DePaul beats St. Joseph, claims Non-Public Group 3 championship by Chris Iseman of The Record
UNION — DePaul just didn’t want to give St. Joseph the ball back.
The Spartans had just made the biggest play of the game. The Green Knights had first-and-goal when they fumbled at the 1-yard line. Sean Kelly recovered the ball for DePaul.
There was 3:36 left on the clock, 3:36 that the Spartans had to drain to become state champions.
“Hats off to [St. Joseph quarterback] Nick Patti, he’s been an unbelievable player in this league for the last three years,” DePaul senior linebacker Vinny DePalma said. “We don’t want to give them the ball back. We want to end it right there with our senior offensive line who can dominate things at times.”
DePalma helped the top-seeded Spartans get a pair of huge first downs on that final drive as the clock ran out for a 7-3 win over No. 3 St. Joseph in the Non-Public Group 3 final Saturday at Kean University.
It was DePaul’s first win over the Green Knights since 1973, a 44-year run that included 13 losses to St. Joseph.
“It’s awesome,” Spartans coach John McKenna said. “I’m just so happy for these seniors. For this whole team. I love this team, I really do.
DePaul suffered a tough loss to the Green Knights in the regular season finale when it carried a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter before St. Joseph pulled off a late comeback to win.
“Like I was saying to the kids at halftime, ‘Winning a state championship is great. But we’re playing this second half to beat Joe’s,'” McKenna said.
St. Joseph, the defending champion, was closing in on scoring late in the fourth quarter.
Patti had a 25-yard run on third-and-22 and the Green Knights also converted a fourth-and-3 when Patti hit Matt Alaimo with an eight-yard pass to extend the drive.
They had a first-and-goal at the 5 when they fumbled.
“When that ball was rolling out, I was praying in my mind, ‘Please, someone got on that,'” DePalma said. “Sean Kelly, unbelievable player, got on it.”
Gutsy call: DePaul had a big decision to make with six seconds left in the second quarter.
The Spartans had third-and-5 at St. Joseph’s 6-yard line. They originally were going to kick the field goal, which would’ve tied the game at 3-3 after Angelo Guglielmello kicked a 34-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
“Our offensive coordinator Nick Campanile, he always wants to go for it. There were six seconds. We came up with a play that if we did go for it, we wouldn’t burn all six seconds,” McKenna said. “I was just debating whether we had enough time for two plays. Took the shot and it paid off.”
Junior quarterback Taquan Roberson, who is committed to Penn State and played in front of Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin on Saturday, hit Teddy Harper for a touchdown pass that put the Spartans ahead at halftime, 7-3.
That ended up being the decisive touchdown.
Roberson finished 14-of-25 for 130 yards.
Key play: DePaul’s touchdown drive wouldn’t have been possible without a big play from Nysere Nunn.
The senior cornerback intercepted a St. Joseph pass at the DePaul 23-yard line and returned it 31 yards across midfield.
“We bent but we didn’t break,” McKenna said. “We came up big when we had to.”
Quotable: “It’s just amazing,” Roberson said. “From the start of the season everybody doubted us because we were rebuilding last year. We were young. We only had four seniors last year. everybody doubted us. But we knew. We knew since January. We’ve been working hard. We knew we were going to get here.”