RUTHERFORD – Jonathan Diaz arrived late to pregame warm-ups because he was delayed finishing his SAT. But he fit in seamlessly once the game began and certainly aced his on-field test Saturday.
Diaz rushed for 204 yards on 13 carries and scored three touchdowns to help St. Mary defeat seventh-seeded Mater Dei, 41-14, in a Non-Public Group 1 quarterfinal game at Tamblyn Field. The second-seeded Gaels will host third-seeded St. Anthony, a 35-12 winner over sixth-seeded Queen of Peace, in the sectional semifinals in two weeks.
“My offensive line played great and I got a lot of blocks that opened up some big holes,” said Diaz. “I got to the game a little behind time because I was taking the SAT at Wood-Ridge High School. But I got enough preparation in and my team really backed me up with a great all-around performance.”
A.J. Godsil, a senior outside linebacker and flanker, scored two defensive touchdowns for the Gaels. He returned an interception 54 yards for a score and returned a fumble 6 yards for a TD, both in the first quarter when St. Mary took a 28-0 lead over the 1-9 Seraphs from Monmouth County.
A senior tailback from East Rutherford, Diaz scored on an 8-yard run to cap a seven-play, 55-yard drive on St. Mary’s opening possession, as the Gaels took a 7-0 lead 3:12 into the opening quarter.
“I’m really proud of the way this team takes care of its business, this is a special group,” said St. Mary coach Mike Sheridan. “Some might have expected that we could have a letdown or overlook a little a team like [Mater Dei]. But we came out determined on both offense and defense from the minute the game started. We did what we needed to accomplish to advance.”
The Gaels improved to 10-0 as they continue their quest for their first state championship since 2006 when they defeated now-closed Paterson Catholic, 20-13. St. Mary already has clinched the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference Patriot Division title and is ranked No. 10 in The Record football Top 25.
Connor Cuccinelli, a senior tight end who caught two passes for 53 yards, latched onto a 45-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Ryan Monaghan with 6:23 left in the first quarter to give the Gaels a 20-0 lead. Diaz added touchdown runs of 79 and 8 yards in the second quarter to help St. Mary to a 41-6 halftime lead.
“We don’t take any opponent lightly and we certainly respected Mater Dei and they made a few big plays in the game and also some hard tackles that showed us we needed to pay attention,” said Diaz. “We just take it game by game and don’t look at the other team’s won-loss record. In the end I think that attitude could pay off with something special down the road.”