LOWER PROVIDENCE — You couldn't blame Pope John Paul II quarterback Matt Mesaros for feeling a little like bait in a shark tank Saturday afternoon.
That's because Pottsgrove's defense — most notably its front of Nico Demetrio, Anthony Pond, Tom Sephakis, Patrick Finn and Sene Polamalu — swarmed the Golden Panthers backfield like piranhas to blood in the Pioneer Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
Throw in an equally impressive performance by the Falcons' offensive stable of playmakers, and it added up to a 53-14 victory for the defending PAC-10 champions.
Pottsgrove (2-0 overall) got two sacks from Jalen Mayes and one apiece from Polamalu and Pond; an interception return for touchdown by Marquis
"We just didn't take care of business up front, and that was the game,' PJP coach Mike Santillo said. "Forget about getting a tenth of a second, we weren't getting a quarter of a second. Matt had no chance at all.'
The Golden Panthers appeared to have a fighting chance at the outset, when Nick Howarth returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
But the Falcons made key fourth-down and third-down conversions (both on Polamalu runs) on their opening drive — a 62-play march capped by Polamalu's 1-yard run that cut the PJP lead to 7-6.
Pond's third-down sack and Mike Fowler's 21-yard punt return put Pottsgrove in business again at the Golden Panthers 29, and Barefield (11 carries, 109 yards) ripped off a TD run on the next play to put the Falcons up to stay at 12-7 with 4:07 left in the opening period.
Polamalu, who ran for 56 yards, scored on a 7-yard run to close out the first quarter, then quarterback Riley Michaels had touchdown passes of 50 (to Fowler) and 66 (to Mayes) and Barefield had a 46-yard Pick 6 to give the Falcons a 40-7 halftime lead.
"It's the kind of thing where our (defensive) scheme matches up with their scheme pretty well,' Pottsgrove coach Rick Pennypacker said. "I don't know if that will happen again all year. They tried to spread us out, but I think our speed got to them on defense.'
"We just wanted to do our jobs,' said Polamalu, a 6-foot, 220-pound senior. "Fill every hole and play our positions. They have a lot of good skill players, and we wanted to attack them.'
The Falcons opened the second half with a dominating nine-play, 80-yard drive that featured Mayes and culminated in his 3-yard run that triggered the running clock, then Orrin Toomer got into the act with a 5-yard TD run on the second play of the fourth quarter to make it 53-7.
Mayes rushed for 63 yards and sophomore Tyrell Barr contributed 42 yards as Pottsgrove piled up 344 yards on the ground. Michaels finished 3-for-4 for 122 yards through the air.
"I always tell people that the biggest improvement is between the first and second week,' Pennypacker said. "I thought we improved from last week (a 41-13 victory over Souderton). I thought our offense was more consistent than it was last week, and I thought the kids blocked well. Riley managed the offense very well; he's using the weapons around him. Polamalu had a great game on both sides of the ball, and our backs played well. It didn't matter who we put in, they were running hard.'
Howarth ran for a team-high 88 yards and Kirk Cherneskie scored on a 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring for the Golden Panthers.
"Nick's been doing a good job on returns,' Santillo said of Howarth, who had two kickoff returns for 118 yards. "It was a promising start, unfortunately it went south from there. But that's the type of team they (the Falcons) have. They have a ton of talent.'
"We see a lot of potential,' Polamalu said. "We just need to keep working on it. We need to pick up our practice, pick up our effort and just work.'
Mesaros completed 3 of 9 passes (all to John Bildstein) for 24 yards. ... Mayes had two receptions for 72 yards for Pottsgrove. ... The Falcons visit Upper Perkiomen next week, while the Golden Panthers travel to Pottstown.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.
Pope John Paul II 14
Pottsgrove 20 20 7 6 — 53
Pope John Paul II 7 0 0 7 — 14
PJP-Howarth 94 kickoff return (Cherneskie kick)
PG-Polamalu 1 run (kick failed)
PG-Barefield 29 run (run failed)
PG-Polamalu 7 run (Polamalu run)
PG-Fowler 50 pass from Michaels (Klinger kick)
PG-Mayes 66 pass from Michaels (Klinger kick)
PG-Barefield 46 interception return (kick failed)
PG-Mayes 3 run (Klinger kick)
PG-Toomer 5 run (kick failed)
PJP-Cherneskie 1 run (Cherneskie kick)
First Downs 20 9
Rushing yards 344 107
Passing yards 122 24
Total yards 466 131
Passes C-A-I 3-4-0 3-9-2
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 2-0
Penalties-Yards 3-30 4-25
Punts-Avg. 1-30.0 5-34.8
Pottsgrove: Barefield 11-109, 1 TD, Mayes 7-63, 1 TD, Polamalu 9-56, 2 TDs, Barr 7-42, Toomer 4-25, 1 TD, Michaels 2-24, Fink 3-16, Mandia 1-9.
Pope John Paul II: Howarth 8-88, Cherneskie 8-19, 1 TD, Bildstein 5-14, Mesaros 8-1, Team 1-(-15).
Pottsgrove: Michaels 3-4, 122 yards, 2 TDs.
Pope John Paul II: Mesaros 3-9, 24 yards, 2 INTs.
Pottsgrove: Mayes 2-72, 1 TD; Fowler 1-50, 1 TD.
Pope John Paul II: Bildstein 3-24.
Interceptions: Pottstrove-Parker, Barefield.
Sacks: Pottsgrove-Mayes 2, Polamalu, Pond.