South Jersey Football Game of the Week: St. Joseph vs. Highland

by Marc Narducci; Photo Marc Narducci | Aug 27, 2019
South Jersey Football Game of the Week: St. Joseph vs. Highland
St. Joseph (10-2) vs. Highland (9-2), at Rutgers, 2 pm. Saturday.
 
Background: Rutgers will be hosting several games between highly regarded high school teams in the state on Saturday. St. Joseph is the defending NJSIAA state Non-Public Group 2 champion. The Wildcats also won the WJFL Continental Division, going 4-0. Highland tied a single-season school record for wins, going 9-2 for the second time in the past three years. The Tartans finished second to Burlington Township in the WJFL Liberty Division, going 4-1, with the loss a 14-13 loss to the champion Falcons. Highland also advanced to the SJ Group 4 semifinals before losing to Clearview 20-0 after beating the Pioneers in the regular season. Both teams are considered preseason Top 10 teams in South Jersey, with St. Joseph No. 1 in a number of preseason rankings.
 
Coaches: St. Joseph, Paul Sacco (326-63-5), Highland, Brian Leary (28-15).
 
Storyline: This is a meeting between two of the top running backs in the state. St. Joseph senior Jada Byers (5-7, 172) rushed for 1,738 yards (8.1 avg.) and 29 TDs. He also caught 15 passes for 353 yards and 4 TDs. Highland junior Johnny Martin (5-9, 205) rushed for 2,002 yards (7.6 avg.) and 19 TDs. Byers might be the most underrecruited great back in the state. While there are those who worry about his size, he is an elusive player who is also a dangerous return man. Martin has great speed and despite his size can run effectively in between the tackles.
 
Outlook: St. Joseph is the obvious favorite. The Wildcats were the consensus No. 1 team in South Jersey in 2017 and were everybody’s No. 1 team until losing a home 22-15 decision to Haddonfield in their fifth game of the season. (Haddonfield ended up being South Jersey’s top team after going 13-0).
 
The key for St. Joseph will be rebuilding the offensive line. The Wildcats have other top skill position players, including junior Ahmad Ross, who scored three touchdowns in the last year’s 41-22 win over Holy Spirit in the Non-Public Group 2 title game. Highlighting the performance was an electrifying 88-yard TD run late in the second quarter. Tight end-defensive end Keshon Griffin (6-5, 225) could join Ross as one of the better juniors in South Jersey. Jr. QB Jayden Shertel is a dual threat. Jr. defensive tackle Ethan Hunt (6-0, 245) has 14 tackles for loss. Despite the presence of Byers, the strength of this team is the junior class. 
 
That game was played at MetLife Stadium, home of the NY Giants and Jets so St. Joseph is used to playing in a bigger venue.
 
Highland senior linebacker Brad Small is the defensive leader. An all-conference player, Small (6-1, 205) had 118 tackles and nine sacks. Senior running back-defensive back Kasim Randall-Dale would be a lead back for many teams. He still rushed for 470 yards (5.9 avg) and 7 TDs and is a ball hawk in the secondary.
 
The key will be for both teams to stop the rushing attack. St. Joseph, with an experienced Hertel, is more suited to have success throwing the ball. This is a great opener for both teams and an immediate test to see where they fit among the elite in South Jersey.

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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo by Marc Narducci

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