A sad finale, possibly, on gridiron

Posted: December 02, 2013

Pete Lancetta thanked his seniors and told them to go out and be successful in life.

The Hammonton coach told his underclassmen to start thinking about next season.

"I've given them a week off," Lancetta said. "Then we get back to work."

The wheel turns. The seasons change.

Life goes on for Hammonton football and St. Joseph football.

Hammonton will be just fine without playing St. Joseph.

St. Joseph will be just fine without playing Hammonton.

These are two proud, highly successful programs with deep traditions, great coaching staffs, and talented athletes who make the commitment to excellence. They don't need to play each other.

But they still would be better for the experience.

That's what was sad about Saturday's classic between visiting Hammonton and St. Joseph before a huge crowd at Bill Bendig Memorial Field.

You didn't have to check out the fans who filled both sets of stands and stood around the fence that rings the Wildcats' home field to get a sense of the significance of this game and this rivalry.

You didn't have to have a stake in the 50-50 drawing - which went for a whopping $850, a sure sign of the size of the crowd and festive atmosphere.

All you had to do was look at the field.

All you had to do was see three St. Joseph coaches on the playing surface, urging the Wildcats to seize command of the game in the fourth quarter.

"I need water," St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco yelled out at one point, his throat parched from barking so many instructions in such a high-pressure environment.

On the other side, Hammonton coaches were on the field in full-throated roar as well. And players from both sides were pouring their hearts on the turf like Hammonton senior Matt Parker, who got off the ground to chase down St. Joseph speedster Rocco Ordille on a screen pass in the fourth quarter.

It was one play, but it said everything about this game and this series.

At 2:18 p.m., it was over. St. Joseph was a 28-21 winner in what likely will be the last game in the rivalry for the foreseeable future.

There's no villain here, nobody to blame. It's not Hammonton's fault, not St. Joseph's fault, not the West Jersey Football League's fault.

And folks on both sides are determined to move forward and make the best of the new reality. They are top football people. That's what they do.

Hammonton will move to the West Jersey Football League next season, and the Blue Devils will flourish in a new set of games against the likes of Shawnee, Seneca, Kingsway, Clearview, Winslow Township, Timber Creek, and others.

St. Joseph will flourish, too. With loaded junior and sophomore classes, the Wildcats will be one of the five best teams in the state in 2014 and 2015, even if they get stuck with an underwhelming schedule in a realigned Cape-Atlantic League.

But that doesn't mean something wasn't lost, from both sides, when the final whistle sounded and the two teams lined up to shake hands for perhaps the best time.

These are great programs that have become great programs in large part because they have pushed each other to be stronger, tougher, better.

One good measure of a team is the quality of its opposition, and that's what could have disappeared like one of those high-speed trains that streak past on the tracks behind the Wildcats' field.

Hammonton will be fine.

St. Joseph will be fine.

It's just that playing each other pushed them both to a higher ground.


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/jerseysidesports

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