BROCKTON, Mass. -– Coaches often talk about the importance of starting fast and finishing strong. St. John’s Prep epitomized that mindset on Friday night at Rocky Marciano Stadium as the Eagles scored on their first and last drives of the night to slip past Brockton 14-6.
“The kids played so dang hard. They’re an easy team to like and to coach, but I don’t need too many more endings like this one. I’m only 34 and I feel like I aged 20 years tonight,” joked first-year Prep head coach Brian St. Pierre.
“We hung in with a pretty good football team,” said a dejected Peter Colombo, Brockton’s head coach.
After a methodical drive that brought the Eagles down to the Boxers’ 10-yard line, it was Cody Harwood that found pay dirt. The senior avoided a few tackles and pranced into the endzone to give the Prep a 7-0 lead with 4:46 to play in the opening quarter.
Two Brockton turnovers stalled any hopes the Boxers had of knotting the score before halftime. Two sophomores combined to force an interception. John Churchill’s jarring hit led to an arrant throw that was picked off by Joe Masterson. Later in the second quarter, the Eagles recovered a fumble in the endzone for a touchback after the Boxers were seemingly in position to punch in the equalizer.
Kerry Raymond capped off a scoring drive for Brockton that brought the Boxers within one point with 9:20 left in the fourth quarter. Brockton failed to convert on the PAT attempt.
“That’s what we need out of Kerry,” said Colombo of his team’s biggest bright spot in the first game of the season.
St. John’s would not be deterred. The Eagles marched methodically down the field from their own nine-yard line using up over seven minutes of game clock. Junior Jack Lambert bulled his way straight down field with hard-nose running, picking up four first downs himself.
“He’s a horse. He’s just a big, tough rugged kid. He’s a football player. He’s a two-way player for us. That’s what being a two-way player is about,” said St. Pierre.
But it was a nice fade pattern from in close that put the cherry on top of the Prep’s second scoring drive of the night. On third and goal Oliver Eberth threw a nice lob pass to the corner of the endzone where only Jake Burt could catch it. The Boston College commit did a terrific job of keeping his feet in bounds after securing the football. The touchdown and extra point gave SJP a 14-6 lead with 1:17 to go in the game.
“That’s what I like about this team. There’s no flinch in them. They’re just mentally tough. That drive was huge to finish it like that,” said St. Pierre.
Trailing 14-6 with under a minute to play, Brockton quarterabck Aaron Williams threw two deep balls to Greg Augustine to give the Boxers a chance from inside the SJP 10-yard line, but it was all for naught. A dropped pass and an ill-advised short pass into the middle of the field allowed the clock to run out before Brockton could get another play off on third and goal.
Eagle defense stout in victory: With an inability to generate much on the offensive side of the ball, Prep had to rely heavily on its defense to force turnovers and keep Brockton’s strong running game in check. The Prep defense did a good job of plugging lanes and battling against a very big Boxer offensive line led by Boston College-bound guard Aaron Monteiro.
“Our defense was on the field a lot. They played a great game, but our offense needed to do more with the ball when we had it. Between our first and last drive we didn’t do a whole lot,” said St. Pierre.
The majority of the Prep’s experience rests on the defensive side of the ball, a point of emphasis for St. Pierre in the postgame.
“[The defense] is where most of our starters are returning. We’ve got a great defensive staff. Coach Michael Barbati does a great job with them. We set that as precedent going in. We’re going to lean on our defense. They’ve been great so far this year,” said St. Pierre.
Intangibles go way of the Prep: In most low scoring, tight contests, the team that does the little things and avoids mistakes usually prevails. St. John’s Prep did just that on Friday night. St. Pierre’s team won the turnover battle, had the edge in the kicking game and made the most of opportunities in the red zone.
The Eagles made both extra point attempts, a potential difference in the game until the extra touchdown at the end. SJP received a terrific effort from senior punter Justin Foley, whose high-spiraling kicks with plenty of hang time helped swing the field position battle.
“Justin has done a great job all year for us. We have a weapon there. He can change the field position. We were backed up a couple times and he got us back out to midfield. That’s huge,” said St. Pierre.
St. John’s didn’t turn the ball over once while forcing two turnovers from the Boxers, including a momentum killing fumble inside the five-yard line towards the end of the first half.
“We have to finish our drives and learn how to win,” said Colombo. “It’s haunting.”
With the win, the Eagles move to 2-0 on the young season with a matchup on the horizon for next Saturday at home against Central Catholic.
Friday’s game was the season opener for Brockton, a team that will look to bounce back when it returns to the gridiron next Friday night for a tilt at Weymouth.
“The way we were able to battle a big, strong Catholic Conference team bodes well for down the line,” explained Colombo. “We gave them everything they could handle. We could have won it as easily as we lost it. I think we’ll be in the hunt at the end of the year.”