Saturday, October 12, 2013 had been circled on the calendars of Sparta and Pope John football fans since the start of the season, and they were not disappointed when the date finally arrived. Both teams came into the contest at 5-0, having had marginal victories in all previous games. Over 3,000 fans packed into Pope John’s stadium to watch the rival teams battle it out in one of the most thrilling matchups so far this season.
The game began with strong defense from both sides, taking almost the entire first quarter for a team to strike. Finally Sparta put points on the board when kicker John Coleman split the uprights on a 35-yard field goal.
Sparta’s momentum continued with an interception from senior Nick Shlala, who was questionable to play with a knee injury from the previous week’s game against Morris Hills. Following Shlala’s big play, Sparta scored again with a 13-yard rushing touchdown from Lucas Faria, taking a 10-0 lead with 6:28 on the clock in the second quarter.
Pope John answered with a touchdown pass thrown by sophomore quarterback Sonny Abramson to tight end Ryan Izzo, closing the gap, 10-6.
Sparta fought back to keep their lead strong, and kicker John Coleman hit a 20-yard chip shot with a half-time score of 13-6, Sparta.
Coming out of the locker room, Sparta kept their momentum going, starting the second half with an interception by Nick Bevaqua, which lead to a scoring drive by quarterback Matt Seville, who hit wide receiver Nick Shlala for a 25-yard touchdown, making the score 20-6 Sparta. It seemed like nothing could hold the Spartans back.
But Pope John rallied, and wide receivers Noah Brown and Austin Bailey tightened the numbers again, making the score 20-18, Sparta.
With 11:22 left in the fourth quarter, it was Sparta’s turn to answer. Seville missed his intended receiver, throwing a costly interception, giving Sonny Abramson and company the ball on the 5-yard line.
Future Ohio State Buckeye Noah Brown took the ball 95-yards, making the score 20-24, as the Lions took the lead.
This back and forth battle would not end here.
Matt Seville led his Spartans back down the field, hitting wide receiver Teddy Fischer and handing off to running back Lucas Faria, bringing them all the way to the one-yard line, for a 4th and goal. Coach Marchiano called for a run up the middle from Faria. Faria took the handoff and did what he does best: he scored the touchdown, leaving Sparta 27-24, with 7:17 left on the clock.
Sparta’s defense came close to holding off Pope John’s tenacious offense, but were taken down with 35.3 seconds left in the game by an Abramson-to-Nick Esposito touchdown.
Final score Lions 31- Spartans 27.
This match-up will go down as one of the games of the year, strengthening and continuing the long tradition of the Pope John – Sparta rivalry.