Falcons Defense and Ground Game Combine to Shut Down Lions, 10-6
SPARTA, NJ – For the second straight year, St. Joe’s pulled a stunner on the eve of the Non-Public A seeding. Last year, St. Joseph’s rallied to score a last-minute touchdown to defeat Pope John of Sparta at Brenner Family Field, 21-20. On Saturday, St. Joe’s jolted Pope John again. The Falcons traveled up to Sussex County to deflate the idea that last year’s win was a fluke.
The Falcons’ defense and ground game combined to shut down the Lions, 10-6 in front of a stunned crowd of Pope John fans, and a raucous and rowdy bunch of St. Joe’s fans at Pope John XXIII High School. Coming into the contest, Pope John averaged 31 points per game and had scored at least 40 points in three of its 7 wins. The Lions had recently defeated the 2022 Non-Public B state champion, DePaul of Wayne.
St. Joseph’s put together a balanced offensive attack. Senior QB, Daniel DeGennaro completed 7 of 13 passes for 154 yards including a 45-yard TD pass to Jeremy DeCaro in the third quarter to break a scoreless tie. DeGennaro also didn’t throw any interceptions and managed the game well. The Falcons’ ground game rushed 42 times as a team for a total of 181 yards, or about 4.3 yards per carry.
Jahcir Styles, the team’s leading rusher, led the Falcon ground attack with 21 carries for 89 yards. Jason Ridges Jr. chipped in with 7 rushes for 52 yards while DeCaro added 10 carries for 39 yards. DeCaro, who set up the game-winning scoring play by picking off a Pope John pass just moments before, also had 4 receptions for 85 yards. DeCaro also had a solid punt return on special teams and collected 4 total tackles in addition to his key interception.
The steady pounding of the ground game from the likes of DeCaro, Styles, and Ridges allowed Joes’ defense to rest by keeping Pope John’s potent offense off the field. The defense took advantage of the rest by containing Pope John’s offensive weapons. The Falcons intercepted three passes by the Lions. Two of the interceptions led to scores as Falcon placekicker, Tyler Huseth connected on a 29-yard field goal to give St. Joe’s a 10-0 lead.
Against the ropes, Pope John needed to get on the board quickly. The Lions got the ball in the hands of star running back, Tylik Hill, who took a Chris Dietrich handoff, swept out to the right side toward the Pope John sideline, and proceeded to scamper up it for a touchdown. Then, St. Joseph’s special teams came up with a huge play by blocking the extra point to maintain a four-point lead at 10-6.
All of the scoring occurred in the third quarter. Pope John showed signs of life late in the fourth when the Lions recovered a St. Joseph’s fumble that halted a solid drive that consisted of solid runs by Styles, Ridges, and DeCaro to take considerable time off the clock. In the end, Pope John wasn’t able to take advantage of the miscue. Instead, the Falcons’ defense stopped the Lions on downs and got the ball back to finish out the game.
Although the game was scoreless at the half, the Falcons dominated much of the first 24 minutes. Not only did Joes have the only scoring opportunity of the first half late in the second quarter, but the tandem of its ground game and its defense controlled the tempo and style of the contest. A key to the defense was the efforts of the defensive backs DeCaro, Ashton Irving, and Elias Scott broke up numerous passes to Pope John’s talented receiving corps of Charlie Mulligan, Wes Johnston, Joseph Rozynski, and sophomore Prince Joshua.
Scott led the team in total tackles with 6 while Styles and Irving chipped in with 5. Javon Hudson also contributed with 4.5 tackles while Jason Gross got the team’s only sack in the first quarter. Irving and Scott also contributed to the Falcons’ passing attack. Irving caught 2 passes for 44 yards including one of 25 yards in the first period that put Joes in Pope John’s territory for the first time in the game. Scott’s only catch was a huge 25-yard reception in the fourth quarter that allowed St. Joe’s to continue milking the clock.
With the win, St. Joseph’s improved its winning streak to six consecutive games. The Falcons are now 7-2 overall on the 2023 season and earned the 6th seed in the upcoming NJSIAA Non-Public A Playoffs. St. Joseph’s will host Seton Hall Prep in the opening round at Brenner Family Field in Metuchen next Saturday at 1:00 PM. Pope John fell to 7-3 overall with the loss and received the 7th seed and a first-round match-up with 10th-seeded Don Bosco Prep in Sparta next weekend.
St. Joseph’s also moved up the rankings in the latest Big Central Gridiron Top 10. The Falcons, which were ranked 8th a week ago, moved up to 6th in the poll. St. Joe’s is also ranked third in the latest BCG Middlesex County Top 10.