By Phil Anastasia
T.J. Anderson didn't become a quarterback until three weeks into his junior season at Holy Spirit.
He's always been a linebacker.
The versatile senior made an impact at both his new and old positions, leading Holy Spirit to a 31-28 victory over St. Joseph Friday night in a Cape Atlantic League American Division clash of Top 5 teams.
"This game means everything," Anderson said after the Spartans seized the high ground in the division race and earned bragging rights over their arch-rivals on a cool, clear night before a large crowd at Holy Spirit's Ed Byrnes Stadium.
The 6-0, 220-pound Anderson ran for two touchdowns -- including a spectacular 36-yard jaunt that turned out to be the winning score -- as Holy Spirit (2-0 overall, 2-0 in the Cape American) rallied from a 20-19 halftime deficit.
Anderson also made a huge defensive play, sacking St. Joseph fullback C.J.LaFragola on a pitch pass on a 4th-and-8 play from the Holy Spirit 40 with the Spartans holding a 25-20 lead with five minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the game.
"He came up huge for us," Holy Spirit two-way senior lineman Ray Ellis said of Anderson.
It was more than a little ironic that Anderson's sack of LaFragola was the key defensive play of the game. It was LaFragola's decision to transfer to St. Joseph from Holy Spirit - after quarterbacking the Spartans in a 7-0 loss to the Wildcats on Sept. 15, 2012 -- that turned Anderson into a signal-caller.
All he's done is go 10-2 as a starter, win a Non-Public 2 state title last season and make two huge plays in what might be the biggest game of the 2013 Cape Atlantic League regular season.
"I knew I could do it," Anderson said of taking over at quarterback. "I was ready to lead my team."
Holy Spirit, the No. 3 team in The Inquirer Top 25, jumped to a 12-0 lead as St. Joseph committed turnovers on its first two possessions.
"Take away those turnovers and we're fine," St. Joseph's coach Paul Sacco said. "I told our kids, 'You'll learn a lot from this.' If they take away those mistakes, we can be a very good team down the road."
St. Joseph (1-1 overall and in the Cape American), the No. 4 team in the rankings, rallied behind sophomore quarterback Salaam Horne.
The 5-10, 165-pound Horne showed blazing speed, returning a punt 47 yards for a touchdown and turning the corner several times against Holy Spirit's highly touted defense.
Horne also threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Cody Sampson and ran for a two-point conversion to pull St. Joseph within 31-28 with 1:31 to play.
Holy Spirit's Joe DiBuonaventura made a clutch recovery of an onside kick and the Spartans ran out the clock.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, senior running back Franco Rifici capped a drive that featured two runs for first downs by Anderson with a 29-yard burst into the end zone. That gave the Spartans a 25-20 lead.
Anderson made it 31-20 with a remarkable scoring run, busting through the line and hurdling a would-be tackler in the secondary on his way to the end zone.
"I've done that a lot of times," Anderson said of his hurdle. "But this was a big game. That was a big play."
St. Joseph 0 20 0 8 -- 28
Holy Spirit 12 7 0 12 -- 31
HS: TJ Anderson 3 run (kick fail)
HS: Dandre Dennis 38 run (kick fail)
SJ: Cody Sampson 3 run (kick fail)
SJ: Salaam Horne 47 ount return (run fail)
HS: Dennis 21 run (Franco Rifici kick)
SJ: CJ LaFragola 1 run (Chris Carey pass from Ricardo Quirindongo)
HS: Rifici 29 run (run fail)
HS: Anderson 36 run (pass fail)
SJ: Sampson 27 pass from Horne (Horne run)
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.