Football: St. Joe at Shawnee scrimmage

By Phil Anastasia

Shawnee hosted St. Joseph in a scrimmage of two of South Jersey's better football programs on Thursday night.

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The scrimmage appeared to be pretty even, which is a good sign for Shawnee since St. Joseph projects as a Top 5 team this season.

Shawnee, on the other hand, probably will land a preseason ranking somewhere between 10-15 -- which might be too low.

A lot will ride on Shawnee's Sept. 12 opener at Kingsway, since the Dragons project somewhere in the same neighborhood as far as rankings.

Some observations:

1. Shawnee senior RB Anthony DiOrio looks good. He broke a 30-yarder on an option pitch on Shawnee's first series -- the only real gain by either team during the first 10 offensive plays. DiOrio broke a 45-yarder up the gut on the next series. And he finished that drive with a short TD run, again up the middle.

A four-year starter, DiOrio gives the Renegades experience and know-how in addition to ability (He's also a top LB). He looks poised for a big senior season.

2. Shawnee's OL looks sturdy. Coach Tim Gushue was a litttle concerned a couple weeks ago, mainly because of a lack of experience. Reece Tursi might be Shawnee's only returning starter and the Renegades lost a stud tackle in Jake Pisarcik, now at Oregon.

But against St. Joe team that prides itself on its physical defense, Shawnee's OL showed well. They got a push in short-yardage situations and seemed to gain confidence as the scrimmage went along. On an offense without home-run hitters, the work of the OL is extra important.

3. SJ has some really good young players. Not exactly a revelation, I know, but it was pretty clear that the Horne twins, sophomores Salaam and A'laam, and junior Rocco Ordille have some serious functional football speed.

The Wildcats have a tough early stretch in their schedule -- at Absegami, at Holy Spirit, home vs. Millville. That's some September. This team likely will be better in October and November, based on the younger players in key positions.

4. SJ's offense might be better with Salaam Horne at QB and CJ LaFragola at FB instead of QB. LaFragola, a tough and talented junior, is the starting QB right now. Coach Paul Sacco likes his tenacity, moxie and leadership skills. But he might be the team's top fullback. And Horne could be a star at QB -- in time. He's that talented.

The question Sacco has to answer is whether to throw Horne in there now. For what it's worth, SJ really moved the football in its second series, with Horne at QB and La Fragola at FB.

5. SJ's defense is going to be good. Lots of good young players moving around pretty good. The front line probably wasn't as stout as the coaches would like but this defense is going to get better and better during the course of the season.

6. If you want to beat St. Joe, you better do it this year. I'm not sure that option will be available in 2014 and 2015.

7. It would be wrong to draw too many conclusions from Thursday night. There's no way of knowing what the coaches were doing as far as schemes and personnel, whether they wanted to work on certain formations or situations or get a look at some guys on the bubble of making the starting lineup.

That said, it was a good showing for Shawnee. SJ is a top team, coming off a competitive loss in a scrimmage with North Jersey power Don Bosco Prep.

And Shawnee was right there -- again, within the narrow confines of a short, controlled scrimmage -- which bodes well for the Renegades' plans on the WJFL National title as well as a SJ 4 playoff berth.

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