A long, tough trip for Paul VI

   Paul VI football coach John Doherty knows he has a rough road against North Jersey juggernauts in the Non-Public 4 playoffs every year. This year, heavily favorerd St. Peter's Prep awaits the Eagles. "It's frustrating, but I don't want to whine about it," Doherty said. "It is what it is." ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff
   Paul VI football coach John Doherty knows he has a rough road against North Jersey juggernauts in the Non-Public 4 playoffs every year. This year, heavily favorerd St. Peter's Prep awaits the Eagles. "It's frustrating, but I don't want to whine about it," Doherty said. "It is what it is." ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff
Posted: November 16, 2013

Paul VI coach John Doherty knows what to expect: a long bus ride and an up-close look at some athletes who will be playing college football on television in the next couple of years.

"They've got studs," Doherty said of St. Peter's Prep, which will host Paul VI at the Caven Point athletic complex in Jersey City in the quarterfinals of the Non-Public 4 tournament Friday night.

No team has beaten its helmet against the hard reality of the North Jersey, large-private-school football complex as often and with such lopsided results as Paul VI has in the last eight seasons.

St. Augustine Prep has experienced the same sort of frustration, albeit with less frequency and with different coaching staffs.

Doherty has built Paul VI into one of South Jersey's most consistently competitive programs, with four straight division titles from 2007-10 and a 57-32 overall record since 2005.

But since the program took a big step forward in 2005, Paul VI is 0-6 against North Jersey powers in the Non-Public 4 playoffs, and the scores have reflected a gap as wide as the distance of those road trips up the New Jersey Turnpike: 309 points allowed, 66 points scored.

"It's frustrating, but I don't want to whine about it," Doherty said. "It is what it is."

The coach is careful not to present the wrong message to his players, supporters of the program, or others in the South Jersey football community. Paul VI will board the bus and make another long ride with one intention: to come back with a victory.

St. Peter's Prep is a New Jersey program with a national profile. The Marauders play two showcase games every September and feature some of the most highly recruited athletes in the state.

Senior running back Jon Hilliman is a Rutgers recruit. But the Marauders' most explosive athletes are in the junior class, as quarterback Brandon Wimbush has offers from Miami and Ohio State and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick is a five-star recruit by rivals.com with offers from Florida State and Notre Dame.

"They're unbelievable," Doherty said.

Programs such as St. Peter's Prep, Don Bosco Prep, St. Joseph of Montvale, Paramus Catholic, and Bergen Catholic are part of the New Jersey high school scene but also apart from it: They all play regional or national powers in September games that often are nationally televised. They all attract athletes who want to be part of that level of scholastic competition.

St. Peter's played Gonzaga (D.C.) and Eastern Christian (Md.) in September. At the same time, Paul VI was facing Cherry Hill West and Clearview.

There's no easy solution to this lopsided situation, and not every tournament can be rigged to be "fair" for everybody, anyway. Small non-public programs in North Jersey no doubt view St. Joseph of Hammonton in the same way that Paul VI sees St. Peter's or Don Bosco.

St. Augustine is in the same boat as Paul VI, and the Hermits have every intention of building a program that can compete with the North Jersey powerhouses.

And the reality is that while Paul VI might be at a severe disadvantage in facing an all-boys school with a nearly double the enrollment and a full commitment to high-level football success, the Eagles also have some factors in their favor in competition against public schools that make up most of their regular-season schedule.

So things tend to cut both ways.

Doherty can't complain. His team is 6-1 since opening night, and its only loss was by 8-7 to Group 4 public power Timber Creek. With five sophomores in the starting lineup and a strong junior class, the Eagles have the foundation for a bright future.

And a long bus ride on Friday night can help with that.

"Our older guys know what it is," Doherty said. "We have to bring our 'A' game and make sure we don't make mistakes. Our younger guys have to experience it themselves. They need to play their best football or it's going to be a long night."


Tough Duty

Here's how South Jersey programs Paul VI and St. Augustine have fared against North Jersey powers in the Non-Public 4 state tournament over the last eight seasons.

Paul VI

Year   Opponent   Win/Loss   Score   

2012   Paramus Catholic   Loss   49-9   

2010   Seton Hall Prep   Loss   47-13   

2009   St Peter's Prep   Loss   47-10   

2008   Don Bosco Prep   Loss   65-6   

2007   Don Bosco Prep   Loss   42-7   

2005   Don Bosco Prep   Loss   59-21   

St. Augustine

2012   Don Bosco Prep   Loss   42-14   

2009   Seton Hall Prep   Loss   49-14   

2008   Bergen Catholic   Loss   42-0   

- Phil Anastasia


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/

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