BROCKTON, Mass. – Mix up two run-oriented teams, add in some inclement weather with swirling winds and driving rain, and you could pretty much figure out what the result would be.
No. 2 St. John’s Prep did what it does best, and did it a little bit better than No. 7 Brockton Friday night at Rocky Marciano Stadium. Eagles running back Jonathan Thomas was off to the races all night, tallying three touchdowns and 224 rushing yards on 23 carries. Thomas’ scores supplied Prep with its 20 unanswered points, all that it needed to claim a 27-12 win over the Boxers.
Although Prep (3-1) found its groove in the second half, dominating the time of possession battle in holding the ball for the greater portion of the fourth quarter, there was also a caveat.
The Eagles have expanded their playbook in recent weeks, adding Wildcat formation plays so as to take advantage of their backfield of Alex Moore and Thomas. Prep’s first touchdown of the evening came on a 70-yard run off a direct snap to Moore. In addition to Thomas’ eye-popping stat line, Moore also broke the century mark, running for 104 yards on nine carries.
Having such a dynamic backfield has its advantages, particularly in terms of play-calling.
“We did it last week, too, with Johnny [Thomas],” Prep head coach Jim O’Leary said. “We have to do that [use the Wildcat] because they start keying on people and there’s times we need first downs and they put too many people in the box. That gives us the ability to go outside, inside and they can’t key on either one of those guys.”
While the Eagles ran away with the second half, the Boxers (2-2) were the aggressors early on. Brockton was on the board with its first offensive possession of the game. Aaron LeClair capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run over the right side end zone pylon.
Prep sent a return salvo on Moore’s 70-yard touchdown run on the ensuing possession, but the Boxers responded as well.
After another sustained drive, Brockton quarterback Austin Roberts plunged in with a 5-yard touchdown run off an option play. Roberts was hit in the back while making his dive into the end zone, however. He hobbled to his feet and tried to return to the Brockton sideline, but soon collapsed on the field. He was taken off the field by paramedics and taken to the hospital as a precaution.
The Boxers never got off the mat.
ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY LAND
Face it, opposing defenses know what’s coming when the Prep comes calling. Any defense had better commit to stopping the run and the Eagles’ array of sweeps, tosses and ole fashioned power football.
Yet, with the added wrinkle of Moore and Thomas lined up in the backfield side-by-side, running the Wildcat, the Eagles have become even harder to stop.
Part of the success Prep enjoyed against Brockton, particularly in the third quarter, came with the multi-back direct snap plays. Moore and Thomas stood shoulder-to-shoulder in place of the quarterback. Where the snap was headed was another question. In addition, the Eagles ran the package with tempo. The plays were sold with quarterback Jack Sharrio fetching play calls from the sideline. When Sharrio stepped off the playing field, the Eagles would step to the line and snap. It only added to the confusion and disguise.
“We’ve been working on it in practice with the zones and the hits up the middle because defenses don’t know whether it’s going to be me or John [Thomas] getting it,” Moore said. “We have many plays off of it that could go for a touchdown.”
It worked from the get-go. Moore’s 70-yard run came on the first Prep play with that personnel grouping.
From there, it was a matter of execution.
“Smuz [Sean Smerczynski] made a great block, I cut off of him to left and I saw a lot of green grass, so I made another cut and it was a touchdown from there.”
AIR LET OUT
Aside from the obvious fact of losing their starting quarterback, the Boxers also lost their emotional leader in Roberts. Forced to go their second quarterback, starting safety Micah Morel, the Boxers attack slowed in the second half.
Postgame, Brockton head coach Peter Colombo characterized Roberts’ injury as tied to the sciatic nerve. His status going forward is unknown.
On Friday, Roberts’ absence was apparent. Despite getting a 10-carry, 98-yard performance from Ricardo Calixte, the Boxers faltered without their charismatic leader.
“We took the lead, Auggie [Roberts] was in the end zone, we were doing what we wanted on offense,” Colombo said. I didn’t know if they had an answer for what we were doing.”
O’Leary admitted as much.
“It’s tough to defend when you have a quarterback like him that can spread the ball, spread the field and make those good decisions with the ball. And he’s tough.”