Early in the week, the St. Joseph football team broke down game film — mostly in silence — of last year’s 51-0 loss to West Deptford.
Players couldn’t get it out of their minds during practice this week.
Quarterback Jayden Shertel said he thought about revenge all day in school on Friday.
But once the game started, he said, the mindset shifted.
He said he felt locked in at that point. It showed.
“We’re just excited to get that revenge,” said Shertel, who was 24-of-27 passing for 195 yards while leading his Wildcats to a 14-13 win over host West Deptford on Friday night.
It was the first loss of the season for the Eagles (5-1).
It was also a stark contrast to last year when St. Joe lost to West Deptford as coach Paul Sacco and two St. Joseph lineman served suspensions for the players releasing of a video on social media that was deemed to be racially charged.
It was the first game Sacco had missed in his 37-year career with the Wildcats outside of the one game — just one game — he missed after suffering a near fatal brain hemorrhage in 2012.
“I said that you learn from things like that. It was a tough pill to swallow,” Sacco said of last year’s suspension.
Sacco thought the punishment, particularly for his players, was unfair. And players said they were seeking vengeance as much for their coach as for themselves.
“We wanted to get the job done for Coach,” said running back Jada Byers, who scored both of St. Joe’s touchdowns.
Byers carried the ball seven times for 29 yards and a touchdown but hauled in 13 receptions for 103 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
After the game, Sacco said that there were years back in the 1980s and ‘90s when his team would throw the ball only 15 or 20 times in a season.
But Friday night’s game plan was to get Byers — one of South Jersey's brightest stars — the ball in space as much as possible and avoid running between the tackles against a big and disciplined West Deptford defensive front.
“We felt like we lost last year’s game because of mistakes,” Byers said. “I made mistakes, too. I lost a big fumble. … But we wanted to come out here and beat a team that was on top. It was good to come out here and knock another team off their pedestal.”
St. Joseph, which improved to 5-2, actually trailed for much of the game.
Bobby Royal returned a fumble two yards for a touchdown to give West Deptford a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The Eagles kept the Wildcats at bay thanks to the big leg of kicker Brandon Ratcliffe, who hit a 39-yard field goal to send his team to a 10-7 lead at the half.
St. Joe didn’t take the lead for good until Byers escaped for a 19-yard touchdown — by far his longest run of the night — with 10 minutes, 37 seconds left to play, giving his team a 14-10 lead.
Most of the Wildcats’ offense in the second half came from Shertel, who only got stronger as the game wore on. He was 10-of-11 passing in the second half. The only incompletion was a bomb down the middle of the field that was a sure touchdown had it not gone through a receiver’s hands.
After Ratcliffe hit another 39-yard field goal to make the score 14-13 with 7:55 left, Shertel actually made one of his biggest plays of the night with his legs, rushing for a first down on 3rd-and-three with two minutes left.
The Wildcats managed to hold the ball until the 30-second mark. Two plays after punting it away, on a last ditch heave, the Wildcats’ Ja'son Prevard iced the game with an interception.
“Last year, nothing went right, everything was wrong,” said Shertel, who was the starter during last year’s loss, “Tonight, we just took what they were giving us. I felt like I was in a groove.”
St. Joseph 0 7 0 7 -- 14
West Deptford 7 3 0 3 -- 13
WD: Bobby Royal 2 fumble recovery (Brandon Ratcliffe kick)
SJ: Jada Byers 14 pass from Jayden Shertel (Trevin DelGozzo kick)
WD: Ratcliffe 39 field goal
SJ: Byers 19 run (DelGozzo kick)