Brown runs Pope John into Non-Public, Group 3 championship
For every carry, yard gained and tackle broken, Noah Brown saw the same image flash.
It was not a vision of a sectional title or any other accomplishment. The running back saw the scoreboard from two short weeks ago, when Delbarton handed Pope John its first loss of the season.
“Absolutely that was on my mind” Brown said.
Yesterday afternoon in Sparta, the senior rushed 28 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns and rallied Pope John, No. 11 in The Star-Ledger Top 20, to a 14-13 victory over No. 10 Delbarton in the semifinals
of the NJSIAA/Atlantic Health Non-Public, Group 3 playoffs.
“This is what all of the training is for, all of the squats, all of the everything,” said Brown, whose second-half TDs helped his team erase a 13-0 deficit. “Stats don’t matter, the bottom line is we’re going to MetLife.”
MetLife Stadium is one of five sites for the state finals the weekend of Dec. 6-8, when Pope John will face No. 1 St. Joseph of Montvale, which moved into the finals with a 28-7 victory over No. 8 Red Bank Catholic yesterday.
Early on, it did not appear that Pope John was going to leave Sparta.
Delbarton built a 13-0 lead in the third quarter thanks to 209 combined rushing yards from Robert Arancio and Josef Johnson.
Arancio, who rushed for 84 yards on 14 carries in the first half, entered the game dealing with various leg injuries and re-injured his ankle near the end of the first half. Johnson saw increased playing time in Arancio’s absence and broke off a 65-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, after Matt Oplinger's 1-yard run in the second quarter had given Delbarton a 7-0 lead.
“We had to stay focused,” Brown said. “It’s a 48-minute game.
No one play is going to win it. If we just kept plucking away we knew we’d pull through.”
With its high-flying passing game at a standstill — quarterback Sonny Abramson threw for just 57 yards — Pope John coach Brian Carlson turned to Brown and the run game.
Brown rushed just twice in the first half, but Carlson gave the Ohio State commit the ball 26 times in the third and fourth quarters.
“At the end of the day he’s the difference,” Carlson said. “We have a lot of great playmakers on this team, but Brown is the difference.”
His 10-yard run at the end of the third quarter pulled Pope John to within 13-7, then Brown rushed nine times for all 70 yards on the 10-play, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, which he capped with a 3-yard run with 4:51 left in the game.
“I told (Abramson) not to worry about it, I got him,” Brown said. “I told him I got him, my line’s got me and just put the ball in my hands and I’ll take care of it.”
Pope John advances it to its first sectional title game since 2000.
“This just feels great,” Brown said. “We’re going to Metlife. That was our goal coming in. I’m so excited.
“All of the hard work we’ve put in has paid off. I love this team, love my teammates. This entire thing
just feels great."