John Paul playoff berth start of ‘big things’
John Paul II’s final regular-season game was emotional for coach Kevin Wald.
In double overtime, Golden Warriors quarterback Sam Summa rolled right and fired a two-point conversion scoring pass to Reco Anderson that secured a 28-26 victory over Colleton Prep at the Richard Gray Sports Complex in Hardeeville, clinched a winning regular season and earned John Paul a SCISA Class A playoff berth.
The Golden Warriors (6-4), who earned a No. 4 seed from Region 2, will visit Region 1’s Dillon Christian (8-2), a top seed, in Friday’s first-round playoff game. A win would propel the Golden Warriors into a Nov. 10 state semifinal.
After going 0-10 last season, the school’s first playing 11-man, Wald walked off the field Oct. 20 moved by his team’s accomplishments.
“I shed a few tears on the way to the locker room because most people will never understand what goes into being the head football coach,” Wald said. “I thought about my wife and children and how thankful I am they continue to support me and these 70- to 80-hour weeks.”
Athletic director Matt Dakolios said the clinching score was the culmination of four years of building a program.
“Certainly after last year, it’s a great feeling, and a feeling of, ‘OK, we have arrived,’ ” he said. “I was just so happy for the guys who not only lived through 0-10 last year, but for the three seniors who were there for an 0-3 JV 8-man season, a 1-9 varsity 8-man season, and last year’s 0-10. Before this year, we were 1-22, so I was very thankful that those seniors got to experience that. Their hard work and faith in the school was finally rewarded this year.”
John Paul hopes to take another step as the playoffs kick off. The Golden Warriors, who enter the postseason on a two-game winning streak, had a bye last week and Wald said the focus during practice was on blocking and tackling. He believes the team has improved each week and cites as a turning point the team’s 36-14 win against Carolina Academy on Sept. 29. The Golden Warriors entered the contest on a two-game losing skid, but John Paul got back on track, led by Zach Doe’s 245 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Doe, a Hardeeville resident, has been the catalyst all season. He leads the team with 1,791 yards rushing and 24 TDs. Jasper resident Melik Frost has 682 rushing yards and seven scores.
Johnathan Field leads the team with 97 tackles and Mark Tigges has a team-leading seven sacks. Wald, who said the program’s being built from the middle school level, isn’t surprised the team earned a winning season.
“The players have worked very hard to improve and so has our coaching staff, so it doesn’t come as a big surprise,” he said. “It’s really more of an appreciation for winning and not taking winning for granted.”
Dakolios said Wald, who coached at Hilton Head Prep before taking the helm at John Paul in 2016, has brought a culture of respect.
“He has brought a culture of molding great young men, and he’s brought in amazing assistants,” Dakolios said. “He coaches with character, and that’s not just a cliché. Some coaches wear kids down over time, but the more you are around Coach Wald, and the more these kids are coached by him, they more they respect him and the more they grow in their character.”
Dakolios believes the season is signaling the start of success.
“This 6-4 season is just the tip of the iceberg for this program,” he said. “After an 0-10 season, many programs would struggle to field a team the next season. But our numbers went up by 50 percent because young men want to be around Coach Wald and his great staff. There is a great excitement surrounding the program, because the kids know big things are coming.”