BOLTON, Mass. -- Moments after watching his team put forth its best overall effort of the season, St. John's (Shrewsbury) head coach John Andreoli couldn't hold back his excitement any longer. Andreoli, like all coaches do at game's end, huddled with his team for a few minutes to quickly recap the events which took place during the previous two hours.
Known for his low-key demeanor, Andreoli was anything but. Friday night's 49-21 victory over No. 24 Nashoba Regional had him pumped and boisterous. Andreoli was tossing out compliments the way a person hands out Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters.
Following an auspicious start to the season when they were manhandled by Leominster, Andreoli's No. 11 Pioneers have now run off three consecutive victories. The story lines to all three of those contests may have played out differently, but the end result remained the same.
"We felt tonight's game was a tipping point in regards to our season," said Andreoli, now in his 10th season with the Pioneers. "Playing against a team that has had tremendous success, there were several points in this game where our kids stood up and made plays.
“There are certain plays in a game that can be the difference between winning and losing and tonight we made them. That is what we had been emphasizing all week, that all the plays matter and we have to take advantage of every opportunity to win those one-on-one battles. Collectively, I thought we did that tonight."
This triumph over the Chieftains had some extra meaning.
Nashoba, which has claimed back-to-back Super Bowl titles, entered riding the crest of a state-high 29-game win streak. Ironically, its last loss came against St. John's back in the 2010 Super Bowl.
For the first 22 minutes of this one, the Chieftains (3-1) stayed right with the Pioneers. But the second half told a different story. St. John's dominated, scoring all four times it had the ball.
Pioneers quarterback Drew Smiley, operating out of the no-huddle offense, picked apart Nashoba's defense. The senior completed 23 of 29 passes for 329 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. St. John's offensive line did a yeoman-like job protecting Smiley and giving him the time he needed to stay in the pocket, check off his receivers and target the ones who got open.
"My line did a great job tonight," Smiley said. "I had the time and if I can get the ball to any of my receivers I know they're going to get yards out of it. Everyone really stepped up for us tonight. A win like this can keep elevating us upward and allow us to continue to get better every time we take the field. It was certainly a huge win tonight for us."
When Smiley wasn't throwing the ball all over the yard, junior running back Shane Combs offered some offensive balance as he made a habit all night of busting up the middle or around the edges for big gains. Combs finished his campaign having rushed for 133 yards on 19 carries and four touchdowns.
St. John's (3-1) led 14-7 after the first quarter. The Pioneers scored on their first two possessions.
Davon Jones snagged a 20-yard pass from Smiley to open the scoring. Nashoba's Drew Schartner returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards to help set up senior Eli Williams’ 10-yard blast into the end zone. On St. John's second possession, Smiley completed seven passes as part of an 84-yard drive finished off by Combs' 3-yard run across the goal line.
After a brief hiatus by both offenses, the Chieftains would knot things up 14-all with 44 seconds left before halftime. A 49-yard carry by Williams (132 yards on 10 attempts) set up a Matt Sabourin 9-yard score. However, with still some time remaining on the clock, the Pioneers had no thoughts of taking a knee.
Smiley tossed passes to Mike McGillicuddy (81 yards on 6 receptions) and T.J. Kelley, moving St. John's to the Nashoba 28 with only a handful of seconds showing. Facing a Hail Mary situation, Smiley tossed a pass to Kelley near the back of the end zone. The 6-foot-5 senior receiver out-jumped a pair of Chieftain defenders to come down with the ball and send the Pioneers into the half on top, 21-14.
On its first possession of the third quarter, the St. John's offense continued to flourish.
The Pioneers marched 47 yards before the drive was capped off by Combs' 9 yard touchdown carry, pushing the margin to 28-14. But there was no quit in the Chieftains. Gains of 42 and 24 yards by Sabourin and Williams, respectively, was followed up moments later by a 3 yard touchdown run by Sabourin (12 rushes for 93 yards) to pull Nashoba to within a touchdown.
But the Pioneers offense proved too much for the Chieftains defense to contain. St. John's added to it mounting total late in the third. A 38-yard reception by Jones (6 catches for 106 yards) made it a two score game again. A 1-yard dive by Combs, as part of a 99-yard drive midway through the final quarter, put the Pioneers in control, leading 42-21.
Camden Murphy's pickoff of Matt Mudgett on Nashoba's next possession was soon followed by Combs' final touchdown run of the evening, this time from 5 yards out.
"(Twenty-nine straight victories) is a tremendous accomplishment," Chieftains first-year coach Jamie Tucker said. "Obviously, we would've like to have gotten it to 30 or more, but all good things must come to an end. This defeat doesn't take away from our program nor does it take away what we've accomplished and what we are looking to do here. St. John's is a very good football team and tonight they simply out-played us."