For A.C., no gripes in defeat

St. Joseph fullback C.J. LaFragola fends off a tackler. He ran for 211 yards, scored four TDs, and picked off two passes for St. Joseph (5-1), the No. 4 team in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings.       
St. Joseph fullback C.J. LaFragola fends off a tackler. He ran for 211 yards, scored four TDs, and picked off two passes for St. Joseph (5-1), the No. 4 team in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings.        (APRIL SAUL / Staff)
Posted: October 28, 2013

The best thing about Atlantic City football coach Thomas Kelly's discussion of his team's 41-8 loss to St. Joseph on Saturday was what he didn't say.

He didn't say that C.J. LaFragola is from Little Egg Harbor and that the Horne twins, Salaam and A'Laam, are from Vineland and that Rocco Ordille is from Hammonton.

He didn't say that his public-school team was at a disadvantage playing against a private school.

He didn't say the schedule was unfair.

"I was happy to play St. Joe's today," Kelly said after another lopsided victory for the relentless Wildcats at Bill Bendig Field.

Kelly, an Atlantic City graduate who played at Rutgers, said that playing against programs such as St. Joseph and Holy Spirit and St. Augustine Prep will only improve his team.

"I want to play against the best teams," Kelly said.

Down at the other end of the field, St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco was saying the same thing about the Wildcats' second season in the Cape-Atlantic American Division.

"It raises your program another level," Sacco said.

Fragola, a junior fullback, ran for 211 yards, scored four touchdowns, and picked off two passes for St. Joseph (5-1), the No. 4 team in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings.

The game was played at the end of a tumultuous week in the Cape-Atlantic League, as Lower Cape May forfeited its Friday game against top-ranked Holy Spirit - and the league responded by ordering the Caper Tigers to shut down their varsity program for the season.

Cape-Atlantic League president Mike Gatley, the Mainland athletic director, said that the league's football realignment committee would soon "reconvene" to reexamine the tentative setup for the 2014-15 scheduling cycle.

As always, the strength of the league's three private schools is an issue. The West Jersey Football League doesn't have this problem because its private-school teams win some and lose some against the public-school teams.

But the private schools are dominant in the Cape-Atlantic. Holy Spirit is 6-0. St. Augustine Prep is 6-0 and has the look of a gathering storm - a program with the resources, coaching, and administrative commitment to become a state power.

St. Joseph is St. Joseph. The Wildcats moved up to the American Division last year and went 10-1. They've won four state titles in a row and 15 since the creation of the Non-Public state tournament in 1993.

Here's the thing, too: St. Joseph could be the best team in the state in 2014, and that includes North Jersey powers such as Don Bosco Prep, Paramus Catholic, and St. Joseph of Montville.

The Wildcats are that good and that young, with just a handful of seniors, with the entire offensive line set to return along with LaFragola, junior running back Ordille, and sophomores such as the electric Horne twins, defensive end Chris Carey, and center Derek Lomax, among many others.

"They do what they do," Kelly said of St. Joseph.

In the Cape-Atlantic League's proposed alignment for 2014-15, St. Augustine would move up to the American Division and Holy Spirit would move down to the National.

But the Lower Cape May forfeit only exacerbated the Spartans' displeasure over that arrangement, since they would be in a division with the Caper Tigers as well as Pleasantville and some other school programs that have struggled to compete with the private schools.

"I was afraid they were going to move us down," Sacco said. "That would have been 10 steps back for our program. I don't blame Holy Spirit for not wanting to go down."

But if the three private schools are in the American Division, then public schools in the division will have to play all three. And there are more than a few public schools that don't want to do that.

"That's the big thing," Sacco said.

The Cape-Atlantic likely will jury-rig some three-division alignment and ask some schools to play each other twice a year and work some scheduling version of the old Twister game to keep any public school from playing three private schools.

But the coach of one of those public schools wouldn't mind the challenge. Under the original proposal for 2014-15, Atlantic City was scheduled to play St. Joseph and St. Augustine in division games and Holy Spirit in a crossover game since the Vikings and Spartans are Thanksgiving rivals.

"That didn't bother me," Kelly said. "I don't want to play lesser teams and back into the playoffs. I want to build a program that can compete with the best teams. We're Atlantic City. I want my kids to believe they can compete with anybody."

His team just lost by 33. He conceded that the other squad had a "stronger will." He said his club got "thumped."

But Kelly wasn't trying to figure out a way to avoid St. Joseph in the future.

He was doing what a great coach should do - planning a way to beat the Wildcats, and sending a message to his players that nothing worthwhile in life comes easy.

Atlantic City 0 0 8 0 – 8

St. Joseph 7 7 20 7 – 41

SJ: A'Laam Horne 67 run (Jon Ryker kick)

SJ: C.J. LaFragola 2 run (Ryker kick)

SJ: LaFragola 65 run (Ryker kick)

SJ: LaFragola 15 pass from Salaam Horne (Ryker kick)

SJ: Rocco Ordille 43 run (kick fail)

AC: Robert Parker 10 pass from Jamir Prevard (Naheem Molley pass from Prevard)

SJ: LaFragola 4 run (Ryker kick)


ONLINE EXTRA

St. Joseph's C.J. LaFragola talks about the victory over Atlantic City.

www.inquirer.com/rallynj


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

inquirer.com/jerseysidesports

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