*Click here for a photo gallery of the game by Sports Pix NJ*

MORRISTOWN - While five turnovers and costly mistakes in crucial situations doomed St. John Vianney on Saturday in its deepest playoff run in 33 years, the Lancers served notice this season that their program has returned to prominence in the Shore Conference and state playoff landscape.

Top-seeded Delbarton held off the fourth-seeded Lancers, 38-26, and it went down to the final minute because of St. John Vianney's refusal to back down on the road in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinals. Green Wave sophomore running back Andrew Papantonis capped a brilliant day when he broke free for the game-sealing 59-yard touchdown run with 57.9 seconds left in the game as St. John Vianney (10-1) was desperately trying to get the ball back down by five.

First-year St. John Vianney head coach Mark Ciccotelli reminded his players how they have put the program back on the map after turning in their best season since 1982 despite a semifinal loss to top-seeded Delbarton. (Photo by Sports Pix NJ)

"Look where we are,'' said first-year Lancers head coach Mark Ciccotelli, who has three state titles on his resume and came over from Neptune in the offseason. "We're in a state semifinal, we won a (division) championship for the first time since 1982. Those kids put this place back on the map. They're character kids. It's a reflection of their parents and what they do in their lives every day. Even today, right to the end, we fought. No cheap shots, no talking, right to the end. When they took a knee, we backed off."

A pair of fumbles cost the Lancers 10 points in the first half, and coupled with a sensational day by Papantonis, it proved to be too much to overcome. Delbarton (9-1) will now take on second-seeded Red Bank Catholic in the state final at 7 p.m. at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 7 in search of its first state title since 1998. Papantonis led the way on Saturday with 178 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 26 carries along with a 12-yard touchdown catch and a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

"They never stopped,'' Papantonis said about the Lancers. "They kept making big plays, big stops, so we knew, coach (Brian) Bowers was yelling from the sidelines, 'Finish! Finish' We had to finish because if we didn't, there was a huge chance they would come back."

Junior quarterback Anthony Brown threw for 278 yards and ran for two touchdowns in the loss for St. John Vianney, going over 2,000 yards passing for the season. (Photo by Sports Pix NJ)

St. John Vianney junior quarterback Anthony Brown capped a breakout season with 278 yards passing and a pair of touchdown runs in the loss, going over 2,000 yards passing for the season, and junior Khalil Haskins also found the end zone twice. The future looks bright for a team that returns Brown, Haskins and a host of other talent after tying the school record set in 1980 with 10 wins this season.

"When the emotions settle, you assess the program, and you're right, we are very happen to have (Brown) and (sophomore lineman) Micah Clarke and those guys,'' Ciccotelli said. "We started five sophomores today. They were thrown into the fire."

St. John Vianney junior Khalil Haskins (in white) scored a pair of touchdowns and also had a pass break-up on defense in the loss to Delbarton. (Photo by Sports Pix NJ)

The day started ominously for the Lancers (10-1) when Brown found senior wideout Dan Calabro for a 32-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage and he lost a fumble. Calabro was ruled to have fumbled despite it appearing that his knee was down, and Papantonis recovered it. Delbarton promptly went on a 13-play, 67-yard drive in which it converted two third downs and a fourth down to take a 7-0 lead when senior quarterback John Chiarolanzio hit senior wideout Ian Lodge for a 17-yard touchdown on third-and-10 with 4:25 left in the first quarter.

Right from the outset, Delbarton made it apparent that it was going to be attacking St. John Vianney's run defense all day, as Papantonis lined up repeatedly in the wildcat formation to take direct snaps.

"I don't think we've run it exclusively as much as we did in this game,'' Papantonis said about the wildcat. "They brought those defensive backs up, and they really try to crowd the box, so we wanted to spread everything out and just try to hit seams."

A sack by Delbarton junior linebacker Sam Johnson on third down killed St. John Vianney's ensuing drive, and Delbarton made it 14-0 in the second quarter with a six-play, 30-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Chiarolanzio to Papantonis on third down.

The Lancers responded by driving 62 yards to Delbarton's one-yard line, but junior running back Calvin Beaty lost a fumble on third-and-goal that was recovered in the end zone for a touchback to keep St. John Vianney scoreless. The Lancers and Beaty, who had a strong game at linebacker, shook it off and came up with a stop on Delbarton's next drive. That set up a six-play, 55-yard drive capped by a two-yard touchdown run by junior Khalil Haskins that was set up by a 27-yard strike from Brown to Calabro on fourth down. The extra point was blocked to keep Delbarton in front 14-6 with 2:05 left in the half.

A wild sequence then allowed Delbarton to add three more points right before halftime. Chiarolanzio heaved up a long pass in the final seconds of the half that was tipped by Lancers defensive back Jeff Sheard and then picked off by St. John Vianney sophomore linebacker Tyler Tedeschi at the Lancers' 8-yard line with 3.4 seconds remaining. Ciccotelli said he decided to run a play rather than take a knee because of the "timeout situation," and Brown and Beaty had a miscue on the exchange that led to a fumble recovered by Delbarton at the 8-yard line.

