EWING, N.J. - There were plenty of reasons to believe that this might not be Holy Spirit's year.
The Spartans had a new coach, John Iannucci, who installed a different offense, and they lost their first two games.
That was all before Hurricane Sandy pounded their shore community.
And for one last obstacle, their opponent in Saturday night's Non-Public 2 final was top-seeded Immaculata, dropping down in class from Group 3 and trying to send its head coach out with a title in his 47th season.
Those doubts lasted right up to the moment Taalib Gerald put his hands on the opening kickoff.
Gerald's electrifying return into Immaculata territory set up Holy Spirit's first touchdown in a shockingly easy 30-6 victory at the College of New Jersey.
Second-seeded Holy Spirit (8-4) won its third straight title and fourth since 2007. Because of the adversity the Spartans overcame, this one had a different feel.
"We just kept our heads in it, stuck together like a family," said Franco Rifici, who had a touchdown run and kicked a field goal. "It means a lot more."
In the postgame huddle, Gerald, a 5-foot-7, 171-pound running back, dedicated the game to the memory of his grandmother, who had passed away Thursday.
Gerald caught two touchdown passes from T.J. Anderson. He had 81 of his 120 rushing yards in the first half.
Holy Spirit led, 14-0, 4 minutes and 6 seconds into the game.
"We just played with a lot of emotion," Gerald said. "We had a chip on our shoulders because we were the underdogs."
Holy Spirit's trademark defense, which didn't start a senior, did its work, too.
Holding that 14-point lead in the second quarter, Tyler Flynn tackled Immaculata's Chandler Vanderbeek on the 1 after he had caught a pass in the flat on a fourth and goal from the 10 and looked as if he could walk into the end zone.
"That was the turning point of the game," Rifici said of Flynn's tackle.
Immaculata coach Pierce Frauenheim finished 323-134-2.
Holy Spirit 14736-30
HS: Franco Rifici 10 run (Rifici run)
HS: Taalib Gerald 8 pass from TJ Anderson (Rifici kick)
HS: Gerald 23 pass from Anderson (Rifici kick)
HS: FG Rifici 34
I: Antonio Natale 3 run (pass failed)
HS: Anderson 1 run (kick failed)