POTTSTOWN >> The Pope John Paul II football team’s 4-0 start was one of the feel-good stories of the non-conference season in the Pioneer Athletic Conference, but the Golden Panthers knew better than to get excited before conference play began.
After Friday’s 38-13 win over Pottstown in the Frontier Division opener, it’s safe to say the Golden Panthers are… still not getting particularly worked up.
“We have a pretty mature group, and we talk about it after every game — ‘We’re on to the next game,’” said PJP head coach Rory Graver. “It’s the key to our success.”
“It’s exciting,” admitted AJ Natale, the junior running back who paced PJP’s attack with 139 yards rushing and a pair of scores, “but we don’t let it get us too crazy. We don’t think 5-0 is ‘good enough’ by any stretch.”
The game, like Graver’s and Natale’s reactions, was quiet in the early going. The officials were the story in the first quarter, as both teams had long plays called back. For PJP, a quick-hitting pass gained 56 yards to the Pottstown 9, but came back on an illegal shift.
On the ensuing drive, a hold nullified a 60-yard pass from Owen Morton to Jamal Adams that would’ve given the Trojans a 7-0 lead.
The teams exchanged punts before PJP drew a personal foul penalty that gave them a first down at the Pottstown 20. AJ Natale did the rest, running off tackle and using a cutback lane to walk untouched into the end zone for the evening’s first points. After a Mike Ronca sack ended Pottstown’s drive, Natale let the right side of his line shine, utilizing a huge hole for a 44-yard gain to the Trojans’ 16.
PJP quarterback Matt DeLaurentis finished the drive on a sneak, putting PJP ahead 14-0 at the break.
Offensively, the nullified Morton-to-Adams TD would have been the lone bright spot for Pottstown in the first half. The duo connected for a pair of first downs before halftime, but an ill-timed intentional grounding penalty pushed the Trojans out of scoring range.
“I told the players, too many mistakes and it’s hard to compete against tough teams in close games when you make those mistakes,” summarized Pottstown coach Mark Fischer.
At the half, PJP coaches stressed the need to assert their will with the opening possession of the third quarter. It’s safe to say the Golden Panthers accomplished their goal, with Natale carrying six times for 48 yards before giving way to Jake Bildstein, who carried it in from 17 yards to widen the lead to 21-0. A low snap on a punt set up PJP’s next score — a 5-yard plunge from Bildstein.
In all, Natale, Bildstein and quarterback Matt DeLaurentis combined for exactly 300 total rushing yards and all five PJP scores on the evening.
“Our offensive line is clicking — Brandon Snyder, our center, plus Rick Garofolo, Mike Ronca, Denver Francis, Nick Galbraith… they’re really clicking, our backs are finding the holes. It all starts up front.”
For the Trojans, Jamal Adams was the story, accounting for 148 of the team’s 212 total yards including a 42-yard TD catch from quarterback Owen Morton to get Pottstown on the board late in the third quarter. Adams would add a 69-yard catch in the waning minutes, setting up Morton’s two-yard keeper to close out the scoring. He also contributed an extra point after his touchdown.
“Jamal’s our playmaker, and we try to get the ball in his hands as much as possible,” said Fischer. “He makes things go.”
For Pottstown, it was only the second home game since the re-addition of lights at Grigg Memorial Stadium — a fact not lost on Coach Fischer.
“For these guys, it’s been their first chance to play under the lights for this school, this community, on Friday nights — and there’s nothing better.”
This Friday night, however, belonged to the Golden Panthers, who return to action next Thursday night against Phoenixville.
The short week presents some preparation challenges, to be sure, but PJP’s not worried — they’re already onto the next game.