"We shot ourselves in the foot,'' Ciccotelli said. "We fumbled on the one-foot line going in. We gave away a stupid field goal."

"We capitalized on their fumbles and interception-wise, and I think that gave us the edge,'' Papantonis said.

Ciccotelli argued that time had run out in the half by the time the Green Wave recovered the fumble, but the officials put one second back on the clock. Junior kicker Carter Massengill then nailed a 25-yard field goal for a 17-6 lead going into the locker room.

"I'm not going to go where I want to go, so I'm going to keep it right inside my body,'' a diplomatic Ciccotelli said afterward.

The Lancers put themselves in an even deeper hole to start the third quarter when Papantonis took the opening kickoff and raced 90 yards for a touchdown and a 24-6 lead. However, St. John Vianney kept fighting, driving 76 yards in eight plays, highlighted by a 27-yard run by Brown, to cut the lead to 24-13 on a two-yard touchdown run by Brown with 8:58 left in the third quarter.

Khalil Haskins had an outstanding, 65-yard punt return for a touchdown in the loss for St. John Vianney. (Photo by Sports Pix NJ)

The Green Wave counterpunched with a 5-play, 60-yard drive of their own that ended with a 28-yard burst by Papantonis for his third touchdown of the game and a 31-13 lead with 6:14 remaining in the third quarter. St. John Vianney appeared ready to respond, but a pass by Brown was picked off by Delbarton junior defensive back Jonathan Catania to kill the drive.

Once again, St. John Vianney dug deep as the defense forced a three-and-out. Haskins then electrified the visiting crowd with a zig-zagging, 65-yard punt return touchdown in which he juked multiple defenders to cut the lead to 31-20 with 1:32 left in the third quarter.

The Lancers' defense then forced a second straight three-and-out, and the offense drove down to Delbarton's 12-yard line in eight plays, but an incompletion on fourth-and-three left them empty-handed. Yet again, the defense kept the game close with a third straight three-and-out, and this time the Lancers drove 50 yards in nine plays, highlighted by a 21-yard rocket screen pass to Haskins and a 17-yard strike from Brown to senior wideout P.J. Braccia, who finished with seven catches for 100 yards in his final game. Brown then punched it in from one yard out to shave the lead to 31-26 with 2:31 left in the game before his two-point conversion pass was intercepted by Papantonis.

After Delbarton recovered the ensuing onside kick, St. John Vianney burned its final two timeouts to try to get the ball back, setting up a third-and-14 from the Delbarton 41-yard line. Papantonis lined up in the wildcat formation and bounced it off the right side to daylight with the Lancers crowding the line of scrimmage, sprinting 59 yards for a touchdown to seal the win with 57.9 seconds remaining.

"I saw the promised land, and that was awesome,'' Papantonis said about his run. "It was a great feeling."

It was a tough ending to one of the best seasons in St. John Vianney history, but with several stars returning like junior RB/LB Calvin Beaty (#4), the Lancers have a bright future. (Photo by Sports Pix NJ)

It still couldn't dim a resurgent season for St. John Vianney, which won its first division title since 1982 and its first state playoff game since 1981 this fall. With one of the state's best quarterbacks returning and a host of other weapons, there is certainly the chance the Lancers could be right back in this spot next season.

"Just for what they've done here and the way they've put St. John's back on the map, I couldn't be more proud,'' Ciccotelli said.

 

Box score

Delbarton 38, St. John Vianney 26

.                              D                  S

First downs           14                 18

Rushes-yards    36-204          26-87

Passing              9-11-1          19-33-2

Passing yards      74                278

Penalties             5-30               4-20

Fumbles-lost       1-0                  3-3

St. John Vianney (10-1)   0  6  14 6 - 26

Delbarton (9-1)                 7  10  14  7 - 38

Scoring summary

D: Lodge 17-yard pass from Chiarolanzio (Massengill kick).

D: Papantonis 12-yard pass from Chiarolanzio (Massengill kick).

S: Haskins 5-yard run (kick failed).

D: Massengill 25-yard field goal.

D: Papantonis 90-yard kickoff return (Massengill kick).

S: Brown 2-yard run (Rice kick).

D: Papantonis 28-yard run (Massengill kick).

S: Haskins 65-yard punt return (Rice kick).

S: Brown 1-yard run (pass failed).

D: Papantonis 59-yard run (Massengill kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing - D: Papantonis 26-178, Sanders 8-18, Zebrowski 1-6, Ahsler 1-(-2), Tria 0-4. S: Mora 2-8, Haskins 6-25, Brown 15-52, Beaty 2-4, Sheard 1-(-2).

Passing - D: Chiarolanzio 7-9-1 70, Papantonis 2-2-0 4. S: Brown 19-33-2 278.

Receiving - D: Ahsler 1-10, Sanders 1-8, Lodge 5-46, Papantonis 2-10. S: Calabro 5-88, Haskins 3-48, Braccia 7-100, Sheard 3-32, Beaty 1-10.

Interceptions - D: Catania 1-0, Johnson 1-0. S: Tedeschi 1-0.