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Cathedral 16, Pope John 12

Cathedral runs past Pope John

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By Lorenzo Recupero
Globe Correspondent / October 30, 2011

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READING - Slipping past defending Catholic Central Small champion Pope John was no easy task, but by doing so yesterday, 16-12, the Panthers put themselves in the driver’s seat for postseason contention.

An offensive explosion was anticipated in the meeting of Catholic Central elites, but Cathedral’s defense brought the fireworks.

Behind first-year coach Duane Sigsbury, the Panthers (8-0, 4-0) in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

“We’ve done a great job, and we’ve said it all year long that we’re just going to take it one game at a time,’’ said Sigsbury. “This was a big game because [Pope John] was undefeated in the conference, but it’s not over yet and all our focus is on our next game with Matignon.

“Just one game at a time and just work like we’ve worked all year, and no game is bigger than the next.’’

The Panthers came in averaging 29.7 points per game while allowing a just 7.6 points. They put their defensive hard hats on and got to work, robbing Pope John quarterback Robert McMaster of three of his passes, slowing the Tigers (5-3, 3-1) and their pass-happy attack.

“We talked about it all year long how offense wins games, but defense wins championships,’’ said Sigsbury, “and with both teams scoring over 200 points and putting up a lot of points on the scoreboard, we knew today was going to be about defense.’’

Cathedral’s Matt Owens was on the receiving end of two of the interceptions.

“[Owens] is unbelievable,’’ said Sigsbury, “He’s in the middle of the field for a reason, and that’s because he is probably one of the best athletes in the state, and that’s no exaggeration.’’

Pope John scored in the first quarter on a 10-yard dash by McMaster and a 4-yard pass from McMaster to the dangerous Malcolm Brown in the second quarter for a 12-0 lead. But it was Owens who took care of the Tigers before intermission.

With just over seven minutes to play in the first half, Cathedral got the ball at its 35. On the first play of the drive, Owens split the defensive line and burst 65 yards to pay dirt.

Three plays into Pope John’s next drive, Owens struck again, picking off McMaster for the second time in the half.

Back on offense, with 3:04 to play in the half, Owens flawlessly executed a fake handoff before blasting down the middle of the defense for a 46-yard touchdown to give the Panthers the lead for good.

“It started off with the line, first and foremost, offense and defense. The coaches had a good game plan and we followed it through,’’ said Owens, who is playing in his first full season after missing two years with an ankle injury.

“[Defensively], I was reading the eyes of the quarterback and he led me right where the ball was going to be.’’

As for being on a winning team, Owens said he feels grateful.

“It feels good, first one in a long time,’’ he said. “I haven’t been on one of these since Pop Warner.’’