HOLDEN, Mass. -- With three minutes, 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter, No. 8 St. John’s of Shrewsbury led 35-14, and could have simply run the clock down and taken a 21-point win over No. 16 Wachusett Regional High School.
Instead, the St. John’s defense intercepted a Matt LeBlanc pass on the Wachusett 32-yard line, and Pioneers head coach John Andreoli did not let up. Andreoli called a wide receiver reverse-pass that put the ball on the 3-yard line, and then scored on a John Vassar 3-yard touchdown run.
Though the score ultimately gave the Mountaineers another possession that ended up in a touchdown, Andreoli stuck with his aggressive play-calling.
“We are playing a 7-1 team and we’re playing them for 44 minutes,” stated Andreoli about the final few minutes of the game.
“They can score at any point in the ball game…so our goal was to come out here and to keep the pedal to the metal for 44 minutes -- offensively, defensively, and special teams -- and that’s what our goal was, and that’s what we did.”
St. John’s (8-1, 4-0 1A) won by a score of 42-21 in the end, and left Wachusett (6-2, 3-1 1A) hurting after a physical game.
“That was a smash mouth, toe-to-toe type of football game,” Andreoli said.
“It always gets chippy with Wachusett,” said St. John’s wide receiver Richard Rodgers. “We wanted to make a statement and make sure they know who’s the best.”
Wachusett’s Eric Darko led both teams in rushing in the game, as he finished the contest with 16 carries for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Darko led a bruising Mountaineers offense that tried to run down the clock and keep the ball away from St. John’s offense.
The game plan was an excellent idea, but a tough one to execute.
“They are able to get yardage -- big chunks -- in a very short bit of time,” Wachusett head coach Mike Dubzinski said, “…part of our gameplan was to take the ball [away] and have our best defense, be our offense.”
The strategy scared the St. John’s coaching staff initially, as Wachusett scored on a 15-play drive that not only took seven minutes, 37 seconds off the clock in the first quarter, but also spanned 80 yards.
The Pioneers scored on six of nine offensive possessions and held the Wachusett offense to 14 points through the first 42 minutes of the game.
“The last two years they beat us, so we had to come out and leave no doubt that we were the better team,” St. John’s quarterback Dan Light said.
“We lost to Xaverian last week and we felt that we should have won that game,” Rodgers added. “I think we were all pretty mad about that and came out and used our anger from that game -- and the past two losses to Wachusett -- and took it to them.”
For St. John's it was the usual crew. Rodgers finished the game with five catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns, and Light completed 7 of 17 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns. Light also ran the ball 11 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
Although the St. John’s offense was overpowering at times, Wachusett never laid down.
“It was 42-14 and we could have gone three-and-out real quick, but we didn’t,” Dubzinski said. “The kids came to the sideline and we said, ‘Let’s keep going, let’s play Wachusett football’ and that’s what we did.”
Wachusett’s Matt McMillen was the focal point of the offense in the first half, piling up 45 yards on 11 carries. However, the St. John’s defense adjusted and limited McMillen to 15 yards on seven carries in the second half.
The Mountaineers opened up the second half with a 13-play drive of 77 yards and ended in a McMillen touchdown.
“To come up here and be playing on the road in this ball park, and play a team like this we had to play our best game,” Andreoli said. “And I think we played one of our better games tonight.”
“It feels good,” said Vassar (10 carries, 89 yards, one TD) about beating St. John’s biggest regional rival. “We still have to go through the rest of the year but we might see them again and they’re probably going to come out hard again.”
SJ - 14 7 0 21 -- 42
W - 7 0 7 7 -- 21
SJ - Rodgers 67 catch from Light (Rodgers kick)
W - Darko 3 run (Connor McDavitt kick)
SJ - Light 5 run (Rodgers kick)
SJ - Rodgers 25 catch from Light (Rodgers kick)
W - McMillen 2 run (McDavitt kick)
SJ - Drew Ortone 12 catch from Light (Rodgers kick)
SJ - Light 35 run (Rodgers kick)
SJ - Vassar 3 run (Rodgers kick)
W - Darko 10 run (McDavitt kick)