BRIDGEWATER, Mass. – St. John’s Prep’s first half offensively was characterized by missed opportunities. Three times during the first 22 minutes of their road contest at No. 6 Bridgewater-Raynham, the 10th-ranked Eagles were flagged with penalties while in the red zone.
But Prep figured things out in time, scoring 20 unanswered points to close out a 23-12 win over the Trojans, avenging a home loss to B-R one year ago. The victory was the first for new head coach and alumnus Brian St. Pierre, who was award the game ball by his team in their postgame huddle.
“I was chomping at the bit,” said the eight-season NFL veteran. “I got a little animated during the pregame speech.”
That enthusiasm didn’t translate to early success for St. Pierre’s team, however. B-R (0-1) systematically marched 80 yards downfield on the opening drive of the game, as Trojans quarterback Matt Clement completed all three of his passes to wide receiver Matt Reagan, culminating in a 9-yard touchdown pass. It resulted in an instant 6-0 Trojans’ lead that required only 2 minutes, 25 seconds of game clock.
Prep (1-0) also was able to move the ball effectively on its first drive, but the Eagles stalled with a first-and-goal from the 8-yard line. An offensive holding call backed them up to the 18 and, three plays later, Prep was forced to settle for a 36-yard field goal but Justin Foley.
After B-R thwarted a Prep fourth-and-goal bid from the 5, the Trojans took a 12-3 lead midway through the second quarter, when Clement hit Reagan for their second touchdown connection on the day – this time from 56 yards.
The Eagles would again be confronted with a fourth-down decision deep in Trojans’ territory before the half was out. With a fourth-and-six from the B-R 13, St. Pierre remained aggressive.
“I didn’t want to settle for a field goal, we did on the first drive,” he said.
The move paid off as first-time starting quarterback Oliver Eberth hit Owen Rockett for their first of two scores, whittling B-R’s lead to 12-10 at the half.
Eberth (9 of 17, 143 yards) and Rockett (5 catches, 60 yards) resumed play in the second half as they’d left it in the first, as the senior wideout took a simple swing pass upfield for a 35-yard touchdown.
“We were hoping to get the linebacker pinched in a little bit and we hit it just in time,” Rockett said. “From there, it was just making a play.”
Knock, knock, knockin’: Prep ran away with the game in the second half, thanks to a relentless rushing attack, led by senior Cody Harwood. The Eagles rushed for 225 yards on the game, with nearly three-quarters of those yards coming in the second half.
Harwood punched in 23 of his game-high 123 yards on the Eagles’ final score with 7:50 remaining in the game. Junior Dillon Preston (10 carries, 47 yards) also provided tough yards on the ground running behind junior fullback Nick Spofford.
“The whole game they played really well,” Harwood said of Prep’s offensive line. “It was just opening the holes and then it was just me one-on-one with the backer, trying to make the play. They were just worn down that second half.”
Lack of thump: While Saturday’s affair looked to be a test of rushing attacks entering action, B-R was limited in its ability to run the ball consistently.
ESPN Boston preseason Mr. Football candidate Brandon Gallagher left the game in the first quarter due to an ankle sprain. Matters were made worse when Gallagher’s replacement – senior Isaiah Bell (4 carries, 22) was injured while attempting to make a defensive tackle in the second quarter.
With the Trojans’ thunder out of the lineup, the offense was left to Clement primarily. He acquitted himself well, completing his first seven consecutive pass attempts, while completing 9 of 15 attempts for 122 yards.
“We live and die with the play-action pass and the running game,” B-R head coach Dan Buron said. “It wasn’t there, so [Clement] had to work with it. I though he did a nice job considering – it was a good day, not a great day.”
Clement’s comfort with Reagan was apparent, as the junior wide receiver caught five balls for 94 yards.
“He did well, he made some plays and Matty [Clement] found him,” Buron said of Reagan. “So we’re going to be OK. I’m disappointed in the loss, but, in the big picture, I think we improved today.”
A new era: Following the victory, St. Pierre reflected on the legacy former Prep coach and current athletic director Jim O’Leary left with the program. St. Pierre is just the third Prep coach in the last 47 years, following O’Leary (30 seasons) and Fred Glatz (17 seasons).
“When you follow a legend, the bar’s set pretty high,” said St. Pierre, who won a Super Bowl title while quarterbacking the Eagles in 1997. “You feel that. We’ve been a successful program for a long time and you fell that. But this is where I feel I belong. I had a great experience here as a player and as a student.”