Football notebook: There's no masking PJP's impressive run at district berth

By DAVE KURTZ

pac-10sports.com

PHOENIXVILLE - Mike Santillo was wearing a mask, which was no surprise considering it was Halloween Night.

“We didn’t even discuss the (importance) of this game last week at practice,” said Santillo, Pope John Paul II’s football coach . “Since the Pottstown game, we’ve been taking it one game at a time. We want to try to maintain the same emphasis and stay on an even keel.”

Trick or treat, mirage or reality? Whatever the approach – it seems to be working for the Golden Panthers, who bolstered their District One Class AAA playoff hopes with a critical 27-14 victory over Boyertown Monday in a makeup contest at Washington Field.

PJP has erased an 0-3 PAC-10 start by winning four of its last five and now holds the seventh seed in the eight-team district playoff field. Upper Perkiomen looms on the horizon Friday night, and the Panthers are taking nothing for granted.

Quarterback David Cotellese and his deep stable of sure-handed receivers have been the linchpins of the turnaround. Cotellese moved within 85 yards of reaching the 2,000-yard passing plateau Monday, throwing for 228 and a pair of scores. Jacob Gribb topped the charts with seven receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown, but Jared Siejk (5-55), Jamel Stinson (2-35, TD) and Matt Bildstein (4-31) also contributed to the aerial show.

“Cotellese makes things happen,” said Boyertown coach Mark Scisly after the Bears fell to 1-6, 3-6. “He can turn busted plays into big plays.”

Cotellese has been able to find gold in a tin mine. He has become a master at averting disaster – but he hasn’t accomplished his Houdini Act without a lot of help from his teammates.

The PJP offensive line – which includes tackles Jake Kopchuk and Ryan Ignatovig, guards Josh Bildstein and Chris DiLeva and center Eric Giacomucci – has rounded into form after a shaky start. All but Ignatovig and Giacomucci are underclassmen.

“We’ve been beating up our offensive linemen for eight weeks now,” said Santillo. “Three of the five are underclassmen. They’ve gotten tougher, and they’re doing a great job with pass protection.”

While it’s not exactly Secret-Service level protection, Cotellese is no longer in run-for-your-life mode on every play.

“I’m getting a lot of time to throw, and that makes me more effective,” said Cotellese. “We prefer to pass first, and I have confidence in my offensive line.”

That confidence carries over to the other side of the football, where PJP has taken major strides after allowing 40 ppg during its 2010 campaign. Monday night, the Golden Panthers limited Boyertown’s vaunted power game to 153 rushing yards – 135 below the Bears’ season average.

“Our defense played great,” said Gribb, who also plays defensive end. “Our defensive coordinators Coach (Brian) Kennedy and Coach (Bill) Baker deserve a lot of the credit.

“We did a great job on the defensive line and the linebackers and defensive backs were filling the gaps and running downhill.”

Peak efficiency

Pottsgrove, which currently holds the No. 1 ranking in the District One-Class AAA playoff race, appears to be peaking at just the right time.

Special teams, offense, defense, you name it - the Falcons had everything working last week  in a 34-6 thumping of Perkiomen Valley.

“We had a hell of a game on both sides of the ball,” said coach Rick Pennypacker after Pottsgrove improved to 7-2 overall and 7-1 in the PAC-10. “I was especially happy with the defense. The linebackers played well and the secondary covered well. The defensive coaches did a good job with the game plan and the young kids continue to improve. We start four sophomores on defense, and they all played well.”

The rapid maturation of sophomores Anthony Pond (NG), David Bieleski (DT), Marquis Barefield (DB) and Jalen Mayes (DB) has enabled the Falcons to expand their defensive package.

“We’d been used to seeing them in a 5-2, but they gave us more of an even front,” said PV coach Scott Reed, whose injury-depleted club was limited to five first downs and 78 total yards of offense. “We knew their offense was going to be good, but their defense was just as good.”

Pottsgrove senior two-way standout D.J. Ludy was part of that shutdown defensive performance. Ludy, who returned the second half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown and added a 29-yard punt return to set up another score, liked the way the Falcons tailored their approach to PV’s multiple formations and motion packages.

“We switched things up to deal with all the motion stuff,” said Ludy. “We needed this win. We want to stay home, get the home-field advantage for the playoffs.”

Pottsgrove will host Phoenixville, another qualifier in the District One-Class AAA field, Friday night at 7.

Numbers game

►First-place Spring-Ford, which has already locked up the first district playoff berth in school history, tops the PAC-10 charts in every conceivable team statistical category. The Rams (8-1, 7-0 league) are first in average points (39.0), points allowed (15.9), points differential (plus 23.1), total yards (373.9) and yards allowed (217.3) per game.

►In the individual categories: Spring-Ford’s Jarred Jones (120-1122, 9.4 ypc, 13 TDs) holds a narrow lead in rushing over Upper Perkiomen’s John Olson (181-1104, 6.1, 11) and Pottsgrove’s Mark Dukes (136-1045, 7.7, 9). Dukes is expected to miss Friday’s contest with Perkiomen Valley because of a severe ankle injury.

►Pope John Paul’s David Cotellese (137-247, 1915 yards, 21 TDs, 8 interceptions) and Spring-Ford’s Hank Coyne (95-154, 1364, 12, 5) top the passing charts, while Upper Perk’s Dylan Wesley and Pottstown’s Sage Reinhart have also both eclipsed the 1,000-yard passing milestone for the season.

►The PAC-10’s top four receivers are Spring-Ford’s Andrew Scanlan (44-695, 15.8, 9), Upper Perk’s Ronnie Gillespie (42-630, 15.0, 4) and Pope John Paul II’s Jared Siejk (35-596, 17.0, 6) and Jacob Gribb (36-557, 15.5, 6).