St. Joseph’s big plays early overshadowed by late-game fight by Chris Iseman of The Record
SPARTA — After making a flurry of big first-half plays against Pope John, St. Joseph is headed back to the Non-Public Group 3 final.
But a fight between the teams that began with 14 seconds remaining in the game overshadowed much of that.
The Green Knights took control early against Pope John as Gavin Sharkey had a 75-yard punt return that led to a touchdown and Evan Stewart blocked a punt that led to another score as third-seeded St. Joseph beat No. 2 Pope John, 28-7, in the sectional semifinals on Saturday.
The defending champion Green Knights are headed to their third consecutive sectional final. They’ll face No. 1 DePaul, whom they beat in last season’s title game. They also beat the Spartans, 28-21, in their regular-season finale.
But their semifinal victory on Saturday came with some late-game chaos.
Jaden Budkda scored a 15-yard touchdown with 20.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the fight broke out at the end of the ensuing kick return.
Both teams came off the sideline and onto the field. Pope John pulled its players off the field and sent them to the locker room before the officials ran off the final 14 seconds of the game.
How the fight actually began was unclear.
“I don’t think anybody knew what happened,” St. Joseph coach Augie Hoffmann said. “The refs don’t know how it started. I’m not pointing fingers, I think legitimately they didn’t know it started. I talked to [Pope John] Coach [Brian] Carlson and we’re both in agreement that that’s embarrassing. We didn’t want that. That’s not the way it should’ve ended.”
Carlson was also unsure on how it started.
“It was an intense game,” Carlson said. “There’s 70 players on both teams. I really don’t know. I wish I did.”
There were no ejections made.
The fight was an unfortunate end to a big win for St. Joseph.
Play of the game: Sharkey returned a punt 75 yards to the Lions’ 10 late in the first quarter.
Two plays later, Stewart ran for a six-yard touchdown.
“Sharkey’s an explosive kid,” Hoffmann said. “He does special things when he has the ball.”
Defensive standout: After Stewart’s touchdown, Pope John went three-and-out on its ensuing drive.
The Lions had fourth-and-13 at their own 17 when they tried to punt. But Stewart managed to block it. The ball went into the end zone and Howard Cross III recovered it for a St. Joseph touchdown.
Turning point: St. Joseph quarterback Nick Patti hit Sharkey for a 12-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter that put the Knights up, 21-0.
That gave St. Joseph command of the game and left the Lions in a big hole to start the second half.
Pope John’s only touchdown came with 6:44 left in the game.
Quotable: “It’s awesome,” Patti said of going back to the sectional final. “Knowing that we’re going to see the same team that we played last year and had success against and then played a close one with this year, we know we’re going to get great competition. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking to play the best teams in the championship.”