The Tigers train just keeps rolling, and its next stop will be the dream destination all season: Gillette Stadium for the Division 8 Super Bowl.
The unbeaten Pope John Tigers made sure of that Saturday, Nov. 17, with a convincing 31-14 win over feisty West Bridgewater at Holbrook High School. The win capped the team’s remarkable turnaround under coach Paul Sobolewski.
Pope John, after all, had dropped varsity football in 2013 and stumbled to a 2-6 season last year. But Sobolewski and his staff brought a new attitude and a winning formula to the Broadway campus. The Tigers will face St. Bernard’s High School in the state championship game on Dec. 1 at Gillette Stadium.
The game started slightly out of character for the Tigers, who fell behind 7-0 when Wildcat Christian Keeling found some open space up the left sideline and raced 38 yards for a score. But after quarterback Anthony Mejia connected with to Jesus Rivera with a 20-yard touchdown pass and Greg Smith bulldozed his way in for a two-point conversion, normalcy returned. The Tiger defense, and a half-dozen West Bridgewater miscues, set the tone.
After a West Bridgewater fumble led to a Pope John drive that stalled at the West Bridgewater one yard line, Wildcat quarterback Matt Lavoie slipped on a keeper and landed in his end zone for a safety to push Pope John up 10-7. On the ensuing free kick, Rivera streaked 62 yards, and just like that, it was 17-7 Pope John.
The Pope John defense rose again in the third quarter when defensive tackle Malachi Reeves chased down Wildcat quarterback Matt Lavoie on a keeper around right end at the Wildcat goal line. Reeves jarred the ball loose, and Sam Poindexter pounced on the loose ball in the end zone to make it 24-7.
West Bridgewater kept in interesting, though. The Wildcats finished a 77-yard drive with a 1-yard Lavoie run and after the PAT it was 24-14 with just under 10 minutes left in the game. And the Wildcat threat seemed greater after what appeared to an interception by Ben Skinner, but the West Bridgewater safety was called for pass interference, and Pope John maintained control. After escaping that scare, Pope John put the ball back on the ground, draining nearly seven minutes off the clock before surrendering the ball.
West Bridgewater came out throwing, but a Rivera interception, and then a John Smith Howell 31-yard run put the game out of reach. Erik Flores kicked his third PAT of the game, and the 31-14 scoreboard meant Pope John would return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998 and a return to football glory for the revitalized program.
“Pope John was so rich in tradition in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, so it’s a very special moment for all of us,” said Sobolewski.