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Seeing double: Hornes sparking St. Joe

The twin brothers are ultracompetitive and supremely athletic. And though it's hard to tell from watching them play football, they only recently turned 15 years old.

The twin brothers are ultracompetitive and supremely athletic. And though it's hard to tell from watching them play football, they only recently turned 15 years old.

So, of course, it's a common topic of discussion:

"We're always arguing over which one of us is better," said Salaam Horne, dual-threat quarterback of the St. Joseph football team.

With one game left in their breakout sophomore seasons - Saturday's Non-Public Group 1 state final against St. Mary - Horne and twin brother A'Laam, a lightning-fast running back/cornerback, have one more chance to state their case.

Not that it has mattered much recently. The question of which twin is better is increasingly trivial.

"They're both such incredible athletes and hard workers," said Wildcats veteran coach Paul Sacco.

Sacco himself still has trouble telling the twins apart. And what distinguishes them from many other sophomores in South Jersey are their similarities, which Sacco is quick to point out.

"They both want to be the best they can out there," Sacco said. "They both work hard every day. They want to be the first ones in the weight room and the last ones out. They know what it takes to be successful."

After a freshman season spent mostly on the sidelines, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound twins have predictably been standouts on a Wildcats team with talent all over the field.

Salaam Horne has thrown for seven touchdowns, rushed for five, and returned four punts for scores. He also has three interceptions and 25 tackles as a defensive back.

A'Laam Horne has rushed for nine touchdowns, caught two TD passes, and returned two kickoffs for scores. He has gained 676 yards on 60 carries. And as a cornerback, he has recorded 23 tackles and two interceptions.

"This success has meant a lot to us just because of all the work we put in," Salaam said. "And we're thankful for it. We're thankful for this team, for our offensive line, which has come up big all year, and for the older players who set an example."

Sacco thinks of the twins as success stories typical of his program. If nothing else, they certainly are a good representation of the team as a whole: athletic, multitalented, and still young.

The Wildcats (10-1) enter Saturday's game at the College of New Jersey with only four senior starters. Yet, the Wildcats clearly have been among the area's best, outscoring their two playoff opponents by 110-6.

"It just speaks to the dedication that all of our players have," Sacco said. "These kids come to this school knowing up front the commitment it takes to be a part of this team. They know in the summers, they'll be spending three nights a week working out at St. Joe's.

"It's very demanding. So these kids are making that decision, along with their parents, and they're paying to come here. They're in the weight room. They're studying. They're allowing themselves to be coached every day. You can be as talented as you want, but this is what it takes to be successful."

The Horne twins, Vineland natives, say they take their football careers a day at a time. But when pressed, they say they see themselves playing for the same college team someday.

Their competitiveness, good-natured, has been a motivating force since they started playing the game when they were eight. And it could pay dividends someday on a much bigger stage.

For now, though, both are focused on Saturday. St. Joseph will play for its 23d state title, against St. Mary (9-2), a team the Wildcats beat by a combined 127-0 in this same game over the last three seasons.

But those numbers don't matter much to the twins.

"We're not overlooking St. Mary. We just want a state championship," Salaam Horne said. "That's why we came to this school. That's what makes everything worth it."

Non-Public 1 final

St. Joseph (10-1) vs. St. Mary (9-2)

Saturday, 1 p.m. at the College of New Jersey

Previous titles: St. Joseph, 22 (1977, 1983, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012); St. Mary, three (1976, 1980, 2006).

Coaches: Paul Sacco, St. Joseph (32d season, 276-56-5); Mike Sheridan, St. Mary (28th season, record not available).

How St. Joseph can win: St. Joseph is an overwhelming favorite. The Wildcats are stacked with weapons all over the field on both sides of the ball and simply need to stick to what they've done all season. QB Salaam Horne is a major dual threat. His twin, RB A'Laam Horne (60 carries, 676 yards), is an electric runner, and fellow back C.J. LaFragola (129 carries, 1,094 yards) provides the thunder.

How St. Mary can win: St. Mary's biggest hope might be divine intervention. But the Gaels feature a tough runner in Keon White (120 carries, 1,088 yards). Their defense has not allowed a point in two playoff games and has posted shutouts in four of their last five overall.

Fast fact: These teams met in the previous three Non-Public Group 1 title games. St. Joseph outscored St. Mary by 127-0 in that span.

- Chris Melchiorre