The Pope John Lions football team had great expectations going into the 2023 season as they finished 4-6 last season. Head coach Dom Gaston was beginning to rebuild the Lions into their former championship selves, and the rebuild turned into a winning record for the Lions. Behind an amazing defense and a strong offense, the Lions finished 7-3 on the regular season, but would fall in the first round of the NJSIAA playoffs.
The Lions began their season on August 26 against the Newark Collegiate Panthers and won 47-8. This set the tone for the Lions as they headed into their next week matchup against the Seton Hall Prep Pirates. The Pirates have historically always defeated the Lions, but not this year as the Lions won 33-20, starting 2-0 on the season.
The following week was another intense game against the Paramus Catholic Paladins where the Lions pulled away with the 47-40 victory in their first road game of the season. The Lions would finally be stopped by the Cardinal Hayes Cardinals with a 40-34 loss, bringing their record to 3-1. Another two wins would end September with the Lions holding a record of 5-1 with which to begin October.
October started with another loss. The Lions fell to the Delbarton Green Wave 30-6 in a tough day for the team as a whole. It was a great lesson to be learned by the Lions as they could learn from their mistakes going forward. The loss also helped the juniors and underclassmen who would be leaders next season to learn how to deal with a loss and to try to come back the following week with a new mindset.
“I hope that the underclassmen really understand what a blessing it is playing on the field with your brother next to you and giving 110% everyday,” said senior Sir-Paris Jones on Sunday. “You just never know when it’s going to be your last game.”
On October 13, the Lions rebounded with a huge 31-27 victory over the Depaul Spartans to improve to 6-2 and with a forfeit win the following week over the Hudson Catholic Hawks, the Lions went into their final regular season game with a 7-2 record.
The final game was senior day and the 2023 homecoming game, and it was against the St. Joe’s (Metuchen) Falcons. It was an important game for the team, not only because it was a game that would determine who the Lions would host in the playoffs, but because it was senior day. The defense came to play, but senior quarterback Chris Dietrich struggled, throwing three interceptions that would hurt an amazing defensive performance.
The Falcons won 10-6 in a defensive game, ending the Lions’ regular season at 7-3. Senior wide receiver Charlie Mulligan commented on the offensive performance of the team throughout the season on Sunday.
“I believe that, as a team, we accomplished so much together,” said Mulligan. “We won some big time games, and I truly believe our senior class is that reason.”
The Lions would lose in the first round of the NJSIAA playoffs 28-17 to the Don Bosco Prep Ironmen, finishing their season at 7-4. It was a great season, and Jones, the defense and the offense all were very happy to finish the season with a winning record; the first time since 2017.
“I feel very blessed and appreciative of this opportunity and of the whole season,” said Jones. “We have gone through so much adversity as a team and nothing was able to stop us in our tracks. We end with a 7-3 record by beating some of the best teams in the state of New Jersey.”
Andrew Nowel, Contributing Sportswriter
Currently enrolled at Canisius University in Buffalo, New York, Andrew Nowel is an up-and-coming journalist/photographer and broadcaster. He wrote sports' articles for his high school, Pope John XXIII Regional High School. Andrew has worked with Morris Sussex Sports in sports broadcasting and analyzes professional sports in his free time. Andrew and his friend Ryan have a podcast that talks about professional sports and Canisius Athletics. Andrew also runs his own website about Canisius Athletics. He strives to inform the people about local sports and the young athletes of our communities from Buffalo to New Jersey and everywhere.
Andrew has provided previous and remarkable sports stories and photographs for the Ridge View Echo since he was 16 and enrolled at Pope John High School.