Saturday, December 1, 2018

St. Bernard's Outlasts Pope John In Shootout, Wins Division 8 Super Bowl

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

Foxboro, Mass. - Even during the waning minutes, there was still a smell of uneasiness among the St. Bernard's sideline. 

After John Smith-Howell bolted across the goal line for a 2 yard touchdown run, with 2:23 remaining to slice the Bernardians' lead to just three points, Pope John continued to hold out hope for a miracle finish.

Fortunately for the Bernardians, they recovered the on-side kick and moments later, Walter Morales scored from 35-yards with 1:57 left to secure a 46-35 St. Bernard's victory in Saturday's MIAA Division 8 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.

"This is amazing right now," said Morales, a junior running back who finished the season with 1,058 yards on the ground. "It's been blessing with this team. It's a true family. We got here and accomplished what we needed to do. We did this together as one and we all had each other's back."

With the triumph, St. Bernard's (12-1) captures its first Super Bowl crown since 1997. 

With both teams combining for 81 points, it marked the third highest total of points since Super Bowl play was inaugurated in 1972.

"This was a game in which we wanted to execute and boy did these kids execute today," 15-year Bernardians coach Tom Bingham said. "I think we are a pretty-good football team and we like to run downhill. We have a good offensive line up front and our running backs understand the system that we have in place. Pope John is a fantastic football team and they played hard throughout. This is our first true state championship in football and it feels absolutely fantastic."

In a game featuring prolific offenses, the Bernardians managed to out-gain the Tigers 330 to 296 in total offensive yardage. Neither defense was able to stop the other as the clock became to be the only adversary.

The Bernardians exhibited a balanced offense attack, in which six different players handled the ball. 

On the other hand, the Tigers (12-1) mainly relied on upstart running back John Smith-Howell to carry the offense. The sophomore rushed for 116 yards on 19 carries, finding the end zone twice and catching a pass for a score. Equally impressive for Pope John was quarterback Anthony Mejia. The senior completed 7 of 13 passes for 106 yards and three touchdowns.

Yet in spite the heroics put forth by the Tigers, the defense had no answers in how to contain St. Bernard's versatile backfield. Senior back Xavier Marty led the assault, collecting 105 yards on 15 attempts and a pair of scores. Morales gained 42 yards, resulting in a pair of  touchdowns while also catching one for a score. Quarterback Dom Cuevas completed 5 of 6 passes for 80 yards, throwing for one touchdown.

"We really planned for this all week," said Marty. "Especially with all of Pope John's fast players. Anytime they scored, we always seem to have a chance to bounce back and keep on going. We all put our hearts into this and were able to succeed. I'm really proud of everyone of these guys."

In a see-saw battle from start to finish, in which both clubs continued to trade touchdowns ad nauseam, the Bernardians clung to a 16-14 advantage at the half. 

St. Bernard's began the final half with an impressive four play drive capped off by a 39-yard scoring pass from Cuevas to Morales (2 catches for 51 yards). Cuevas' ensuing run had the Bernardians leading 24-14. 

But back came the Tigers on their next possession. A 16-yard run by Mejia led to a 26-yard touchdown catch by Jesus Rivera. After the conversion try failed, Pope John was down by four with 5:21 still left in the third. 

With another quarter still remaining to be played, the fireworks continued to surface. St. Bernard's increased its lead to 32-20 after a Marty six-yard sprint across the goal line with 6:28 showing. But moments later, Smith-Howell, taking a direct snap, bolted 55 yards untouched for the score. His follow-up conversion run now had the Tigers down 32-28 with just over six minutes to go. 

Yet the Bernardians quickly rebounded. A 51-yard scamper by Dom Valarea set the stage for a Morales 3 yard jaunt, upping St. Bernard's advantage to 38-28. W

With time quickly winding down, Pope John returned the favor once again on a Smith-Howell 2-yard carry that was ensued by Erik Flores' PAT. However the Tigers' magic eventually ran out after Morales found the end zone one final time to propel his team to victory. 

In his first season as Pope John coach, Paul Sobolewski did a remarkable job of turning the Tigers' fortunes around after going 2-6 a year ago, with only 13 players on the roster. Prior to that, the program had been shutdown for four years due to low participation numbers. In what has to be considered a masterful reclamation project, Sobolewski appears to have Pope John on the right track moving forward. 

"Give credit to St. Bernard's," Sobolewski said. "They were the first team this year to really stay with us and counter us. Sure this loss is tough right now but I feel we've started something positive here and we are building something special. We have a bunch of players coming back next year who will learn from this experience so we feel we have a good nucleus returning."

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