WORCESTER, Mass. –- New playoff format or not, the 89th meeting between rivals St. John’s of Shrewsbury and St. Peter-Marian at Fitton Field on Thursday morning sure didn’t lack any drama.
For the first time since 2002, the Guardians were victorious, knocking off their archrival by a score of 19-7 on a windy, frigid day in Worcester.
The Guardians were led offensively by a pair seniors, running back Isaiah Soucy (23 carries, 132 yards) and wide receiver Dan Henrickson (5 catches, 145 yards, 2 TD). Soucy finished the game with over one-thousand yards rushing for the year, while Henrickson also got over the one-thousand yard plateau in the second half.
It was a day of redemption for the Guardians, who were hurt early in the year by back-to-back one-point losses to Doherty, who will play for the Division 4 state championship next Saturday, and Shepherd Hill. SPM got another shot at Shepherd Hill in the playoffs, but a furious second-half comeback wasn’t quite enough to pick up a win and earn a berth into the Central Mass. championship game.
Needless to say, the Guardians made Thursday their de facto super bowl.
“We lost a couple heartbreakers, we could have been in the finals -- two one-point losses really hurt us," SPM coach Tom Henrickson said. "We knew we could play with anybody, they came out, played their starters, and they played to win. This is a huge win for us, they’re playing in the Division 2 state final and to go and beat a team of that caliber means a lot to our kids."
Beating St. John’s looked like a tall order at the beginning, however. Pioneers’ quarterback Drew Smiley marched the St. John’s offense down the field on the opening drive with ease, throwing a couple of passes of 40 and 17 yards respectively to Mike McGillicuddy and T.J. Kelley. On the very next play, running back Shane Combs (15 carries, 84 yards, TD) put the Pioneers on the board first.
The Guardians had a reply of their own in the second quarter though, manufacturing a 14 play, 92 yard drive that ended in a Tyis Boykin touchdown. St. Peter-Marian was able to hold the St. John’s offense after Smiley went down with an injured shoulder in the second quarter. In return, the Guardians took away the lead, and the momentum, when sophomore quarterback Seamus Leary (9-15, 159 yards, 2 TD) found Henrickson for a 28-yard score.
“Soucy is a tough back, Isaiah went over one-thousand yards rushing today and Danny went over one-thousand yards receiving. It was huge, for Isaiah his runs are so tough, he’s resilient, he plays both ways—so does Danny. Danny’s been double-covered the whole year, it goes a long way,” Tom Henrickson said.
St. Peter-Marian put the lead away for good late in the fourth quarter, as the crowd erupted on another touchdown connection from Leary to Henrickson, this time from 39 yards out, to extend the Guardians’ lead to 19-7.
The Guardians set out to make lasting memories at Fitton Field on Thursday, just as their coach had ordered before the game.
“The motivation is there no matter what," Tom Henrickson said. "What we preached to them was all us coaches were saying that we could go back…I could go back to my senior year of high school and I couldn’t tell you what we did weeks one through nine, but on Thanksgiving day I can tell you every player that played in the game and what they did."
Soucy was handed the Corsac Award after the game, given to the most outstanding performer. Notable past winners include Smiley, California tight end Richard Rodgers, UMass tight end Rob Blanchflower, Fordham receiver Griffin Murphy, and former NFL cornerback Jerry Azumah. Soucy didn’t mince words after receiving the trophy, calling it one of his greatest achievements.
“[St. John’s] is probably the greatest villain in the world, I can say that for anybody on this team. We hadn’t beat them in awhile and the last two years they had us by a touchdown,” Soucy said, “This year we came through, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. It’s one of the greatest achievements of my life, one of the greatest moments of my life. I’ll never forget this win.”