If opening night is any indication, there could be more wins than just Fridays during the first year of the Derek Landri era at St. Joe’s.
Sophomore quarterback Casey Kelly guided four touchdown drives, sophomore Jaden Lofton rushed for 90 yards and two scores on nine carries, senior running back Naseer Jackson finished with 127 yards of offense and a touchdown and a hard-hitting defense kept defending state Class A champion South Park in check during a 29-12 triumph Friday night at All High Stadium.
Kelly, the younger brother of Ole Miss star Chad and nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim, guided touchdown drives of 95, 16 and 84 yards in helping St. Joe’s take a 22-0 lead. Lofton’s 24-yard TD with 1 minute, 50 seconds left sealed the win.
First blood: St. Joe’s marched from its own 5 to pay dirt to take a 6-0 lead with 7:27 left in the second quarter. Kelly completed five passes for 45 yards, including a nice one-handed grab for an 18-yard gain by Hunter Dimitroff. Lofton’s 24-yard run got the Marauders to the 12. On fourth and inches from the 3, Kelly finished off it off with a keeper.
Kelly finished 15 for 22 for 129 yards and an interception and rushed for 55 yards and a TD. He also rushed for a conversion and passed for conversion.
Action Jackson: Jackson only scored once but he was quite the busy man early on offense for the Marauders. He touched the ball eight times on offense and gained 62 yards in the first quarter. Jackson, a two-way starter, finished with seven rushes for 35 yards and six catches for 34 yards in the first half. He scored from the 1 with 6:25 left in the third quarter to help St. Joe’s extend its 6-0 lead.
Jackson finished with 75 yards rushing and made five tackles on defense.
Another sophomore: Lofton, a sophomore like Kelly, only touched the ball twice in the first half but became quite busy during the final 24 minutes. He rushed for 60 yards in the second half and scored on runs of 8 and 24 yards in the final quarter.
Missing Spark: This is clearly not the Tyree Brown era anymore at South Park, but the potential’s there for better offensive showings.
South Park blunted its own momentum during the first half by committing way too many mistakes, from false starts to missed blocks that resulted in lost yardage.
The Sparks let the Marauders off the hook right at the start. After recovering a fumbled kickoff at St. Joe’s 25, a false start sent them backwards. Two plays for losses of 15 yards and an incomplete pass resulted in a punt.
South Park’s first six offensive plays produced minus-12 yards. The Sparks got some positive yardage on their third drive, which started at the 50 but a fumble at St. Joe’s 10 ended that one.
South Park committed eight penalties in the first half, including five false starts.
Running man: Five of Shakur Harris’ first eight touches went for negative yards. He gained a little revenge with 8:15 left, breaking off a 62-yard touchdown run up the middle.
The Sparks recovered the onside kick but went four-and-out when Nick Schaefer’s fourth-and-14 pass to Latrell London gained only 13 yards and inches. London caught a 10-yard pass with 10 seconds left for the game’s final touchdown.
Defense, defense: St. Joe’s defense is fast, hard-hitting and made South Park’s life miserable. The Marauders yielded just 162 yards prior to the Sparks’ last TD drive, made seven sacks and had five three-and-outs and one four-and-out. South Park went 0 for 10 on third-down conversions and 0 for 3 on fourth down.
Mike Motley finished with eight tackles and two sacks, while Nick Julian had seven tackles and two sacks.
Coaching debut: St. Joe’s rarely changes head coaches so whenever one makes a debut it’s a big deal.
Derek Landri is just the fourth head coach the program has had the past 56 years. The men before him include Dennis Gilbert (2010-2015), Bob O’Connor (1981-2009) and Tom Reddington (1960-80).
According to Paul Hutzler’s league archives, Reddington was the last St. Joe’s coach to lead his team to victory in his debut. Don’t look too much into that as each of those coaches led the Marauders to at least one Monsignor Martin Association championship during their coaching tenures. That's what matters most at St. Joe's.
A few changes: There were few points of emphasis rules changes made this season by the National Football High School Federation, but the biggie would be the clipping in the free blocking zone is now illegal. That means clipping is illegal, period. The point is to continue minimizing the risk of injuries, including concussions.
Another, which hasn’t really been a problem in Western New York, regards player uniforms. A jersey must cover shoulder pads and be long enough to reach top of the pants. If longer than the top of the pants, the jersey must be tucked in. Pants also must be long enough to completely cover knee pads.
Clear and white mouth guards can now legally be worn during games.
Records: St. Joe’s is 1-0 South Park is 0-1.
Next: The Marauders have their home opener at 1 p.m. Sept 10 against downstate’s Monsignor Farrell. South Park returns to action at 7 p.m. Friday at All High Stadium against Hamburg in a Class A South Division clash.