DePaul scored on each of its five possessions in the second half to pull away from Pope John and win the season’s opener, 52-28.
First Quarter: DePaul turned the ball over on each of their first two possessions – an interception by Pope John’s Jarelle Robinson and a fumbled snap recovered by Jacob Brennan – and it wasn’t until their fourth possession when they were on the board when Andrew Butler found Sean Kelly in the right flat for a 4-yard touchdown. Pope John was on the board first on the previous drive when Peter Delaportas found Connor Milks for a 60-yard touchdown. DePaul scored on their following possession when Butler connected with Tedy Afful for 41 yards for the score and the Spartans were up, 14-7, just a minute into the second quarter. It was their first lead, a lead they keep for the rest of the game.
Second Quarter: DePaul added to the lead on the next possession when Butler completed a 12-yard pass to Charlie Finley. Two key plays on the drive were a 38-yard run by Kelly and a 19-yard completion to Afful. With 21 seconds left in the half, DePaul’s punt from their 38 was blocked by Milks, who picked up the ball on the 7 and ran it in for a touchdown, making it 21-14.
Third Quarter: After a Pope John punt gave DePaul possession on the 41 of Pope John, the Spartans advanced to the 12 on a 20-yard completion to Marshawn Ferguson. Matthew Wilderson kicked a 28-yard field goal to make it 24-14. After the Spartan defense forced a punt, Kelly broke off a 25-yard run, followed by a 12-yard run by Jordan Sellers and a 16-yard completion to Afful for a first-and-goal on the 5-yard line. Kelly finished things on the following play for a touchdown around the left side, making it 31-14, looking like they were going to pull away. That was temporarily halted when Robinson returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and it was 31-21. DePaul started the next possession on their 40 when a long kick return by De’mere White was called back on a penalty. It didn’t matter as Butler found Finley for 41 yards to the 19 on the following play, while Kelly went 11 yards to set up a first-and-goal from the 1, with Butler sneaking the ball in for the score.
Fourth Quarter: DePaul’s next possession went into the fourth quarter when Butler found Finley for a 3-yard touchdown for a 45-21 lead with 10:39 left. Butler connected with White for a 32-yard completion two plays earlier to set up the score. Delaportas was a perfect 5-for-5 on the following drive, capping it off with a 58-yard score to Robinson. Sellers went 35 yards for a touchdown with 5:28 left and DePaul ran out the clock on the next possession with the reserves in the game.
After a sluggish start on offense, DePaul looked outstanding, especially in the second half. Butler was 22-35-318 and five touchdowns, while scoring a touchdown on the sneak. Kelly gained 131 yards on 14 carries, a 9.4 average, while catching three passes. Finley caught six for 94 yards. Sellers gained 73 on six carries and White had 35 on five carries. Overall, the Spartans gained 225 on the ground on 31 carries – a 7.26 average.
Pope John had trouble establishing consistent offense and special teams matched the offense’s scoring total of 14 points. The Lions offense gained 210 yards on 46 plays. Subtract touchdowns of 60 and 58 yards plus a 22-yard pass and the Lions gained 70 yards on 43 plays. The DePaul defense had something to do with that, but the blocking did not help Pope John’s cause. The Lions only rushed for 2 yards on 19 carries and they only had one possession where they gained more than 10 yards. That must improve immediately!
On the positive side for Pope John, Delaportas looks like he will be a good quarterback. Milks caught 5 passes for 8 yards and a score, while Robinson had 3 for 92 and a touchdown. Additionally, Robinson returned a kick for a touchdown and had one interception, while Milks blocked a punt that he returned for a touchdown. One player who stood out on defense was linebacker Mike DeNucci who was around the ball most of the night with tackles and pressures.
DePaul quarterback Andrew Butler: “We started slow, but we had an overall good game, I need to clean some things up, for sure. The game slowed down for me in the second half. We are a young team that scored 52 points and we can get better every week.”
DePaul running back/safety Sean Kelly: “We were able to wear them down by the fourth quarter. We were sloppy early, but got better during the game. As a senior, people look up to me as a leader; I am not a rah-rah guy, I lead by example.”
DePaul tight end/linebacker Charlie Finley: “It was fun out there and I thought I could get open any time. Last year’s heartbreak in the playoffs is fueling us and we don’t want that to happen again.”