When Pope John travels to Delbarton’s Bill Regan Sr. Memorial Field on Saturday afternoon for a 1 p.m kickoff, it will be a game with many different angles.
For one, it will be a meeting of the two teams that already clinched Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference divisional championships this season. Pope John (7-1) has already nailed down the NJAC American Division crown, while Delbarton (7-1) has sealed its second straight NJAC National Division title.
It will also be a matchup of two programs that have become very familiar with each other over the last seven years, especially the last four campaigns – since the formation of the NJAC.
In the six games between the two, dating back to 2006, each team has won three times.
However, in 2009 and 2010, the Lions and Green Wave met each other in consecutive weeks, closing out the regular season and beginning play in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 3 bracket.
On Nov. 7, 2009, Delbarton won the regular season contest, 45-35. A week later on Nov. 14, the Lions turned the tide, upending the Green Wave, 28-21, in the state playoffs.
In 2010, it was more of the same. Pope John won the regular season finale, 34-3, on Nov. 6. A week later, on Nov. 13, the Lions won again, this time taking a 21-13 decision in the state playoffs.
The two teams kicked off the 2011 season, with the Green Wave dismantling the Lions, 45-16, in their lone get-together of the year.
While Pope John and Delbarton cannot face each other next weekend in the first round of the Non-Public Group 3 playoffs, because Delbarton is currently the top seed in the section and Pope John is second, they could very well lock horns once again as the state playoffs progress.
“I personally don’t like it,” said veteran Delbarton head coach Brian Bowers. “Last year, we opened up with Pope John, but they didn’t want to do that this year. So it is what it is. I’m not pleased with it.”
At this point, Bowers knows that there’s nothing that can be done about the quirk in scheduling.
“We just have to play this game and not worry about playing them later on,” Bowers said. “We can’t get involved with what might happen. We have to worry about the here and now.”
Brian Carlson is in his second year after replacing the late legendary Vic Paternostro at Pope John. In fact, the Green Wave presented Carlson with an unhappy coaching debut last year. So Carlson hasn’t been a part of the solid rivalry the two parochial powers have enjoyed since the formation of the NJAC in 2009.
“I don’t know about what we’ll face later on,” Carlson said. “All I know is that each week has its own individual flavor. We think this is a great challenge, facing a great team, a state-ranked team (Delbarton stands at No. 11 in one statewide football poll). I think this will be a good measuring stick of where we’re at right now. I can’t afford to look any further ahead.”
The Green Wave has won seven straight games in impressive fashion since losing the season opener to Paramus Catholic. In recent wins against West Morris, Morristown and Roxbury, Delbarton faced teams that predicate their offensive attack with the run first.
Facing Pope John, which features a spread passing attack, will be a different challenge.
“Pope John adds its own flavor to the spread,” Bowers said. “Not many of the teams that we play feature that. Their quarterback (freshman Sonny Abramson) looks like an excellent young player who has gotten better as the season has gone on.”
In the Lions’ 35-28 win over Mount Olive Oct. 27, young Abramson passed for 381 yards and four touchdowns.
“There are still times where it’s tough to think he’s only 14 years old,” Carlson said of Abramson. “Each week, we’ve added more to the offense and he’s mature enough to handle it. We haven’t lost sight of his age, but he doesn’t look that on the field and he doesn’t act that. He’s definitely developed each week.”
Carlson said that he made no bones about instituting the spread when he took over.
“We made it clear that no one should be surprised if we throw the ball 30 times,” Carlson said. “It creates problems for some teams, but Delbarton is well coached. We’re not going to catch them off guard with anything.”
Delbarton has been playing excellent defense of late, limiting good offensive teams like Roxbury, West Morris and Parsippany Hills to just one touchdown each.
“The kids are playing great defense right now,” Bowers said. “Our goal is to get 11 hats out to the ball. That’s what we stress each week and we work at that.”
Leading the defense has been linebacker Will Reynolds, who collects double digits in tackles each week. While Reynolds will more than likely play lacrosse at Princeton, his football stock has skyrocketed of late.
“He’s a tremendous defensive player with all the tools,” Bowers said. “He’s big and strong and makes all the plays.”
Reynolds heads a senior class that saw many who started as sophomores. That’s a huge plus, having such an experienced bunch. Running back Jamie White is another of those three-year varsity starters.
