DePaul Ends St. John Vianney’s Championship Run With a 40-17 Win in the Non-Public Group III Final
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PISCATAWAY — St. John Vianney's bid for a perfect season and the program's first state title in 35 years was halted by DePaul, which used a dominating performance by its offense line and stud running back Kareem Walker to power a 40-17 victory in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III final on Saturday morning at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium.
Walker, the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation, ran for a game-high 195 yards and two touchdowns and Nasir Hooker added 106 yards and two scores as the Spartans ran for 319 yards on 58 carries to put away the Lancers in the second half.
St. John Vianney senior quarterback Anthony Brown threw for 244 yards and a touchdown on 19 of 30 passing and also ran for a touchdown. Senior wide receiver Marcque Ellington hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass and Joe Rice kicked a 40-yard field goal.
Senior Khalil Haskins led the Lancers receiving corps with seven catches for 109 yards, and senior Mike Stapert caught five passes for 72 yards. Junior Chris Chukwuneke was outstanding on defense with 15 tackles (12 solo), and senior linebacker Calvin Beaty added nine tackles.
“Their offensive line had a good surge, and we’re not as big as them up front,” Beaty said. “It was pretty tough for us.”
“They got a great push form their offensive line,” Brown said. It wasn’t as much we couldn’t stop Walker. They got a great push. We needed to tackle (better).
Down 20-10 at halftime, St. John Vianney got the defensive stop it needed to start the third quarter by forcing DePaul three-and-out. The Lancers needed just three plays to find the end zone after taking over at the Spartans’ 41-yard line, closing the gap to 20-17 on Brown’s six-yard touchdown run.
From there, however, DePaul’s running game began to wear down the Lancers’ defense. The Spartans went on to score the game’s final 20 points with Walker and Hooker consistently finding room and converting on third down. DePaul scored on six of its 10 possessions and was forced to punt just twice. St. John Vianney’s defense struggled to get crucial stops, twice allowing touchdown passes on fourth down inside the 20-yard line in the first half.
“They came back and were able to run the ball on us and continue those long, long drives,” said St. John Vianney head coach Derek Sininsky. “They knew they could pound us.”
“They won the first-down game, and that was big to us,” Sininsky added. “We felt if we won that we would have a good chance to win this game, but they won that battle. It’s not like us we can score on you in three or four plays. Ground and pound gets demoralizing. It becomes tiring physically and mentally.”
Penalties also derailed what was otherwise an excellent first half by St. John Vianney’s offense. Brown completed 14 of 18 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown in the first two quarters, but the Lancers were flagged eight times for 64 yards. They were penalized 11 times for 89 yards in the game.
“Every time we had a penalty it wiped out a big play, and we were taking steps backwards,” Sininsky said. “We had to play perfect today and we knew that.”
The Lancers (11-1) started strong to take a 3-0 lead on the game’s opening possession. Brown hit Haskins for a 42-yard gain on the first play, but the drive stalled thanks to a false start. Rice’s 40-yard field goal got St. John Vianney on the board first.
DePaul then drove down to the Lancers’ 12-yard line, keyed by a 22-yard catch by Terrel Vassel, but Walker fumbled on a third-down carry and Tyler Tedeschi recovered at the eight-yard line.
It was a huge turnover for St. John Vianney, but the momentum would be short-lived. A penalty on first down erased a 16-yard run by Jeff Sheard, and on the next play Haskins had the ball jarred loose after catching a short pass. Quayshon Alexander recovered at the six, and two plays later Walker barreled in from three yards out for a 6-3 lead after the extra point was missed.
Two consecutive penalties on St. John Vianney’s next drive nullified passing plays of eight and 23 yards, but the Lancers were able to convert a key third down on a 15-yard screen pass to Chukwuneke to keep the drive alive. Facing a fourth-and-two, a false start penalty pushed SJV back to the DePaul 37, and Brown came up short on a run on fourth-and-seven to turn the ball over on downs.
DePaul then marched 66 yards in 11 plays to take a 13-3 lead. Walker had an 18-yard run to open the drive and Hooker broke a 20-yard run to get the ball to the SJV 33-yard line. A false start pushed DePaul back from a fourth-and-two, but the Spartans were able to covert when sophomore quarterback Shelton Applewhite rolled to his right and found Vassel for an eight-yard touchdown with 7:11 left in the first half.
St. John Vianney answered swiftly with a three-play, 63-yard drive to but the deficit to three points. Brown hit Stapert for 24 yards before finding Haskins for an 18-yard pickup. Brown then lofted a pass to Ellington, who went up and snared it for a 21-yard touchdown.
A 47-yard run by Walker on the first play of the ensuing possession moved the ball to the SJV 20-yard line and set up the Spartans’ third score of the game. Again it came down to a fourth-down throw, and Applewhite hit Hasise Dubois for a 16-yard score on fourth-and-six to put DePaul up 20-10. Penalties once again crushed the Lancers on the drive. They appeared to get a stop on an incomplete pass on fourth-and-12, but a pass interference call on Haskins extended the drive.
The Lancers got in position for a 32-yard field goal attempt by Rice with two seconds left in the half, but his kick missed wide to keep the score 20-10 at halftime.
After St. John Vianney sandwiched a pair of defensive stops around Brown’s touchdown run to pull within three points, it appeared the Lancers had all the momentum early in the third quarter. DePaul was able to get a key stop to cool off the Lancers’ offense, however, and when Walker scored on a seven-yard run late in the third quarter it signaled the beginning of the end for St. John Vianney.
A 34-yard touchdown run by Hooker put DePaul up 34-17 with 9:03 to play, and, after an interception in the end zone by Nysere Nunn on a deep ball for Stapert, DePaul polished off its three-peat with a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Hooker’s three-yard touchdown run with 3:13 to go gave the Spartans an insurmountable 40-17 advantage.
Coming off a 10-1 season in 2014, St. John Vianney had lofty goals for this season. Them the program took a hit with the sudden departure of former head coach Mark Ciccotelli, who resigned in August. Things looked like they could have fallen apart, but Sininsky and the Lancers’ staff kept things together and the team gelled.
During that tough preseason, few thought the Lancers could reach the state final undefeated.
“I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t think we could,” Brown said. “Everybody’s emotions were flying around and we didn’t know what we were until we came together as a family. It was a different mindset at the time. Everybody was a little selfish. We needed to come together as a team, and that’s what got us here.”