Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

PJPII learning how to win

There has been a lot of talk, perhaps too much, of what team (or teams) would eventually step up and separate itself (or themselves) from everyone else in the Pioneer Athletic Conference this season. It may have taken five absolutely bizarre weeks – or, depending on what side of the football field you sit on, five weird and wonderful weekends – but it appears as though Spring-Ford and Pottsgrove have done just that.

Call the Rams and Falcons top-shelf for now. Both Perkiomen Valley and Phoenixville are right behind the two, but there still is very little that separates the remaining five … a handful of rivals topped off by Pope John Paul II.

That’s right, Pope John Paul II.

That’s not a misprint, typo, error or whatever you choose to call it, either.

A year removed from its very first season – a rather undistinguished one considering PJP finished at the bottom or close to the bottom in all but one category on the team leader boards, allowed a very generous 40 points per game, and won just once – the Golden Panthers are on a three-game winning streak.

It may have begun against a rebuilding and injury-riddled Owen J. Roberts. But the following week they surprised Pottstown. Then last Friday night, they surprised Perkiomen Valley. And surprise is rather appropriate in each of those latter instances, too, because the Golden Panthers were the team a lot of people were checking off as an automatic (as in win) when the season kicked off last month. But they sure slowed if not stalled altogether the championship chase both Pottstown and Perkiomen Valley had revved up before they met.

And in case you haven’t noticed, the Golden Panthers are all even in the Pioneer Athletic Conference (3-3), 4-3 overall and, get this, No. 7 in the District 1-AAA playoff points standings.

“I don’t know if we’re as surprised as much as we’re happy,” said PJP head coach Mike Santillo. “We’re happy with the way the team is fighting each week.

“We’re not content, though. To be .500 at this point (in the league) is OK, but we’re not satisfied. I’m not satisfied, and I know the kids aren’t satisfied. We still have some games left to play.”

Phoenixville, Boyertown and Upper Perkiomen are the remaining challenges. The Golden Panthers won’t be favored in any of them. Then again, they weren’t favored in the previous three, or likely in any game they suited up for the past year and a half. But being the underdog, as they say, is a role they’re accustomed to. Now they seem to welcome it.

And welcome it despite a slew of injuries to their already short list of players. Two-way starters Kyle Early (broken arm) and Martin McCluskey (broken ankle) may not return this season. Kirk Cherneskie (broken collarbone) is questionable the rest of the way. Chris Veisbergs is week to week with a nagging injury.

“I’d say we’re banged up,” Santillo said.

Quarterback David Cotellese, who didn’t play football as a sophomore but in just over a year and a half has developed into one of the most accomplished passers in the league, has provided some healing, though. The southpaw has distributed his area-high 101 completions to nine different receivers, with more than two-thirds of that number to Jacob Gribb, Jared Siejk and Jamel Stinson. Though playing half of one game with a banged-up elbow and getting sidelined for nearly a half of another after getting his bell rung, Cotellese has thrown for 1,412 yards and 19 touchdowns – both area-highs as well. He’s spinning his passing magic in the absence of a run game. He escapes blitz after blitz, sometimes throws on his way down, and often finds a way to get the ball downfield and into the hands of someone other than the No. 1 receiver.

“David didn’t play as a sophomore (at St. Pius X), and we had to talk him into playing last year,” Santillo said. “He went into last season not knowing our offense and threw for 1,700-some yards. He worked his tail off in the off-season, though, and knows (the offense) well now.

“And with no run game most of the season, and playing on wet fields and in wet conditions, nothing seems to phase David. That’s why we have the confidence to throw the ball. He knows where to look, and somehow always finds someone to throw to.”

Like last Friday night, when he caught Matt Bildstein – “our fifth receiver on that play,” Santilllo said – all alone in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown at Perkiomen Valley.

But Cotellese isn’t the entire show.

The Golden Panthers have been getting big stops – very timely stops – from a defense that features ends Chris DiLeva, Gribb and Tim Tadros; tackles Ryan Ignatovig and John Bildstein; linebackers John Cherneskie, Nico Peloro and Justice Smith; and Matt Bildstein, Siejk and Tyler Weiss in the secondary.

“The big thing for us has been learning how to win,” Santillo said. “Some do, like over at Pottsgrove, where it seems they just keep winning year after year. You have to develop that mentality. Some kids never know what it’s like to win, never are able to develop that mentality, until they (win) consistently. That’s what we’d like to do here.”

A few milestones reached last weekend…

• Boyertown couldn’t have picked a better time (or worse time for Phoenixville) to post the 350th win in its history than last Saturday. Not only did the 33-17 victory end the Bears’ four-game slide, but dropped the Phantoms two full games back of Spring-Ford in the PAC-10 standings and kind of spoiled their Homecoming festivities.

• Daniel Boone’s Tom Bodolus became just the third quarterback in his school’s history to reach 3,000 career passing yards. Bodolus – the area’s leading scorer (17 TDs, 102 points) and rusher (991 yards) – has passed for 998 yards and 13 touchdowns (with just one interception) this season. He has thrown for 3,096 yards – needing 404 more to become only the 10th area quarterback to reach the 3,500-mark – and accounted for 5,288 yards of total offense in his outstanding career. The only Blazers to reach the 3,000-yard mark before Bodolus were former teammate Jon Monteiro and Chris Bokosky. … Current teammate Darrell Scott needs 681 yards to become his school’s third back to run for more than 3,000 career yards.

• Gribb, in only his second season of football, became Pope John Paul II’s first 1,000-yard receiver, going over that career mark last Friday night. Gribb has caught at least one pass in just 15 games – 62 receptions overall – to reach the coveted milestone. Siejk, with 36 career catches for 713 yards, could join Gribb with a strong finish. … Upper Perkiomen’s Ronnie Gillespie is now within seven catches of becoming just the sixth area player with 100 or more career receptions. Gillespie is third in career yardage, needing 128 more yards to break the area record held by Daniel Boone’s Zack Keeley. … Spring-Ford’s Andrew Scanlan is currently sixth in the area in career receiving yardage.

• Pottstown’s Malik Brinkley went over the 2,000-yard career rushing mark during last week’s game against Upper Perkiomen.

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