EAST RUTHERFORD — St. Joseph and Holy Spirit high schools are located only 27 miles from each other.
But these Cape-Atlantic League programs traveled more than two hours to compete in the state Non-Public II championship football game at MetLife Stadium on Friday night.
“It was unbelievable,” Holy Spirit assistant coach Chalie Roman said. “At first, we were hesitant to drive this far to play a team that is 20 minutes away from us, but when you walk into this stadium, there is nothing like it.
“It’s a truly amazing experience.”
The top-seeded Wildcats (10-2) captured their second consecutive state title with a 41-22 victory over the second-seeded Spartans (8-4) on a damp night in the Meadowlands.
But Roman still enjoyed the atmosphere.
“We had an awesome and excellent experience,” said Suzie Roman, 70, of Absecon. “We would do it again anytime.”
Chalie Roman also had the support of his niece Sydney Errera and aunt El Sparkman. Chalie Roman, who graduated from Holy Spirit in 1987 and was the Spartans’ head coach from 2008 to 2011, was not surprised his family made the trip.
“They don’t miss a game,” said Roman, who also is the boys lacrosse coach at Holy Spirit. “It doesn’t matter if it’s at MetLife or at Atlantic City or at Pleasantville. So it was a great experience for them, too.”
It was a family affair for most coaches and players, including St. Joseph standout running back Jada Byers, who rushed for 96 yards and had 115 receiving yards with three touchdowns in the Wildcats’ win.
Joe Bryant and Kevin Watson, his uncles, were among a large group wearing black or gray sweatshirts that depicted the 5-foot-7, 160-pound Byers running with the football.
The long commute was not an issue for the adamant supporters of No. 3.
“It was absolutely not an inconvenience at all,” said Bryant, 49, of Bridgeton. “We would travel cross country to watch Jada perform.”
Byers, who finished the season with a program record 1,741 yards rushing yards, said his dream is to play in the NFL.
“I think this is inspirational for the kids to play in a professional building,” said Watson, 40, of Bridgeton. “And (Jada) is just setting the table right now. He will be playing on Sundays.”
Byers said playing on the home field of the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets was great. His family made it that much more special.
“To be honest, I always had a big supporting cast, Byers, 16, said. “My friends and family always have my back and have always been there for me.”
With Byers having one more season with St. Joseph, Bryant and Watson said they would make the trip north again.
Other fans said they also would be glad to see the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association bring back the state championship games to MetLife again next year.
“I think it’s a good idea they decided to have it in a professional stadium, said Lisa Strecker, 42, of Absecon. “It’s a great experience for the kids to get to play here.”
Strecker was with her family supporting her son, Holy Spirit freshman quarterback Eric Strecker Jr.
Bridgeton residents Bill and Bessie Ambros, attending for grandson and St. Joseph freshman Cohl Mercado, boarded a bus Friday afternoon with other fans and said they would do it again.
“No doubt about it,” Chalie Roman said. “This is a memory of a lifetime for these kids.”