Football: Solid start fuels Pope John Paul II's hopes for turnaround season




That’s all it took for Pope John Paul II to match its entire win total from the school’s inaugural 2010 football campaign.

The Golden Panthers got off on the right foot last Saturday in Reading with an impressive 32-21 victory over Berks Catholic behind a multi-dimensional offense and a suffocating defense that held the Saints without a first down in the second half until the PJP reserves took the field late in the fourth quarter.

“We played well, especially in the second half,” said PJP coach Mike Santillo. “We turned it up a notch, shut them down and got the offense going. We put it all together.”

Putting it all together was a major stumbling block for the Golden Panthers last season. PJP allowed 40 points per game and averaged just 81 yards rushing to finish 1-8 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference and 1-9 overall.

Those problematic areas were addressed Saturday when the Golden Panthers controlled both sides of the ball, posting a 419-328 advantage in total offense. The running attack – with John Cherneskie gaining 88 of PJP’s 159 yards on the ground – finally caught up to a lethal passing attack that delivered as expected.

Quarterback David Cotellese, who threw for 1,515 yards last season, picked up where he left off in 2010 by racking up 260 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Jared Seijk was on the receiving end of all three of those scores, finishing with six catches for 172 yards and touchdowns of 50, 42 and 26 yards.

But it was the revamped ground attack that gave Santillo the biggest boost.

“We feel like we have to run the football to be successful,” Santillo said. “That will help us control the clock and manage the game. It wasn’t just one guy, we have other options. The line really played well – all five guys.”

It was a cohesive effort by a group that includes center Eric Giacomucci, tackles Jake Kopchuk and Ryan Ignatovig and guards Josh Bildstein and Chris DiLeva. Cotellese was sacked just once, and the improved rsuhing attack, coupled with Cotellese’s lethal left arm, gave the Saints fits all afternoon.

On the other side of the football, PJP was just as effective. Jacob Gribb, who caught two passes for 51 yards from his tight end position, finished with seven tackles and a sack to key the Golden Panthers’ defensive turnaround.

“The second half we forced a ton of three-and-outs,” Santillo said. “That helped give us the short field.”

With less real estate to negotiate, the Golden Panthers rattled off 20 unanswered points after intermission to turn a 14-12 halftime deficit into a comfortable 32-14 cushion.

That first win – which took five weeks to achieve last season when PJP edged Pottstown 33-32 on Oct. 9 – was officially in the books.

Santillo isn’t about to get carried away by the dazzling debut. The Golden Panthers coach is taking the victory for what it is – one win in a long season. PJP should get a better handle of how that long season will unfold when it hosts perennial PAC-10 powerhouse Pottsgrove Saturday at 2 p.m. in the league opener.

The Falcons took a major hit when they lost elite skill players and Division I recruits Terrell Chestnut and Maika Polamalu to graduation, but Rick Pennypacker’s cupboard isn’t exactly bare.

“They lost those two guys but they’re still a solid football team,” Santillo said of the Falcons, who opened their season last Friday with a 27-20 non-league setback to Norristown. “They’re huge up front and they have a ton of speed.

“This will be one of nine litmus tests for us. It should give us a good idea of where we are.”

Exactly where they are is light years ahead of 2010.