”
Easy enough. His father’s play call, however, seemed less elementary prior to its success. Some likely wondered if the down on the scoreboard was incorrect.
That’s what Charlie Roman does. Good, bad, indifferent, beautiful, head-scratching, brilliant and everything else. He is one of South Jersey’s very best coaches and there is little — if any — doubt about that.
On 4th-and-9 with a four-point lead and it’s all verts? He summed up the simple method to his madness.
“We said third down we’ll run the ball, take time off the clock,” Roman, the offensive coordinator, said. “On fourth down … we had a matchup we liked and it worked out.”
It came down to that — who stood across from who when the teams lined up. Diagnosis made easy.
“We loved that matchup,” Cohen said. “Gav was hot. He was going to make a play, whether it was a bad throw or a good throw.
“I gave him a shot and he made a play.”
For all the oddities, ugliness and wackiness of the event, it all withered away into mere detail. The Spartans extended their win streak against the Wildcats (1-1) to three and their run against South Jersey clubs to 11.
Per local football historian Chuck Langerman, it marked the third-highest point total in the rivalry.
The teams exchanged blows throughout but neither found the hold tight enough to tie a final knot. Jahmeer Cartegena supplied big play after big play for St. Joe. He had a long touchdown catch and a pick-6 in the affair.
His interception in the end zone stalled out Spirit and gave the red-and-silver another late chance.
This came before Gavin Roman’s final two heroics. Though, that dash to the end zone in the third — 61 yards up the gut on a play checked to in an attempt to draw the Wildcats offsides — proved a big blow as well.
Pre-snap, a St. Joe defender yelled out, “Watch the run! Watch the run!”
“I heard them and I was thinking they’re probably going to stop us, they’re probably going to send everybody” Gavin Roman said. “They sent two backers and a guy off the edge, our O-Line picked it up perfectly, so I took it and took it to the end zone.”
He’s part of a tailback-by-committee effort for the Spartans this season. In the wake of now-Vanderbilt back Patrick “Cheeks” Smith’s graduation, a few have helped carry the load.
Last week in Ocean City, Gavin Roman got nailed more than a few times by some DeMatha (MD.) behemoths and got up, again and again. He wanted more — no matter the discrepancy in size.
The kid takes great pride in his toughness as an old-school type of player. It’s no surprise why. If you needed to see where he gets his guts, look at the guy who called the four verts on 4th-and-long.
“Charlie has a great scheme all the time,” Russo said. “He has the ability to pick things apart.
“I was teasing with Charlie the other day that before they go to bed at night Charlie’s probably quizzing him on the playbook. Those guys, they’re like that.”
Mark Trible covers high school football for Glory Days Magazine. Check out his weekly Facebook Live show every Wednesday at 7 p.m. The South Jersey Football Frenzy Show can be seen at facebook.com/acglorydays