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Game facts

Non-Public 2 final

(1) St. Joseph (11-0) vs. (3) Mater Dei (8-1)

When: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Rowan University

Coaches: St. Joseph: Paul Sacco; Mater Dei: Dino Mangiero

Sectional titles: St. Joseph 25 (1977, 1983, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015); Mater Dei 1 (2016)

More: Football: St. Joseph blasts past Immaculata to reach Non-Public 2 championship

More: St. Joseph football trying to return to championship form

Last meeting: Mater Dei 26, St. Joseph 0, 2016. The Wildcats had won seven straight state championships before the Seraphs eliminated them in the Non-Public 2 semifinals last November. St. Joseph managed just 34 yards rushing on 33 carries and were stuffed in the backfield 11 times. The Wildcat defense did its job, limiting Mater Dei to 132 yards, but special teams were a huge factor. Eddie Lewis had a 94-yard punt return touchdown and a blocked punt led to another score. Marvin Pierre found the end zone twice, including on a 49-yard pass from George Pearson for the game’s first TD.

Key stats:515 – Points scored by St. Joseph this season. That’s the third-highest total in South Jersey history, two behind second place (West Deptford; 2011). The Wildcats have scored above 40 nine times, topped 50 on five occasions and eclipsed 60 twice, including in the state semis, where they scored a season-best 64 in their victory over Immaculata. 20-1 – Mater Dei’s record over the past two seasons. The Seraphs’ average margin of victory in those wins is 27.55 points. 11.9 – Yards per carry for St. Joseph’s Jada Byers. The sophomore tailback has run the ball 115 times for 1,373 yards and 19 touchdowns. He’s also caught six passes for 71 yards (11.8 average) and a score. Byers has 26 total TDs on the season (4 punt return, 1 kick return, 1 interception return as well). 28 – Touchdown runs by the Wildcats’ running back, Qwahsin Townsel. The senior has run it 203 times for 1,374 yards this year. 4 – St. Joseph defenders with more than 20 tackles for loss this season. Junior Brad Lomax leads the team with 25, senior Sencere Tapp follows with 22, freshman Angelo Vokolos has recorded 21 and Sean Morris has 20. 4 – Games missed by Mater Dei head coach Dino Mangiero and offensive coordinator Lance Bennett, who were suspended for using ineligible players earlier this year. Shannon Hoadley, who led the team last year, coaches on game days.

Key Matchups

St. Joseph DEs Sencere Tapp (6-1, 190) and Brad Lomax (6-2, 230) vs. Mater Dei QB George Pearson (6-1, 210). The Seraph offense starts and ends with Pearson. The Central Michigan commit has wreaked havoc on opponents with both his arm and legs, so St. Joseph has to find a way to make him one dimensional. Tapp and Lomax are difference makers on the edge. They’ve combined for 47 tackles for loss this year, and they’ll need to both hit Pearson and box him in. If they lose contain, that’ll open running lanes which Pearson can exploit.

St. Joseph RB Qwahsin Townsel (6-1, 205) vs. Mater Dei LB Jayden Johnson (6-0, 240). The Wildcats have three capable backs they can run the ball with, but Townsel is the workhorse. While he can certainly break big runs, it’s his ability to consistently gain five and six yards a tote that helps St. Joseph stay ahead of the chains and wear opponents down. Johnson is a thumper in the middle, meaning these two should see plenty of each other. If Townsel can wear Mater Dei’s interior down, the outside should open up for speedsters Jada Byers and Nate Johnson.

St. Joseph’s Keys to Victory

Keep Pearson in the pocket. Mater Dei’s star quarterback is at his best when he can move around. His ability to extend plays not only opens up the passing game, but also allows him to gash defenses on the ground. St. Joseph needs to force Pearson into a pass-first mentality, but on the Wildcats’ terms. If Tapp and Lomax can pressure him to move up in the pocket, interior guys like Sean Morris and Wisdom Quarshie are more than capable of cleaning up the play. Freshman linebacker Angelo Vokolos will be instrumental to this aim as well.

Stay aggressive. Mater Dei’s proven the last two postseasons it can win in dramatic fashion. The Seraphs defeated Holy Spirit on a last second hook-and-ladder play in last year’s Non-Public 2 final, and rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit against the Spartans with a final-minute touchdown pass from Pearson to Clarence Lewis in this year’s semis. St. Joseph needs to attack Mater Dei for 60 minutes to pull out the victory.

Mater Dei’s Keys to Victory

Air it out. St. Joseph will focus on stopping the Seraphs’ ground game. Mater Dei should take advantage of that and go to the passing game early and often to soften up the Wildcat interior. While St. Joseph has only allowed double-digit points four times this year, the defense isn’t as strong on the back end as it is up front. If Mater Dei can gain momentum with receivers Lewis and Kyle Devaney, it could force the Wildcats to dedicate more defenders to that cause, opening up space for Pearson and Malik Ingram to run the ball.

Stop Byers. St. Joseph’s do-it-all sophomore back has turned games upside down on more than one occasion this year. Byers is averaging 11.9 yards per carry and 11.8 yards per reception in 2017, and he’s recorded five touchdowns on special teams as well. The Wildcat offense has had a few rocky moments, but Byers always seems to bail them out in those situations. If Mater Dei can’t stop him from breaking off big plays, it’ll be a long day for the Seraphs.

Josh Friedman; @JFriedman57; (856) 486-2431; jfriedman2@gannettnj.com

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