POTTSTOWN — Prior to the second half of Friday's game with Pottstown, Kirk Cherneskie was handed a bottle of zinc-fortified electrolyte drink by one of Pope John Paul II's coaches.
He chugged down the quart-size bottle in three gulps, then went back to work helping the Golden Panthers roll up a 24-0 victory over the Trojans. And what a workmanlike effort the PJP senior turned in at Grigg Memorial Field.
Cherneskie had a hand in all but six of the points his team scored in this Pioneer Athletic Conference matchup. Two rushing touchdowns, three conversion kicks and a field goal were key to PJP getting in the win column, both in the PAC-10 standings and on the season.
Is the electrolyte drink his can of spinach, a la Popeye the Sailor? More like the fuel that keeps the fullback/linebacker/place kicker/punter going.
"I usually have three or four during the day,' Cherneskie said. "It keeps me hydrated. It has a lot of electrolytes.'
There was more than energy drinks at the heart of PJP's game-time intensity. The Panthers (1-1 league, 1-2 overall) were looking to atone for their previous losses to powerhouse opponents Berks Catholic and Pottsgrove, and they faced a Trojan unit also anxious to get its first win for new head coach Don Grinstead.
They did so primarily with a running game that included several other key cogs. Nick Howarth had a game-high 99 yards on 17 carries, and John Bildstein covered another 80 off 11 carries — 27 of them good for the visitors' second touchdown.
And then there was Cherneskie, who racked up a goodly number of his 74 stripes on power runs up the middle of the Pottstown defense. At times appearing to drag several tacklers along, he got PJP on the board little more than six minutes into the first quarter, then provided the capper with a nine-yard off-tackle drive 2:37 before the final whistle.
"The line blocked well for me,' he said. "I like it. It's fun to be able to run through the holes like I did tonight.'
Cherneskie highlighted his kicking chores by converting a 20-yard field goal two seconds into the fourth quarter. It capped a 12-play march from the PJP 30 — one set up by Liam Steiert intercepting Pottstown quarterback Gary Wise — that ended what had been a 26-minute scoring drought by both teams.
Add to that punting duties (twice for an average of 28 yards), and being an active presence in the Panthers' secondary, and it ended up quite a night for the PJP senior.
"You can't say enough about that kid,' PJP head coach Mike Santillo said. "Kirk wanted this game so bad, being a Pottstown kid. He was all over the place.'
Pottstown's on-field fortunes lent credence to the Friday the 13th bad-luck mystique.
Fumbling away the kickoff following PJP's touchdown-producing initial possession, the Trojans (0-3) didn't get to run an offensive play until 1:25 was left in the first quarter. They had to punt away their two first-half series, then saw their two third-quarter touches ended by another fumble and interception.
Compounding matters was the spate of penalties Pottstown drew. It was whistled 15 times for 130 yards, with a whopping 65 in the first quarter alone.
"We just made too many mistakes,' Grinstead said. "We didn't play fundamentally sound football. Until we do, we're going to struggle.'
The Trojans got inside the PJP 40 twice in the second half, only to see turnovers squash the drives. They ended up with 114 yards total offense, primarily off the running of Wise (seven carries, 40 yards), Najee Johnson (six carries, 31 yards) and Dayon Mohler (six carries, 14 yards).
"We'd stop them, but then we'd make a mistake,' Grinstead said. "Turnovers and penalties catch up to you. You can't be successful that way.'
Another highlight on PJP's defense was Steve Kushnerick recovering Pottstown's fumble on its first possession of the second half, a drive that got the Trojans down to the Panthers' 14. Just as important, the visitors didn't lose any of their three fumbles.
"We kept control of the football, and took advantage of a couple of their turnovers,' Santillo said.
All of which validated the work the PJP gridders put in to prepare for the game.
"The kids worked hard all summer,' Santillo said. "It was good for our seniors to get their first one (win) early. There was a lot of pressure on these kids, with two tough teams to start.'
"We realized we played tough teams to start,' Cherneskie added. "We felt we had a good opportunity to win. We practiced hard this week, lifted hard this week.'
Pending a check of the record books, Santillo mentioned the possibility Friday's game may possibly have been the PJP program's first shutout. ... Given his Pottstown background, Cherneskie particularly enjoyed the game. "I remember coming to these games with my dad when I was younger,' he said. "It's fun to actually play in one.'
Pope John Paul II 24
Pope John Paul II 14 0 0 10 — 24
Pottstown 0 0 0 0 — 0
PJP-Cherneskie 1 run (Cherneskie kick)
PJP-Bildstein 27 run (Cherneskie kick)
PJP-Cherneskie 20 FG
PJP-Cherneskie 9 run (Cherneskie kick)
First Downs 17 8
Rushing yards 158 98
Passing yards 32 16
Total yards 190 114
Passes C-A-I 4-7-0 2-8-1
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 4-2
Penalties-Yards 8-45 15-130
Punts-Avg. 2-28.0 4-35.0
Pope John Paul II: Howarth, 17-99; Bildstein, 11-80, 1 TD; Cherneskie, 16-74, 2 TDs; Lynch, 1-8; Mesaros, 4-(-23).
Pottstown: G. Wise, 7-40; N. Johnson, 6-31; Mohler, 6-14; Harvey, 2-11; B. Wise, 3-2.
Pope John Paul II: Mesaros, 4-7-32.
Pottstown: G. Wise, 2-8-16, 1 INT.
Pope John Paul II: Bildstein, 4-32.
Pottstown: B. Wise, 1-6; Charles, 1-0.
Interceptions: Pope John Paul II-Steiert. Pottstown-None.
Sacks: Pope John Paul II-None. Pottstown-Robinson.