Near the sideline, a pile was forming. Players were still scrambling for a loose ball.
In the middle of the field, Isaiah Raikes was by himself, dancing — not able, or not willing, to contain his emotions after blocking a punt deep in his opponent’s territory on the opening drive.
Raikes said he felt extra energy going into this game, like he was playing with a little bit of extra juice in front of a packed home crowd against one of South Jersey’s best teams.
It was exactly what his team needed, and it showed all night in a game that everyone expected to be a slugfest. Raikes' big plays helped carry the Hermits to a 21-7 win over undefeated Williamstown on Friday night.
“I felt like I hadn’t been playing my best,” said Raikes, who made an impact on offense, defense and special teams. “But tonight I played one of my toughest games. … I had the energy, and I knew I had to make big plays for my team. ... And I think, as a team, we played our toughest game to date.”
The win was St. Augustine’s fifth in a row after starting the season 1-3.
The Hermits, ranked No. 3 by The Inquirer, benefitted in recent weeks from three key transfers gaining eligibility. They’ve also gelled and seen their stars — notably Raikes, a Texas A&M recruit who rushed 11 times for 74 yards and also had a strip sack in the second quarter — hit their stride.
“The kids believed in one another, believed in the staff, believed in the program, and that’s why they’re where they’re at today, at 6-3,” said Hermits coach Pete Lancetta.
For Williamstown, the top-ranked team in the Top 10, the game was totally inconsistent with its previous two seasons.
It was only the team’s second loss in its last 21 games, with that one loss coming in last year’s Group 5 state title game to Sayreville.
This was also just the fourth game that Williamstown had allowed any points at all this season. The Braves (8-1) had recorded five shutouts and allowed just 35 points entering Friday’s contest.
“I’m proud of the kids how they played tonight — under the circumstances, in a great environment — and we’ll be OK. The Braves will be back,” said Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola.
Though Williamstown entered the contest with some injuries on defense, most of St. Augustine’s points were not the result of any long, sustained offensive drive.
St. Augustine took a 7-0 lead three plays after Raikes’ blocked punt gave the Hermits a first down at the Braves’ 25-yard line.
In the fourth quarter, Nasir Hill’s pick-six, including a 38-yard return, iced the game for St. Augustine.
The play gave the Hermits a 21-7 lead with 8 minutes, 57 seconds left.
“I was just reading the quarterback’s eyes,” Hill said. “This game was big for us. Our coaches made great calls, and our defense executed greatly. We just did what we had to do. Not let up anything and play together.”
Williamstown’s only points were also set up by a defensive play.
The Braves forced a fumble to set up a first down at the Hermits’ 9-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Dougie Brown punched it in from one yard out to tie the score before halftime.
Brown played a tough game throughout. He finished 6-of-17 passing for 92 yards but ultimately couldn’t get his team into a rhythm in the second half.
The only time that either offense really looked in sync was in the second half during a stretch when the Hermits were feeding Raikes.
As a runner, Raikes is typically impossible to tackle for anything less than a 4-yard gain. But he looked like a bona fide running back during this stretch. He broke a run to the outside in the third quarter for 19 yards to the 6-yard line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Austin Leyman. It gave the Hermits a 14-7 lead with 10 minutes to play and shifted momentum in St. Augustine’s favor for good.
“My O-line was going a great job blocking for me, so it wasn’t too hard for me,” said Raikes, who led the charge toward his student section after the game, taking a Lambeau Leap into the arms of raucous fans. “We just have to keep this going. We have to keep working to get better everyday.”
Williamstown 0 7 0 0 — 7
St. Augustine 7 0 0 14 — 21
SA: Kanye Udoh 14 run (Luke Snyder kick)
W: Dougie Brown 1 run (Brendan Amico kick)
SA: Austin Leyman 1 run (Snyder kick)
SA: Nasir Hill 38 interception return (Snyder kick)