Falcons and Lions Tune-Up for the Non-Public A Playoffs Starting Next Week
SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – On Saturday, regular season play will conclude on the Non-Public school side. Tuning up for the Non-Public A playoffs, which are set to begin next weekend, St. Joseph’s will travel up to Sussex County in Northwest Jersey to take on Pope John XXIII of Sparta.
Both teams played on the final weekend of the regular season a year ago, and St. Joe’s won 21-20. Both teams are even better this year. The Falcons, which were only .500 at 5-5 in 2022, are already 6-2 with both losses coming by a total of just 15 points. Meanwhile, Pope John enters the contest at 7-2 overall and with a Super Football Conference United White Division title under its belt after going 4-6 last year.
The Lions’ two losses were to Cardinal Hayes of New York and arch-rival, Delbarton. Delbarton is currently 7-1 with its only loss to Malvern Prep of Pennsylvania (20-17). The defeat to Cardinal Hayes (40-34) was just by 6 points while the setback to Delbarton (30-6) was Pope John’s lowest point total and worst loss of the year.
Meanwhile, St. Joseph’s lost to Somerville (28-20) and Union (22-15). Union knocked off 4th-seeded Ridgewood (35-30) in the opening round of the North Jersey Section 1 Group 5 playoffs on Friday night. Somerville is scheduled to take on Manasquan in the South Jersey Group 3 opening round on Saturday afternoon in Manasquan.
Entering the contest, Pope John has outscored its foes 272-188 on the season, or by an average of about 30-21 per contest. Meanwhile, St. Joseph’s has outscored its opponents by a margin of 209-132, or by an average of about 26-17 per game.
Pope John has no shutouts this season and had a forfeit win over Hudson Catholic a week ago. Hudson Catholic had to suspend its program due to season-ending injuries and a depleted roster according to NJ.com earlier this season. St. Joseph’s has one shutout win over New Brunswick in Week 1.
Pope John has two wins where it allowed no more than 8 points. In Week 0, the Lions defeated Newark Collegiate (47-8) in Sparta. Last month, Pope John traveled down to the Torpey Complex in Bridgewater and defeated Immaculata 45-6 in an SFC crossover.
On the other side, St. Joseph’s has allowed at least 14 points in 7 of its 8 games. However, in three out of the past four weeks, Joes has not allowed more than 14 points, and the result was wins. The Falcons are currently on a five-game winning streak. The Lions have won four of their last five.
On offense, St. Joe’s has scored more than 26 points in four of its six wins this season. However, three of those wins have come in the last three games. Over the past three contests, the Falcons are averaging 34.3 points per game, which is over a touchdown per game higher than their average on the season.
Joes has scored almost half of its points this season (103) in just the past three games. Two of those wins came against ranked teams in the Big Central Gridiron Top 10 in currently 9th ranked Watchung Hills (26-21) and Summit (42-14). Meanwhile, Pope John has been more prolific on offense. The Lions have scored more than 4 points per game higher than the Falcons and scored at least 31 points in 6 of its 7 victories.
Included in those six wins are three victories where the Lions scored at least 45 points: Newark Collegiate, Immaculata, and Paramus Catholic (47-40). St. Joseph’s has tallied 1,351 yards on the ground and 963 yards in the air for a total of 2,314 yards of offense, or an average of 289.3 yards per game.
Pope John, on the other hand, has 1,049 yards on the ground and 1,387 yards in the air for a total of 2,436 yards of offense. The Lions have scored 17 yards on the ground and another 14 through the air for a total of 31 offensive scores. The Falcons have scored 14 TDs on the ground, and just 8 through the air for a total of 22 offensive TDs.
Pope John is led at QB by former Bernards standout, Chris Dietrich, who has completed 115 passes in 183 attempts for 1,353 yards and 13 TDs versus 8 interceptions. Dietrich has also rushed 24 times for 51 yards and another score.
Junior RB, Tylik Hill is a potent weapon for the Lions with 117 carries for 859 yards and 11 TDs. Hill has also caught 17 passes for another 163 yards and three more scores. Hill also stars in the return game with 7 kickoff returns for a total of 248 yards including a 96-yard return for a TD in the win over Seton Hall Prep on September 2nd. He is averaging 9.0 yards per touch this season.
In addition to Dietrich and Hill, the Lions also have senior wideout Charlie Mulligan. Through the Lions’ first 9 games, Mulligan leads the team in receiving with 29 receptions for 373 yards and 4 TDs. Mulligan is averaging 12.9 yards per catch this season.
