Call it a hunch before the game, or a great defensive strategy.
But whatever way you decide to slice it, the results from last Friday night’s Pioneer Athletic Conference game between Upper Perkiomen and visiting Pope John Paul II spoke volumes.
In the end, it was the Indians who fell behind early, then racked up 30 unanswered points to stun PJP, 30-7 for a much-needed victory.
Running back John Olson, who rushed 30 times for 162 yards, said he and his fellow Indian teammates felt confident despite being tabbed underdogs.
“We felt like we were going to have a good game all day,” Olson said. “We felt it in school and just felt like something good was going to happen. This was our best game so far.”
To combat the Panthers’ passing game, Upper Perk defensive coordinator Tom Paul chose to play a man-to-man defense with a safety over top to help out. The strategy paid off from the start, as PJP’s wide receivers were knocked off their routes early and couldn’t get enough separation to stay away from Indian safety Jesse Freer (interception, three pass break-ups).
The Golden Panthers, who came into the game victorious four out of their last five games, were averaging over 225 yards passing and over 24 points per game. They came into Friday night’s game already guaranteed a spot in the District 1-AAA playoffs as the No. 7 seed by virtue of their 4-4 league and 5-4 overall record.
PJP features one of the area’s best quarterbacks in David Cotellese and a stable of wide receivers, any of whom can get open at any time.
But not against the Indians (3-5, 4-6). Cotellese completed just 9 of his 31 attempts for 125 yards, exactly 100 yards off his average. PJP wasn’t successful on the ground, either, rushing for just 55 yards for a 180-yard output.
“The way our defense played was just phenomenal, and the game ball went to our defensive coordinator Tom Paul,” Upper Perk head coach Keith Leamer said. “They haven’t been shut down like that all season. For our guys, that’s what I’ve been looking for all season.”
Olson’s effort on the ground was aided by fullback Dalton Fleming (five carries, 125 yards, TD), who also went over the century mark thanks to an 82-yard score late in the fourth quarter.
And the defense, easily in its best showing of the year, got all kinds of solid contributions. Devon Moll notched a sack early in the fourth quarter, and then scooped up a loose ball forced by Fleming and raced 48 yards for the touchdown. James Clingman also added a drop of Cotellese, as the latter was never comfortable in the pocket.
Fleming led the defense with five tackles, and Jody Peart had four as David Weller helped out with three. Marshall Henry had a pair of tackles for a loss, as Matt Beidler and Bradley Heckler had one each. Devyn Kerr broke up a pair of passes, Robert Brett turned away one and Kyle Fox broke up a pass and recovered a fumble.
Upper Perk got off to a slow start, turning over its first two offensive possessions. PJP responded after the latter, using a 2-yard run to account for its only score. Junior quarterback Dylan Wesley evened things up after a two-yard sneak in the third quarter, followed by a 28-yard field goal from Elijah Bartholomew in the fourth. Moll’s fumble recovery followed, and Aidan Schaffer kept the momentum going as he returned a punt 72 yards across the goal line after a nice cutback from the sideline to midfield. Fleming made the rout official with his scoring run with 3:43 left.
“It was a great effort by our kids,” Leamer said. “It still technically wasn’t a complete game, and I’m still not satisfied, but we scored on defense, kicked a field goal and scored on special teams – it was just a great job by the kids and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Upper Perk will look to take the momentum in tomorrow night’s non-league home game against Upper Merion. The Vikings are 0-6, 0-9 overall and have faced two common opponents in Methacton (35-11 loss) and Upper Moreland, who defeated the Vikings 21-7 last Friday night.