Defeating one of the top teams in the state once is no easy task.
Defeating the same team twice in two weeks is even harder.
That was assignment facing Delbarton on Saturday afternoon. But unlike two weeks ago, when the Green Wave contained Pope John’s Noah Brown and emerged with a victory, they could not stop the Lions star running back in the second half.
Brown rushed for two touchdowns to lead Pope John to a 14-13 come-from-behind victory in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinal.
The loss broke Delbarton’s nine-game winning streak. Pope John will face the winner of St. Joseph’s of Montvale and Red Bank Catholic.
“We knew it was going to be hard to come up here and beat them a second time in two weeks,” Green Wave coach Brian Bowers said. “We just couldn’t get it done.”
Delbarton held a 13-0 lead midway through the third quarter, but could not contain Brown in the second half. Brown, who carried the ball only two times in the first half, dominated the second half carrying the ball 26 times for 140 yards. Brown’s second touchdown, a 4-yard run with 4:51 left in the fourth quarter gave Pope John the lead. Brown finished the afternoon with 155 yards on 28 carries.
“When we were up in the third quarter, I thought we had it going, but it did not happen for us in the fourth quarter,” Bowers said. “Brown is a great football player and he played great in the second half.”
Brown. a Mount Olive resident who has verbally committed to Ohio State, also had a touchdown on a punt return in the first quarter called back due to a Pope John penalty for blocking in the back.
“It’s good to know we have Noah Brown,” Pope John coach Brian Carlson said. “We came out wanting to throw the ball but sometimes things don’t work out. We knew this game we were going to feature him because game eleven is a lot more important than game nine. He only touched the ball three or four times in the first game so he was going to get the ball today. In the second half, Noah controlled the game.”
Delbarton running back Robbie Arancio returned to the lineup after missing last week’s game against Monsignor Donovan due to a leg injury sustained against Pope John. In the first half Arancio carried the ball 14 times for 81 yards. Arancio’s running helped set up Matt Oplinger’s 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave Delbarton a 7-0 lead.
But Arancio had to leave the game late in the second quarter due to a leg injury and did not return.
Josef Johnson again replaced Arancio and rushed for 122 yards on 13 carries, including a 65-yard run in the third quarter that gave Delbarton a 13-0 lead.
“Joe Johnson is a stud,” Bowers said. “We knew he could run the ball and he stepped up for us in the second half.”
After Johnson’s touchdown run, Brown and Pope John answered right back. Delbarton looked to have Pope John stopped on the Green Wave 30-yard line as three passes by Lions quarterback Sonny Abramson were incomplete. On fourth-and-10, Abramson kept the drive alive with a 20-yard pass to Austin Bailey giving Pope John first-and-goal at the 10-yard line. Two plays later, Brown scored his first touchdown to cut Delbarton’s lead to 13-7.
Delbarton appeared to be in control on its next possession, but a holding penalty and then a sack of quarterback Guiseppe Bevacqua by Noa Merritt forced the Green Wave to punt.
“We made some mistakes and they capitalized,” Bowers said.
Taking over on the Lions’ 33-yard line, Brown carried the ball nine times for 67 yards, capping the drive with a 3-yard run up the middle to give Pope John the lead and eventually the victory.
“We just couldn’t make the plays in the second half, they made them and we didn’t, and I tip my cap to them,” Bowers said. “Our kids battled all the way. We did all the things we needed to do, but we came out on the short end. Our guys gave a great effort all season and I am proud of them.”
The loss ended Delbarton’s hope of returning to a state championship and giving the seniors a victory in their final game.
“I am so proud of the seniors, and all of my teammates,” Oplinger said. “We lost the past two years in the state championships, and our goal was to come back and win it this year, but we fell short. Hopefully the guys get some revenge next year.”
Pope John’s victory broke a three-game losing streak against the Green Wave. The last time Pope John defeated Delbarton was 21-13 on November 13, 2010.
|Pope John (10-1)||0||0||7||7||—||14|
D-Matt Oplinger 1 run (Jonathan Schaible kick)
D-Josef Johnson 65 run (Kick failed)
P-Noah Brown 4 run (Devyn Sevean kick)
P-Noah Brown 3 run (Devyn Sevean kick)