Pope John comes from behind to beat Sparta, 31-27
Pope John knows it is never out of a game as long as Noah Brown is on its side.
Brown, an Ohio State commit, caught two touchdown passes in the second half to help his team come from behind and defeat crosstown rival Sparta, 31-27, in a battle of unbeaten teams Saturday at Pope John in Sparta.
Sparta (4-1) led, 13-6, at halftime and kept Brown in check for the majority of the first half.
“Sparta was playing their best half of football that they could play,” Brown said. “It was a big game at our house. We knew we were going to get their best effort. I told my team at halftime that we took their best shot and were only down seven. I told them to stay focused and we would be alright in the second half.”
It was then that the packed house at Pope John saw a glimpse of why Brown was one of the most highly sought recruits in New Jersey.
Brown scored his first touchdown on a 25-yard pass from sophomore Sonny Abramson to cut Sparta’s lead to 20-18. Brown found the end zone again in the fourth quarter, taking a 4-yard check-down 87 yards to the end zone to give Pope John (5-0) its first lead, 24-20.
“We know that Noah is usually good for one or two of those big plays,” Pope John coach Brian Carlson said. “The key is to get him the ball. The defense did a good job trying to match him up, double-team him. But we knew we had to get him the ball one way or another. He did a great job, he’s a very quiet leader. He wanted to speak at halftime to the team and he did. He delivered a big-time message and the kids rallied. He’s really a special kid.”
Pope John saw its lead disappear as quickly as it came. On Sparta’s ensuing drive, Lucas Faria scored on a 2-yard run to help Sparta regain the lead, 27-24, with 7:17 left to play. Faria finished with 138 yards rushing and two TDs on 19 carries.
Pope John forced a three-and-out to get the ball back with three minutes left to play. Austin Bailey hauled in a 44-yard reception to help Pope John drive down the field. With 41 seconds left to play, Pope John faced a second-and-goal from the Sparta 4-yard line.
The team brought in Noah Merritt, a defensive tackle who has committed to Western Michigan, to be a lead blocker. But it was a ploy. Abramson pulled the ball back and hit running back Nick Esposito with a 4-yard pass in the end zone to put Pope John ahead, 31-27.
“It’s great to have Noah on the team,” Abramson said. “He always comes through. But we’re not a team of just Noah Brown, we’ve got lots of great athletes. We showed that on that last touchdown with Nick Esposito. We have a whole team of great players.”