Call it fate.
Call it destiny.
Chalk it up to the power of inspiration.
But consider Holy Spirit’s football team since the Spartans walked off the field after a 22-19 loss to archrival St. Joseph on Nov. 2.
They were 4-4. They seemed to be a slightly better-than-average team on its way to finishing a slightly better-than-average season.
But news of the death of beloved former coach and player Bill Walsh on Nov. 15 — the day before the Spartans started the Non-Public 2 state tournament — served as a rallying cry for the program.
The Spartans won their next four games. They scored 54 in the playoff opener. They scored 50 in the next playoff game. They beat old rival Atlantic City, 27-0, on Thanksgiving.
And Sunday, Holy Spirit beat St. Joseph, 38-0, in the Non-Public 2 state final at Rutgers in a stunning reversal of that regular-season loss — as well as last year’s state championship game — and one of the most surprising results in the history of the fierce rivalry.
Walsh died after a two-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Walsh was 52.
“Tonight was for him,” Holy Spirit junior running back Patrick Smith said.
Holy Spirit jumped into the final rankings at the No. 7 spot. Here’s the last Top 10 of the season, with last week’s rankings in parentheses:
1. Williamstown (1) 12-1: Star defensive lineman Aaron Lewis and the Braves’ other seniors finished their careers with a 30-14 win over Cherokee in the South/Central Group 5 regional title game. But this program, which was 24-2 with back-to-back South Jersey Group 5 titles the last two seasons, isn’t going anywhere. Junior standouts Dougie Brown, Body Colbert, Cody LaGamba and Donovan Ezeiruaku and sophomore Turner Inge, among others, will see to that.
2. St. Augustine (2) 7-4: Sophomore running back Kanye Udoh collected 874 yards in just seven games after becoming eligible for the Hermits. Watch this team in 2020 and beyond, too. Udoh and fellow sophomores Nasir Hill and Austin Leyman as well as juniors Jake Ketschek, Carnell Davis and Angelos Vokolos, among others, have this program’s trajectory pointed straight up.
3. Lenape (3) 10-2: Junior quarterback Brady Long passed for 1,336 yards and 17 touchdowns and junior linebacker Luke Cole generated 103 tackles, including 17 tackles for loss, for the Indians.
4. Willingboro (6) 12-1: Sunday’s 50-14 blitz of previously unbeaten Penns Grove capped a remarkable season for the Chimeras. Willingboro won its final 12 games after a season-opening loss to Cedar Creek. Senior quarterback Au-Shaun Davis, who threw five touchdown passes in the first half of the victory over Penns Grove in the South/Central Group 1 regional championship game at Rutgers, set a program record with 38 scoring tosses. Senior wide receiver Chris Long set the South Jersey record with 1,619 receiving yards, per research by sports historian Chuck Langerman.
5. Woodrow Wilson (7) 10-2: The Tigers’ defense made the difference in a 12-7 win over previously undefeated Wall Township in the South/Central Group 3 regional title game at Rutgers. Senior all-purpose star Muheem McCargo led the defense with nine tackles. For the season, sophomore quarterback Devin Kargman passed for 3,757 yards, the second-highest total in state history. The only person ahead of Kargman on the all-time list for single-season passing yards is his brother Nick Kargman, who threw for 3,963 for Woodrow Wilson in 2018, per Langerman’s research.
6. Shawnee (8) 10-3: Senior linebacker Matt Papa was credited with 19 tackles in a 34-0 win over Hammonton in the South/Central Group 4 regional title game Saturday at Rutgers. Sophomore quarterback Matt Welsey was 9-for-15 passing for 139 yards and two scores. Think Shawnee has a knack for winning in postseason play? Since 2013, the Renegades are 19-2 in state tournament games, with five sectional titles.
7. Holy Spirit (NR) 8-4: The last time Holy Spirit shut out St. Joseph was by a 35-0 score in 2010. That was the 12-0 team that was inspired in November by the death of the father of star defensive back Joe Sarnese, a future Villanova player. This team was inspired in November by the death of former coach and player Bill Walsh.
8. St. Joseph (4) 9-2: Junior defensive lineman Ethan Hunt had 65 tackles, including 19 tackles for loss, for the Wildcats.
9. Penns Grove (5) 12-1: Junior Nasir Robinson ran for 1,618 yards and 29 touchdowns for the Red Devils, who were a remarkable 23-1 over the last two seasons with back-to-back South Jersey Group 1 titles.
10. Cedar Creek (10) 9-3: Senior quarterback Louis Barrios set Cape-Atlantic League records with 2,649 passing yards and 33 passing touchdowns, according to Langerman’s research.