ABSECON — For the second year in a row, the Holy Spirit High School football team experienced a tough loss in the state Group II playoffs.
And twice, it was to Mater Dei.
The Seraphs scored with 56 seconds remaining in the game on George Pearson’s 11-yard pass to Clarence Lewis to beat Holy Spirit 35-34 in a semifinal game Friday. Pearson scored four of Mater Dei’s touchdowns, including three on the ground.
“It hurts. It really stings,” Holy Spirit coach A.J. Russo said.
Third-seeded Mater Dei will play the winner of top-seeded St. Joseph and fifth-seeded Immaculata, which play 1 p.m. Saturday. The final will be held 2:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at Rowan University.
Second-seeded Holy Spirit will finish its season Thanksgiving morning at rival Atlantic City.
Holy Spirit and Mater Dei met in the state final last season. With the score tied 20-20, the Seraphs scored on a 50-yard hook-and-lateral play with six seconds left for the game-winning touchdown and a 26-20 final.
“I can’t imagine what (his teammates are) feeling,” said senior quarterback Josh Zamot, who transferred from St. Augustine Prep over the summer. “I know myself I’m feeling a lot of pain, but I can’t imagine how it feels to lose two years in a row.”
Zamot completed 8 of 14 passes for 89 yards, throwing two touchdowns. He also rushed for 82 yards on 12 carries and scored on a 15-yard run.
Spirit’s first offensive drive didn’t go the way it planned, going three-and-out to open the game. But junior linebacker John Bee rectified that, recovering a fumble off a botched handoff on the Seraphs’ first play.
Holy Spirit got on the board first following Bee’s fumble recovery on Zamot’s 15-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes, 35 seconds left in the first quarter.
Sophomore running back Elijah Gray, battling a foot injury, was limited in this game, running the ball just nine times for 49 yards.
Early in the second quarter, quarterback George Pearson connected with Clarence Lewis on a 54-yard pass to get inside the 5-yard line. He capped off the drive with a dive to make it 8-7.
Spirit senior Lee Dawson answered immediately, returning the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for the score to go ahead 14-7. After a stop, Zamot found Alvaro Lora for a 39-yard connection to go up 20-7.
On the opening drive of the third, Pearson scored on a 9-yard run to bring the Seraphs to 20-14. Spirit had an answer again in the form of Dawson, who returned the following kick 90 yards for the touchdown.
Mater Dei responded with Pearson’s third touchdown of the game with 1:14 left in the third, a drive that lasted more than six minutes.
“Out offense didn’t get onto the field until basically the start of the fourth quarter,” Russo said. “Lee Dawson played his heart out. So for us, the positive stuff he did on the field (with) two kickoff returns for a touchdown, but in the second half, (Mater Dei) took advantage of us. They ran the ball real well on us and had a good scheme.”
The Seraphs tied it 28-28 in the fourth on Malik Ingram’s 3-yard score. He finished the day with 91 yards rushing and 71 yards receiving.
Zamot’s second touchdown of the day, an 8-yard pass to Ahmad Brown which the sophomore capped by leaping over defenders, put the Spartans back up 34-28 with 2:37 left in the game.
The Seraphs were able to go 53 yards in less than two minutes thanks to a 45-yard pass from Pearson to Ingram for the winning score, an 11-yard touchdown pass to Clarence Lewis.
“The one thing we said before we came out here was no matter what you leave it all out on the field,” Zamot said. “We lost by one point. We gave it everything we got and still came up short. Seniors move on and the best of luck to the team next year.”
Mater Dei;07 14 14—35
Home;8 12 8 6—34
HS-Zamot 15 run (Baker-Coley run)
MD-Pearson 1 run (Toth kick)
HS-Dawson 91 kick return (pass failed)
HS-Lora 39 pass from Zamot (run failed)
MD-Pearson 9 run (Toth kick)
MD-Ingram 3 run (Toth kick)
HS-Brown 8 pass from Zamot (run failed)
MD-Lewis 11 pass from Pearson (Toth kick)
Records—MD 8-1, HS 8-2.