Football: Pope John Paul II bolsters playoff hopes with win over Boyertown


PHOENIXVILLE – The playoffs started early for Pope John Paul II Monday night at Washington Field.

Clinging to a share of the final spot for the upcoming District One Class AAA playoffs entering the weekend, the Golden Panthers knew that one slip-up, one dropped ball, one missed assignment could be fatal to their postseason plans.

“This was the first game of the playoffs, as far as we were concerned,” said PJP's two-way senior standout Jacob Gribb. “We knew we couldn’t afford to lose.”

The steep price of defeat never entered the mix.

Gribb hauled in seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, keying a potent passing attack that carried Pope John Paul II to a pivotal 27-14 Pioneer Athletic Conference conquest of dangerous Boyertown on Halloween Night.

David Cotellese orchestrated the pivotal victory, throwing for 228 yards and a pair of touchdowns and running for another as the Golden Panthers won their fourth game in five starts to keep the dream alive.

Doing his best impersonation of that other left-handed quarterback who wears No. 7, Cotellese made a pair of Vick-diculous throws to stake PJP to a 14-0 halftime lead. His perfect 4-yard toss to Jamel Stinson on a deep fade route with 3:33 remaining in the second quarter started the engine humming, and his 28-yard strike to Gribb in the left corner of the end zone on the final play of the first half really kicked the engine up to full throttle.

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The pair of TD strikes ended a tempestuous opening 24 minutes that saw Cotellese throw an interception on a first-and-goal play from the 3, right between two PJP drives that came up empty at Boyertown's 39- and 22-yard lines.

“This win was so big,” said Cotellese after PJP improved to 4-4 in the league, 5-4 overall. “We got the passing attack working quickly and it was effective. We look to pass first and we knew if we could keep our tempo, we could drive up and down the field. But the turnovers were killing us.”

The real kill-shot came at the start of the second half when the Golden Panthers recovered an onside kick at the Boyertown 35. Cotellese needed just four plays – including hookups of 23 and 11 yards to Gribb and Matt Bildstein – to reach the end zone. Bildstein scored on a one-yard plunge to provide a 21-0 lead with 10:28 remaining in the third quarter.

The Bears, who slipped to 1-6, 3-6, finally got on the board when Jared Von Dohren found the end zone from 2 yards out at the 1:33 mark of the period to cut the gap to 21-6. But Boyertown would get no closer.

“We weren’t coming off the ball very well, especially in the first half,” said Boyertown coach Mark Scisly, who ground-oriented attack was limited to 153 rushing yards, 135 below their season average. “We weren’t scoring any points.”

That deficiency proved fatal when Cotellese took PJP, which had turnovers on its previous two possessions, 56 yards in six plays for some insurance. Stinson’s 31-yard pass reception set the stage for another Cotellese impersonation of Michael Vick, the slippery Panthers QB covering the final 24 yards on three scrambles capped by a one-yard keeper for a 27-6 lead with 11:07 remaining.

It was as good as over, although Boyertown did manage to reach the end zone on Jon Neiman’s determined 2-yard TD run with 29.5 seconds left at the end of a 7-play, 66-yard march against PJP’s second-team defense.

“Our defense was phenomenal,” said Golden Panthers coach Mike Santillo. “Since the Pottstown (win), we’ve been taking it one game at a time. Whatever happens, we want to keep playing at one level and stay there.”

That elevated level has Pope John Paul II reaching up into the clouds, a trip to the mountain top completely within its grasp.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Gribb, the first 1,000-yard career receiver in the school’s short history. “I think we’re peaking at the right time.”

NOTES: The contest was originally scheduled for Saturday at PJP, but was moved to Monday at Phoenixville because of poor field conditions after the bizarre October snowstorm. The switch prompted another strange event - PJP hosting its Senior Night on the road … Boyertown lost starting offensive tackle Tyler Boggs to a knee injury midway through the first quarter. The extent of the injury was unknown … Neiman and Max Marcus, the Bears top rushing threats, were held to 85 and 51 yards rushing, respectively … PJP travels to Upper Perkiomen while Boyertown entertains Owen J. Roberts Friday night.