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Recap: Boston Cathedral 26, Pope John Paul II 22

ROXBURY, Mass. -– No shortage of mutual respect between the two of them, Cathedral coach Duane Sigsbury and Pope John Paul II coach John Muldoon held a long embrace at midfield moments after their thrilling battle concluded. Both sensed that there would be a second meeting in the playoffs between these two Catholic Central rivals, considered two of the finest squads across Division 6.

If there is to be a second meeting this fall, these teams will have their work cut out for them trying to match the late dramatics that unfolded in this one. Cathedral (4-0) escaped Jack Crump Field with a 26-22 win over the Lions (3-1) only after the latter’s last-second rally fell short as time expired.

“This was like another Super Bowl game,” said quarterback Jermal Brevard Jackson (28 carries, 150 yards, 40 passing yards, 2 TD), who has filled in terrifically for the hero of that D4A Super Bowl last fall –- junior Kejonte Hickman (knee) –- this first half of the season.

PJP quarterback Ryan Barabe (18-of-25, 279 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) hit receiver Billy Satkevich across the middle for a 26-yard completion, setting up first and 10 for the Lions at the Panthers 15 with seven seconds to go. PJP got its next snap off before the chain crew could officially get set, resulting in a delay of game penalty.

Officials initially signaled the game had ended, due to a 10-second run-off that accompanies a delay of game call in the college and professional ranks. However, the head official immediately reneged on the call, which caused confusion for a few moments as Cathedral players celebrated on the field. Barabe’s final attempt at a game-winner fell incomplete, and the Panthers were able to breathe easy.

That concluded what was a dramatic final 15 minutes of football. Like his star quarterback, Sigsbury compared this drama to last year’s Super Bowl title game, a double-overtime thriller over Madison Park, and it’s easy to see why.

PJP re-gained the lead with 1:23 to go in the third quarter, when immediately following a Thomas Cooper fumble recovery deep in the Panthers’ end, Barabe hit Brady Jones (seven catches, 137 yards, 3 TD) down the left seam on a post route for a 14-yard completion. On the two-point conversion, Cooper released to the near pylon as the front inside receiver in a bunch formation, and went uncovered for the east catch and 22-20 lead.

Justice Turner returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards down to the Lions’ 23, and four plays later he connected with Jackson for the score that gave Cathedral the lead for good. Facing fourth and 12 from the 25, Jackson hucked up a high floater as a linebacker pressure knocked him on his back; down at the far pylon, Turner was well-covered by cornerback Matt Soucie, but was able to wrestle the jump ball away from him as he fell out of bounds.

“I just knew it,” Jackson said of the pass. “You throw it out in front of him, he’s gonna go and get it. I just knew to throw it from out of the back, because I saw the corner off him, and I said ‘Who cares if he’s off him? Justice is fast’, and he caught it.”

Lions linebacker Sean Reardon stoned Bryan Cedeno cold just before the pylon, attempting a sweep around the left, on the two-point conversion. The final eight minutes went back and forth, first with the Panthers dropping a potential game-ending fourth-down interception after it had been bobbled by two different Lions players, then the Lions dropping Cedeno for a seven-yard loss on fourth down from the Lions’ 12.

“I’m very proud of my boys,” Muldoon said. “A little adversity came our way, but in Division 6 you’ve two of the best teams right here. Hopefully we can see each other again in the playoffs.”

Hickman cleared: As good as this win was, the best news of the night for the Panthers came in the post-game, when Sigsbury confirmed Hickman has finally been cleared to suit up again.

Hickman, a junior, has become one of the city’s most heralded bright young stars after rushing for 246 yards on an injured ankle in last December’s double-overtime thriller over Madison Park in the D4A Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium. He tore his ACL in the final JV basketball game of the regular season last winter, against Charlestown, and the rehabilitation process has been a slow, cautious one.

Even better, the Panthers are headed into a bye week, so they’ll have two weeks to get him acclimated.

“We found out tonight the MRI came back good,” Sigsbury said. “He’s gonna be back practicing with us next week.”