Pope John also has three other weapons in its passing game arsenal: Wes Johnston (17 catches for 259 yards and 2 TDs), Joseph Rozynski (21 catches for 286 yards), and sophomore Prince Joshua (13 receptions for 111 yards and a TD). Tyler Houser does a lot of dirty work as the fullback in the Lions offense while rushing 17 times for 52 yards and 3 TDs. Houser also ranks second on the defense with 74 total tackles including 49 solos, 15.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
Senior DB, Joey Walton leads the team in tackles with 78 including 59 solos, 12 for loss, and 3 sacks. Zac Cusick, the backup QB, contributes in all phases of the game for the Lions. On offense, Cusick has rushed 6 times for 30 yards while collecting 52 total tackles on defense along with a kick block. Cusick has 34 solo tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack.
Then, on special teams, Cusick has returned 6 kickoffs for a total of 108 yards, or an average of 18 yards per return. Linebacker Sir Paris Jones contributes on both offense and defense with 57 total tackles including 28 solos, 16 for loss, and 7 sacks while catching 2 passes for 57 yards. Johnston is also a key contributor on defense with 50 total tackles including 30 solos, 6 for loss, and 2 sacks as well as a kick block.
Senior Jack Morgese handles the placekicking duties for Pope John. Through the Lions’ first 9 games, Morgese has connected on 6 of his 8 field goal attempts including a season-long of 52 yards in the 33-20 victory over Seton Hall Prep in Week 1.
Morgese also kicked a 50-yard field goal in the win over Paramus Catholic in Week 2. In addition, Morgese has also converted 28 of 29 extra points. Junior Omar Daniel has also contributed to the kicking team for Pope John with an extra point. St. Joseph’s has managed to be successful despite losing several to graduation from a year ago and linebacker, Christian Magliacano, who transferred up Plainfield Road in Edison to St. Thomas Aquinas. The Falcons are led by senior RB and DB, Jeremy DeCaro, who is also a standout basketball player for the Falcons.
Through the first 8 games, DeCaro has rushed 46 times for 299 yards and 5 TDs. He has also caught 36 passes for another 635 yards and 8 TDs. DeCaro has even thrown the ball with one completion in two attempts for 21 yards. The Milltown native also has helped out on defense on special teams.
DeCaro has 31.5 total tackles including 22 solos, 3 for loss, and a sack. He also has forced a fumble and recovered one as well as intercepted a pass and returned that for a touchdown. DeCaro has also returned three kickoffs for an average of 41.3 yards including a 70-yard return for a score in the win over Summit last week.
A fierce competitor, DeCaro is no stranger to playing quarterback either for the Falcons. Last year with current QB Daniel DeGennaro out of the game in the fourth quarter against Pope John, DeCaro piloted the plane and flew it successfully by completing the game-winning drive with a TD pass for Tyler Colonna for the 21-20 upset win.
DeCaro finished with 5 of 6 completions for 76 yards and the winning score. Over the past two seasons, DeCaro has averaged 4.8 points per game for the Falcons on the hardwood including a 5.5 per game scoring average to help last year’s hoops team reach the 2022 Non-Public A South Final.
Back to DeGennaro, the senior signal-caller has completed 62 of 99 passes for 942 yards and 8 TDs versus 6 interceptions. In addition, DeGennaro has also rushed 32 times for another 181 yards and two more scores. Seniors Jason Ridges Jr. and Jahcir Styles also contribute a great deal to the Falcon ground game.
Ridges has rushed 65 times for 296 yards and 3 TDs while Styles leads the Falcons in rushing with 78 carries for 424 yards and 3 TDs. Junior tight end Ashton Irving has helped the passing attack with 12 catches for 180 yards. Elias Scott is the Falcons leading tackler with 44 total tackles including 28 solos, 12 for loss, and a team-high 6.5 sacks. Javon Hudson also helps anchor the defense for St. Joe’s.
Hudson is currently 2nd on the team in total tackles with 33.5 including 24 solos, 6.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Hudson also has a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions. Both pick-offs have been returned for touchdowns. Helping out on special teams are Logan Graham (one kickoff return for 43 yards) and Jacob Pappas (one kickoff return for 18 yards).
Junior Tyler Huseth handles the place-kicking duties for St. Joseph’s. A placekicker since his freshman year, Huseth has improved considerably over his past two seasons. Through his first 8 games, Huseth has converted 6 of 10 field goal attempts and all 12 of his extra points for a total of 30 points on the season. Huseth’s longest field goal was a 44-yarder in the loss to Union.
St. Joseph’s had a similar challenge versus Summit last week. The Hilltoppers no-huddle offense came into last Saturday’s game averaging 41 points and scoring at least 40 points in 5 of their 6 wins. The Falcons limited Summit to just 14 points, and grounded an offense that had totaled nearly 2,100 yards on the ground, averaging 426.7 yards of total offense per contest to just a total of 187 yards including 101 on the ground. If Joes’ can similarly contain Dietrich and Hill, they have a shot to pull off another huge upset on the eve of the Non-Public A seeding meeting.
Prediction: St. Joseph’s wins, 24-21.