By MARK TRIBLE
MONROE TOWNSHIP — It’s a game of inches, they say, and one needs the fortitude that comes with every ounce of a chilly Friday night come late October.
There were no ghosts here in advance of Halloween, but the final play will hang around for a while with those who participated.
It took overtime, as Franklin Simms racked his way to a 3-yard score and Brandon Bispo — a hero a few minutes prior — to make it to 17 for St. Augustine on the first set of downs in overtime. Then, a 1-yard plunge by Turner Inge to put Williamstown at 16. A timeout. The Braves’ senior captains wanted to go for two and told coach Pat Gallagher the play they wanted to run.
The Hermits were ready.
A number of them swarmed and stopped a jet sweep and Prep, ranked No. 8 in Glory Days Magazine’s Best 11, toppled No. 1-ranked Williamstown by that 17-16 final in the TurnersvilleJeep.com Game of the Week.
“We were prepared,” quarterback and defensive back Trey McLeer said. “I saw them go motion, we all knew the play and knew we were built for that and stepped up in the big moment.”
Bispo’s extra point provided the final differential. That seemed fitting due to his 24-yard field goal in the fourth quarter’s dying seconds that sent it to an extra stanza.
He told coach Pete Lancetta he was ready. Lancetta trusted him. Bisbo obliged fulfillment of his promise.
While the final touches were worth the hype, buildup and regulation time of this slugfest, the final bow spoke more about what the Hermits (3-1) had demonstrated here on Friday night against the Braves (4-1).
It didn’t take Lancetta long to announce the game ball would go to Jake Ketschek, the Vanderbilt-bound senior offensive lineman whose season ended with a torn meniscus last week.
His teammates were heartbroken for him. McLeer teared up at mere mention of the news. The kids yelled out that this was for Jake and one lineman said he couldn’t wait to get him on the phone.
“He’s one of my best friends,” junior lineman Brady Small said. “It’s a huge loss. I know he’s somewhere watching the livestream right now and he can’t be prouder. He texted me before the game and told me to ball out and I think I did.”
Small hit it on the money. No one made a bigger impact than he, with a few sacks and batted balls on the defensive line. Small switched over to Ketschek’s tackle spot on offense and didn’t miss a single snap of the contest. He displayed an incredible motor and a knack for eye-opening plays that won him high praise from Lancetta.
The longtime coach said he’d seen it on film from the win over Mainland a week prior. Rarely, if ever, had he witnessed a defensive lineman be around the ball as much as Small.
Lancetta laughed afterward as he recalled his first open house in Richland when Tom Small walked in. Lancetta told assistant Phil Brunozzi all he needed to know about Brady, Tom’s son.
“A wise man told me at Hammonton, his name was Karl Frantz, and he used to tell us, ‘It’s in the genes,’” Lancetta said.
The former Hammonton boss coached Tom Small prior to his move to blueberry territory — when Lancetta was an assistant under Clyde Folsom at Bishop Eustace in the 80’s.
“I told Phil, ‘Listen to me. It’s in the genes, buddy,’” Lancetta said. “We never saw him play a football game, but I said if he’s anything like his dad, we’re going to be OK with him.
“Certainly, he hasn’t disappointed.”
Coach could say that again. And again. And again. Small made a difficult move from guard to tackle — due to Ketschek’s loss — look seamless and made it sound the same way after.
“It was a minor change, I mean, we have the same calls, just different steps,” the 6-foot-2, 270-pound 17-year old said. “Once you get into the game, you just play.
“The amount of training I did this offseason going into this junior season, it’s paying off.”
He still had fuel in the tank for a sprint to the sideline after the final snap, one that will never fade from his memory.
“They ran jet away from me, the linebacker came up and made a nice stick,” Small said. “When he made that tackle, I was a little relieved. Going into overtime was a little stressful.”
Just a little. Just a Small.
It’s in the genes.
And now, St. Augustine has no more ghosts of Millville past. The Hermits only have sights on a showdown ahead.
They host a Spirit (4-0) on Friday.
Mark Trible is a former sports reporter for the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill and one of the most popular high school writers in South Jersey. Follow Mark: @Mtrible on Twitter; facebook.com/marktriblewords/