Elaborating more on the injury, he continued, “He recovered and repaired his knee, but he couldn’t get ready until now. We’ve been cautious with him, but he finally got the go tonight from our team doctor. So that’s good news.”

Hickman’s teammates are excited to get him back. For Jackson, it means a move back to his natural tailback spot, which should give them even better depth in the backfield.

“Man, thank God, thank God,” Jackson smiled. “I like playing quarterback, but it’s not for me. I like running back, I like to run power inside, but if coach needs me to step in at quarterback, I can step up. Whatever the man [Sigsbury] needs, I’ll do it for him, no questions asked.”

Pick and Stick: The Lions encountered some struggles in the running game, as shifty junior running back Diego Meritus was held to less than 50 yards rushing, but Barabe more than held his own in the passing game.

“I’m disappointed in our run game, but obviously I didn’t coach it up right,” Muldoon said. “We were able to rely on him, it was pretty good that Ryan was able to keep us in the game. The line did a great job giving him time, but even when he didn’t have time, he has the kind of instincts to move around. He’s not fast, but he’s smart. He knows what he’s got to do.”

Listed at a long and slender 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds, Barabe might be one of the more underrated Class of 2015 quarterback prospects in Massachusetts.

His arm strength is above-average, able to launch a ball 50 yards downfield with a flick of the wrist. His soft touch leading crossing receivers over the middle is as good as his ability to bullet balls into tight windows, hitting receivers sharply on comeback and out routes from 10 to 15 yards depth along the sidelines.

His timing with his receivers, especially Jones, appears pretty mature. Part of that obviously goes the other way, too. There is more organized freelancing built into this year’s version of the offense as opposed to a year ago; Barabe estimated that 60 percent of the plays tonight involved option routes.

“Last year, our bands told us what we were going to do on every assignment," he said. "This year, our coaching staff decided we really wanted to give the receiver the option to run a route to read the defense, to get them ready for college-level [football]. We put that in, we started that in the summer, and they’ve done a really great job picking that up.”

Widening out: Early on, the Panthers found a lot of success dialing up “speed sweep” plays for freshman scatback Byron Martin, motioning him from the slot out of four and five-receiver sets. By far the fastest player on the field tonight, for either team, the 5-foot-3 Martin has a bright future ahead of him, with a makeup similar to former Holy Name standout Quron Wright, an ESPN Boston Mr. Football finalist last year.

But after the first few drives, the Lions were able to bottle up running backs on the perimeter pretty well. They widened out ends Steve Grogan and Matt Thacher, with responsibilities not to shoot too far upfield. When play leaked out of the pocket, the Lions did a good job keeping things contained.

“I just don’t think you can see on film just how fast Cathedral really is. We have some quick guys, but to simulate that speed, you’re not able to do that in practice. But once we settled down, I thought we did alright.

“Matty Thacher and Stevie Grogan did a great job, I can’t complain. I know they’re as disappointed as anyone, but I really think you have two of the best teams in Division 6 right here. We hope to see them again.”

All that considered, the Panthers’ success early with the speed sweep allowed them to use it to set up inside runs for Jackson, pulling the ball for an iso or power play.

“We gave them that tight bunch formation just to get some guys over there, and it worked, but then they widened the end, and it was tougher for our tackle to reach the end,” Sigsbury said. “So we started running the iso up inside, and that was successful with our quarterback.”

BOSTON CATHEDRAL 26, POPE JOHN PAUL II 22

PJP 8 0 14 0 --- 22

CTH 6 0 12 6 --- 26

First Quarter

C – Bryan Cedeno 1 run (rush failed) 6:39

P – Brady Jones 40 pass from Ryan Barabe (Billy Satkevich pass from Barabe) 3:37

Third Quarter

C – Jermal Brevard Jackson 9 run (Justice Turner pass from Jackson) 8:47

C – Cedeno 45 run (rush failed) 8:27

P – Jones 51 pass from Barabe (rush failed) 1:34

P – Jones 14 pass from Barabe (Thomas Cooper pass from Barabe) 1:20

Fourth Quarter

C – Turner 25 pass from Jackson (rush failed) 8:47