“They’re an exceptional group of guys,” Bowers said. “They’ve played a lot of varsity football together as sophomores and that doesn’t always happen. Maybe you get one sophomore who plays varsity. But these kids have all serves us well.”
The Lions also have an explosive running back in Noah Brown. The junior speedster has scored a touchdown every 7.2 times he touches the football.
“We know that they have a good team and they’re not going to beat themselves,” Carlson said. “We’ve been preaching that all week. The game should come down to whoever wins the turnover war.”
Here’s a look at this weekend’s other action, the final week of the regular season. The Sparta-Morristown game has already been canceled for this weekend and will not be made up.
Butler (7-1) at Pequannock (2-6), 7 p.m.: The Bulldogs, who will more than likely face Hasbrouck Heights in the opening round of the NJSIAA North 1, Group I playoffs, look to fine tune things against the Golden Panthers. This is a matchup of two excellent quarterbacks, namely Butler’s Chris Heredia and Pequannock’s Luke Foukas.
Kinnelon (5-3) at Boonton (2-6), 6 p.m.: Eric “Mookie” Clement and Sean Robbins of the Colts will look to gear up for the school’s first playoff appearance since 2008, facing the Bombers, who have fallen on tough times.
Kittatinny (3-5) at Jefferson (5-3), 7 p.m.: The Cougars continue their assault on .500 and will look to take care of the Falcons, who had an extra week to get over the 55-7 thumping that Hoboken laid on them two weeks ago. The Falcons will be the No. 8 seed in North 1, Group III.
Lenape Valley (7-1) at Hanover Park (6-2), 7 p.m.: Both teams have already qualified in North 2, Group II and could very well meet again next week in the first round of the state playoffs. If neither team gets any residual power points over the weekend, then this is the first round matchup, only at Lenape Valley
Morris Catholic (1-7) at North Warren (6-2), 7 p.m.: The Crusaders finally broke into the win column two weeks ago and what do they get as a reward? A meeting with the playoff-bound Patriots, secure in North 1, Group II, in Blairstown. Not easy.
Parsippany (1-7) at Dover (3-5), 7 p.m.: The Red Hawks finally got into the win column three weeks ago against Sussex Tech. The Tigers are playing much better of late for first-year head coach Roger Kotlarz, winning three of their last four and the lone loss was a heartbreaker to perennial playoff power Lenape Valley.
Randolph (5-3) at Morris Knolls (2-6), 7 p.m.: The Rams, headed for a North 1, Group V berth, try to bounce back from the double OT loss to Parsippany Hills two weeks ago. The Golden Eagles lost that 58-38 barnburner to Sparta two weeks ago.
Roxbury (7-1) at Mount Olive (5-3), 7 p.m.: The Gaels are headed to the North 1, Group IV and will get a home game in the first round. The Marauders are headed to the same bracket, but will venture to a first-round road game.
West Morris (4-4) at Vernon (4-4), 7 p.m.: The loser of this game will head to its respective state playoff game with a losing record. Both are already in: West Morris in North 2, Group IV and Vernon in North 1, Group IV, more than likely Roxbury’s first-round foe.
Chatham (0-8) at Morris Hills (4-4), 1 p.m.: Neither of these teams is headed to the postseason, although there’s something unfair about the Scarlet Knights’ explosive offense not making the state playoffs.
High Point (0-8) at Parsippany Hills (6-2), 1 p.m.: The winless Wildcats have a tough foe in the North 2, Group III contending Vikings, who may be able to rest a lot of people after the first half of this one.
Montville (2-6) at Mendham (2-6), 1 p.m.: In this battle of two-win teams, you would figure it’s just for pride, right? Wrong. The Minutemen will take that record to the state playoffs. They would much rather be 3-6 going to the North 2, Group IV playoffs than 2-7.
Newton (2-6) at Madison (7-0), 1 p.m.: The Dodgers will look to improve the state’s longest winning streak to 33 while locking up the top seed in North 2, Group II, a bracket the Dodgers have won for the last two years. Newton will get a nice consolation game after this one.
Whippany Park (3-5) at Mountain Lakes (8-0), 1 p.m.: The Wildcats got a nice win two weeks ago against Boonton, but they are a huge underdog to the undefeated Lakers, who head to yet another state playoff with a title in mind, although this year, the Herd is in the same North 2, Group II bracket with Madison and Lenape Valley.