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Little-Depetrillo backfield powers Pope John Paul II past Upper Merion

Pope John Paul II’s TJ Boccella (17) celebrates after his sack of Upper Merion quarterback Zayd Etheridge on Saturday. (Owen McCue - MediaNews Group)

UPPER PROVIDENCE >> Salt and pepper, sugar and spice, bread and butter … some things just go together perfectly, be it by chance or design.

Pope John Paul II has such a combination in its offensive backfield; namely, Josh Little and Steele Depetrillo. The senior running backs are forming a formidable duo: Little the shifty speedster, Depetrillo the straight-ahead plowtruck.

They were at their complementary best Saturday, when PJP hosted Upper Merion with implications for the upper level of the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s Frontier Division. They played their own styles, in addition to contributing to other aspects of the Golden Panther game plan, to help forge a 39-6 win over the Vikings.

Little had touchdown runs of three and five yards in the second half, the high points of his 88-yard rushing day. He was also prominent in a passing game that got PJP (3-0 division, 5-2 PAC) out to a 20-point lead in the first half, hauling in six passes for 63 yards.

“I want to give it all for my team,” Little said. “I attack my routes, and (quarterback D.J.) Clarke got the ball to me.”

Depetrillo got the Panthers going on their first possession, catching a 16-yard pass from Clarke with less than 6-1/2 minutes left in the first quarter. He ended up with 66 all-purpose yards, rushing for 41 — the longest tote a 30-yarder up the middle early in the third quarter — and getting the other 25 on a pair of receptions.

“I consider myself a ‘3rd and short’ back, with speed and power,” he said.

Pope John Paul II’s Steele Depetrillo (2) breaks off a long run against Upper Merion on Saturday. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

Pope John Paul II running back Josh Little (9) is forced out of bounds on a rushing attempt Saturday against Upper Merion. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

Depetrillo displayed his speed in a different situation. Intercepting a pass by UM quarterback Zayd Etheridge at his 17, he outran the Vikings along the PJP sideline to the end zone, capping the day’s scoring with 7:20 left in the game.

“I wanted to give my body a rest on that play,” he explained, a contrast to the hard hits running at the Merion defense the better part of the afternoon.

“Steele is stepping up,” PJP head coach Rory Graver noted. “He complements Josh.”

The Little/Depetrillo collaboration was part of a greater teamwork displayed by the Panthers … one Graver has been seeking all season.

“It was a full-team effort,” he said. “In the past, we’d start slow and finish fast, or start fast and slow down. I challenged them to give a full-team effort.”



For Upper Merion (1-2, 3-3), the message in the post-game huddle is soul-searching at all levels.

“It’s tough,” head coach Davis Chubb said. “Obviously, we (coaches) didn’t prepare them well. That’s on us.

“We have to do a better job during the week getting ready in mindset and physical shape. The guys are better players than this.”

The Vikes’ one success at hitting paydirt came early in the second half. With PJP marching near midfield, Marcus Crittendon intercepted a Clarke pass and returned it to the Panther 15. Three plays later, Etheridge found Nolan Clayton at the other end of a 14-yard pass with 8:17 left in the third.

“That was a big response from a steady player,” Chubb said. “Crittendon made a huge play.”

Pope John Paul II’s Brent Mitala (5) and Brendan Kenning (23) celebrate Mitala’s touchdown catch Saturday against Upper Merion. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

Upper Merion quaterback Zayd Etheridge (5) reaches out as Pope John Paul II’s Steele Depetrillo (2) on Saturday. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

That was the brightest spot of the day for UM, which got into PJP territory only three other times. The one foray, set up by Crittendon recovering a blocked Panther punt attempt at the 39, ended two plays later with Little intercepting an Etheridge pass; another, on its last posession, ended on downs at the 37.

“Our defensive tackles, Nyzir Lake and Jacob Dobrowolski, were a big part of that,” Depetrillo said. “It’s our ‘next play’ mentality.”

Conversely, PJP was able to exploit Upper Merion’s “man” tendency on defense.

“In ‘man’ defense, a linebacker has to account for the running back,” Graver noted. “We like that matchup.”


Joe Pickell and Brent Mitala factored in the Panthers’ passing game, both catching TD tosses from Clarke. Pickell had a 46-yard connection late in the first quarter, and Mitala caught a 30-yard scoring pass about a half-minute before the first half ended.

Clarke (12-for-17, 183 yards) completed his first eight throws before missing. Behind Little, Pickell had two catches for 59 yards.

Defensively, PJP had a number of contributors outside the turnover-forcing of Little and Depetrillo. T.J. Boccella and Chase Frantz had sacks of Etheridge,  and Lake and M.J. Petro made key stops on UM rushes.

Having slipped out of the division-championship conversation, the Vikings now have games against Phoenixville and Pottstown on the horizon. They are looking to upgrade from the 2-3 mark they compiled in 2020’s pandemic-impacted, abbreviated season.

“We have to have a short memory,” Chubb said. “We have a tough week ahead.”

NOTES >> Pope John Paul II integrated two ceremonies into the afternoon of football. It conducted Senior/Parent Recognition Day for members of the football and cheerleading squads prior to the contest. At halftime, it inducted six individuals into its 2020 Legacy of Impact Hall of Fame class. … Two former coaching legends at St. Pius X, Ed Dobry (track & field) and Tom McGee (basketball), were inducted alongside Marusia Griffin Lynn, Chalres Heavey, Michele Murphyand Sandy Nadwodny. … Two other notable players on the UM defense were Jsun Hampton-Miller, who sacked Clarke in the first quarter, and Bradley Zielinski, who recovered a fumble at the beginning of the second quarter. … Etheridge, playing almost all the snaps behind center, completed 10 passes for 63 yards. His favorite target was Joseph Kovacic, with four catches covering 29 yards.

Pope John Paul II’s Joe Pickell (3) celebrates with teammate XXX (6) after Pickell’s touchdown catch Saturday against Upper Merion. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)



Upper Merion00606
Pope John Paul II14661339


Date Time League Season
October 9, 2021 1:00 pm PAC 2021

Upper Merion

Player Comp Att Yds TD Int. Rush Att. Rush Yds Rush TD Rec Rec Yds Rec. TD Sacks Def. Int XPM XPA FGM FGA
Alzere Thomas000000001-10000000
Brad Zielinski000000001-10000000
Brayden Marino000000001100000000
Joey Kovacic000003304290000000
Marcus Crittendon00000000180010000
Nolan Clayton000001001141000000
Qwynne Seals00000660140000000
Zayd Etheridge102963129120000000000

Pope John Paul II

Player Comp Att Yds TD Int. Rush Att. Rush Yds Rush TD Rec Rec Yds Rec. TD Sacks Def. Int XPM XPA FGM FGA
Boyd Skarbek000002160000000000
Brent Mitala000000001301000000
Derek Skarbek00000140000000000
DJ Clarke1721183319140000000000
Dominic DiBricida00000300000000000
Joe Pickell000001602591000000
Josh Little00000218826630010000
Logan Wesselt000001-10000000000
Steele Depetrillo0000074102251010000
Steve Rist00000000000004000



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