The St. Joseph football team has been through a tumultuous period on and off the field recently, but the Wildcats were insistent that they wouldn't stay down.
While it wasn't easy to pick themselves off the canvas, the players said they had no other choice. So, on Friday night, it was back to business and for the players, and it was not a moment too soon.
Bouncing back from a 51-point trouncing by West Deptford at home last week, this St. Joe team, which finished 12-0 and No. 1 in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings last year, returned to its dominant self Friday with a 33-14 win over host Timber Creek.
Not only did the Wildcats (6-2) clinch the WJFL Continental Division, they regained some of their lost pride.
"It's been a very tough situation to go through," said standout junior running back Jada Byers, who was held in check on the ground but scored on a 25-yard touchdown pass.
Byers wasn't just referring to the Wildcats' losses to Haddonfield and West Deptford. St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco was suspended from the team for two games for failing to supervise players who made and shared a video with profane and racially charged language. The video was sent to a Haddonfield player.
Two St. Joseph players were also suspended by the school for two games.
The first of those games was last week's rout by West Deptford. While West Deptford is a talented team and should be a major South Jersey Group 2 contender, no team should be 51 points better than the Wildcats.
"I think we felt sorry for ourselves," Byers said.
St. Joseph is a young team with half a dozen sophomores playing prominent roles.
"We tried not to let it get to us, but we are human, and it did get to us," said sophomore tight end-linebacker Chase Lomax, who was the one who dominated Timber Creek the most.
Lomax had St. Joseph's first touchdown on an 8-yard pass from fellow sophomore Jayden Shertel, who threw three TD passes. In addition, Lomax also scored on a 6-yard interception return, tipping a pass to himself and going in the end zone.
"It's the best game he has ever played," said assistant coach Ricky Mauriello, who guided the Wildcats in Sacco's absence.
Several other sophomores, including 6-foot-5, 220-pound defensive end-linebacker Keshon Griffin, made significant contributions.
While Timber Creek is 2-5, the Chargers are still likely to qualify for the South Group 3 playoffs, and they should be dangerous. So this was an impressive win over a team better than its record indicates
Timber Creek wanted to make the Wildcats beat them with the pass, and St. Joseph obliged. "They had 10 men in the box, so we had to throw," Mauriello said.
Now, the Wildcats can exhale, back to their winning ways, although they can't relax too much with a trip to dangerous Holy Spirit on Friday.
"It's been a really tough two weeks, not so much football-wise but tough because everybody kept asking these kids the same questions," Mauriello said.
Now the questions may change, with the biggest one being whether St. Joseph football is really back.
St. Joseph 7 13 0 13 – 33
Timber Creek 0 0 7 7 – 14
S: Chase Lomax 8 pass from Jayden Shertel (Adam Monacelli kick)
S: Ahmad Ross 3 run (Monacelli kick)
S: Nate Johnson 47 pass from Shertel (kick failed)
T: Fred Jefferson 1 run (Zach Coluccio kick)
S: Lomax 6 interception return (pass failed)
T: Justin Houston 38 pass from Jefferson (Coluccio kick)