Holy Spirit linebacker Jeff Steeb doesn't like losing.
He doesn't like the sense of instability that has surrounded the Spartans program at times this season.
But the junior has to acknowledge one thing: All that adversity has been a boost to the team's defense.
"We like it when people doubt us," Steeb said. "It makes us play even harder."
Steeb has sparked a strong defense that has led Holy Spirit to its third consecutive state final.
Holy Spirit (7-4), the No. 9 team in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings, will face Immaculata (10-1) in the Non-Public 2 title game at 7 p.m. Saturday at the College of New Jersey.
"In spite of everything, we still have a chance to win a state championship," Steeb said. "That gives us a lot of confidence, a lot of motivation."
Holy Spirit won the Non-Public 3 title in 2010, and the Non-Public 2 title in 2011, both under former coach Charles Roman, who left the program to become an assistant coach at St. Augustine Prep.
Under new coach John Iannucci, the Spartans got off to a rocky start, thanks largely to a tough schedule. They opened 0-2, with an overtime defeat against Hammonton and a 7-0 loss to rival St. Joseph, then the No. 1 team in the rankings.
Two days after that Sept. 15 game, Holy Spirit starting quarterback C.J. LaFragola, a sophomore, transferred to St. Joseph.
"It was a lot of adversity," Steeb said. "It wasn't easy to deal with, but we fought our way through it. We knew we just had to keep playing and trying to get better."
One constant has been Holy Spirit's defense. The Spartans allowed a touchdown or less in seven games. They have surrendered just 9.3 points per game. They shut out high-powered Absegami in an 18-0 victory.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Steeb has led the Spirit defense. He is tops on the team in tackles with 96. He has three interceptions and returned one for a touchdown in the win over Absegami, a Top 10 team at the time.
"We all play together," Steeb said of the Holy Spirit defense, which doesn't have a senior starter. "Everybody stays in their gaps and does their job."
Steeb likely will be one of South Jersey's top recruits in the class of 2014. He has been invited to attend the U.S. Army All-American Bowl scouting combine for some of the nation's top underclassmen in January in San Antonio.
"That was a big honor," said Steeb, who lives in Mullica Township. "It told me all my hard work was paying off."
Steeb has visited Boston College and Maryland. He also is involved with Temple, Rutgers, and Missouri.
Steeb plays fullback part time. He has carried the football 20 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
But he considers himself a linebacker.
"I like being in the middle of the action," Steeb said.