The stage was set for a monumental clash between two VISAA Division 1 foes; one vying for an elusive playoff spot and the other seeking to secure home field advantage. John Paul entered the game ranked fifth, one spot shy of the four team playoff, while Ireton came in at number two. It just so happened that the two teams are fierce rivals, thus increasing the energy and motivation. It was also the second time in as many years that the Wolves played the Cardinals in the final week of the regular season with a playoff spot on the line for John Paul. The Wolves had to win to make the playoffs, but they also needed help: losses by either Liberty Christian Academy or Collegiate. The students, situated in their area behind the end-zone, prepared themselves to witness the titanic display of football that was about to unfold. However, it would be safe to assume none quite expected what actually happened, especially the manner in which the events transpired.
Ireton received the game’s opening kick-off, and transfer quarterback Joe Dickinson, an All-Met leader in passing, took the field to lead the Cardinals’ offense. Within just a few plays, they had scored the game’s first touchdown. It was what happened next though that was so significant. In football, extra points are often taken for granted; some have even called for the play to be abolished because of it’s near-perfect percentage of successful attempts. Ireton had scored a touchdown at lightning speed, knocking down much of the Wolves’ enthusiasm. The teams lined up for the routine kick, but the field goal did not go through the uprights. The Wolves only trailed by six, and they had a chance to take the lead on their ensuing possession.
That they did. With 5:10 to go in the first quarter, Michael Horan punched it in from one yard out, and after the extra point, the Wolves led 7-6. From that point forward, Ireton never regained the lead.
“Every one of us came out with an attitude and will that we would win. The intensity we all brought to the field every play brought us to victory,” said Horan.
At the end of the first quarter, the scoreboard displayed the same margin in favor of the Wolves. Less than two minutes into the second quarter, behind strong blocks from the offensive line, the Wolves’ ground attack proved successful again. Seniors Conor Zicht and Ryan McFadden paved the way for Horan to score his second touchdown of the game. The extra point gave JP a 14-6 cushion, but they wouldn’t stop there. The defense held firm, and at the 6:56 mark of the second quarter, Brandon Perroots scored his first touchdown of the game on a one yard run. It was now John Paul 21, Ireton 6 after Matt Nguyen’s extra point.
“The team knew what we had to do going into the game. Coach Turner had reminded us about the words of the Serenity prayer before the game, ‘God grant me the courage to change the things I can,’ and that’s what we did. The team summoned the courage that was needed, and we changed the outcome of the game. We followed our seniors and dominant offensive line to victory and we are ready for the playoffs!” said Perroots.
John Paul’s defense earned the Wolves the ball again in the waning moments before halftime. An abrupt shift in momentum occurred when Perroots’ throw sailed high, right into the arms of an Ireton defender. The Cardinals’ offense stormed down the field and cut their deficit to eight. The score was 21-13 entering the break.
The Wolves received the kick-off to begin the second half and promptly took advantage of the possession. To conclude their drive, Brandon Perroots found the end zone for the second time on the day, and John Paul’s lead increased to 15.
John Paul intercepted a pass, but nothing came of their gifted opportunity. Ireton came back out on offense and scored a touchdown just a few minutes later. They went for two and were successful, meaning the Wolves now only held a 28-21 lead.
Bishop Ireton went with a bold move on their kick-off, opting for an onside kick. It payed off, as one of the Cardinals fell on the ball. The crowd groaned as the defense was forced to re-take the field. No sooner had they recovered the onside kick than they had tied the game at 28 apiece with 3:52 to go in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was now primed to be one of intensity and determination. 7:28 remained in the game when Michael Horan put the Wolves back on top by a score of 35-28 following the extra point. It would be a grueling seven-plus minutes of focus for the Wolves and their defense before any sort of celebration could take place.
The moment of the game came with 4:57 to go. Ireton drove down the field and was less than 10 yards away from scoring a touchdown. With the student section immediately behind the Wolves’ defense, the crowd and the students yelled in support of their team. Despite several attempts to score, the defense would have none of it. It was a goal line stand for John Paul, and they took over on downs. The victory was inching ever closer, and the hope was beginning to become real.
While the defense did their job on the goal line, it was the offense’s job to avoid a safety. After two narrow escapes in which the Wolves barely got the ball back out of the end zone, third down saw a pass which opened up breathing room. It was a new set of downs, and the students right behind them began to get even more excited.
Ireton was forced to start using their timeouts if they had any hope of getting one last chance at tying the game. All JP needed was one more first down and the win would be sealed. They wouldn’t get it though, and the punt team came out; setting up a dramatic finale with under a minute to go.
The Cardinals had 30.6 seconds to go about 70 yards. On the first play, the Wolves forced a fumble but Ireton recovered, causing them to hurry up and spike the ball. Dickinson threw for a 15 yard completion on the following play before completing a short pass to convert for a first down with 2.3 seconds to go.
The defense got set for one final play. The students watched intently, just waiting to erupt. Ireton needed about 40 yards to score a touchdown.
Dickinson received the snap and surveyed the field. He chose his target down the sideline and released the ball into the air. Wolves’ senior cornerback DJ Stefonsky eyed the pass and put his hands up. The clock read 0.0 as he caught the football for an interception, sealing the game. The Wolves had won.
Pandemonium. The scene was sheer hysteria as the crowd and students went wild. The team rushed down to the student section to share in the excitement. Just moments before, Liberty Christian Academy and Collegiate had lost their games, ensuring that the Wolves were going to the playoffs. It was an unforgettable scene as everyone celebrated.
“It was a surreal moment. When DJ intercepted the ball in the final seconds of the game, it felt as if everything was in slow motion. For the first time in years, we beat our rivals, as well as (earning a spot in) the playoffs. It’s been a long road that we’ve traveled on and our work has paid off. I will never forget that game. Never.” said Matt Keller.
“I think it all comes down to who we are. No one expected us to win, and that gave us the motivation and courage to do what was said couldn’t be done. And that shows a lot about who the Wolves are,” said Ryan McFadden.
“That was the best all-around game this year’s team has played so far! From the start the whole team came out firing on all cylinders! And we kept that intensity throughout the entire game!” said Michael Mancini.
This was the Wolves’ first defeat of Ireton since 2010, meaning it was the first win for the current senior class over their rivals. It is also John Paul’s first playoff berth since the same year, when they lost to the Potomac School in the first round. However, this is the first time the Wolves’ have made the Division I playoffs; in 2010, they were still in Division II.
While Michael Horan and Brandon Perroots scored the Wolves’ points, the team was led as a whole by Conor Zicht, Ryan McFadden, Michael Nguyen, and fellow senior Wyatt Ochs. Zicht and McFadden were a wall, allowing the rushing game to succeed. Nguyen came up with an interception as well as many important defensive tackles in leading the Wolves’ defense. Ochs contributed a crucial sack of Ireton’s quarterback while also recovering a fumble along the way.
Horan ran for 168 yards on 23 attempts for 3 touchdowns. He broke the 1000 yard rushing mark for the season, and also set the school record for most rushing touchdowns in a season. Perroots added two touchdowns on 24 yards and 11 carries.
By virtue of seeding, a rematch between John Paul and Ireton is set for this Saturday at 1PM in the first round of the VISAA State Playoffs. The game is at Ireton and it will be a Whiteout.
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One can look back on this game and spot the missed field goal by Ireton as a turning point. The miss sparked energy, and the Wolves gained confidence when they saw they were winning the game. It’s the little things, even in the very beginning, which can come back to mean all the difference.
Here is a photo gallery of the events. Simply click on one and you will be able to scroll through all of them conveniently:
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