SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- Brockton made the trip west for its annual scrimmage with St. John's (Shrewsbury) Saturday, and it was a day marked by physical play. Neither offense was able to find the end zone, as both defensive units repeatedly tightened inside the red zone. Still, both teams did make hay on the ground, utilizing tough running and solid blocking.
Despite the lack of scoring, there were plenty of positives for both coaches to pull out of the morning scrimmage. Here are a few takeaways:
St. John's New Quarterback
The Pioneers have been blessed with great talent at quarterback the past few years, with both Andrew Smiley and Tim Cassidy putting together multiple successful seasons. It now appears that the St. John's "Blur" offense is in the capable hands of junior Steve Bucciaglia.
While he had his ups and downs, last year’s JV starter showed a quick release and the ability to escape pressure when the play broke down. Twice he avoided a near certain sack, escaped right and hit a receiver for a first down.
While he did miss two receivers high, one of them leading to an interception by Brockton safety Keshaun Brown, Bucciaglia dropped an absolute dime on third and long to receiver Nick Pallotta. The senior receiver ran a deep post, and Bucciaglia hit him in stride for a gain of 20 between the corner and the safety, setting the Pioneers up deep in boxer territory.
It's still early, but St. John's coach John Andreoli liked what he saw from the young signal caller.
"Number one, I thought (Bucciaglia) showed great leadership in the huddle," Andreoli said. “He had a presence about him in the huddle, and he went through his progressions well and carried out his fakes well… I think he made some pretty good progress this week.”
Both Front Sevens Have Big Days
There were a few big offensive plays on both sides of the ball, but the day was really carried by both defenses, and the front sevens in particular. Brockton was led by senior middle linebacker Kingsley Ejiogu-Dike, who made three tackles for a loss, including a stuff up the middle on 3rd and short during the Pioneers' first drive. The physical senior also broke up a running back screen, nearly picking the pass off.
The Boxers also enjoyed big days from junior defensive end Peter Barthelemy, who consistently applied pressure in the Pioneers backfield, and knocked down a wide receiver screen with his long arms. Senior outside linebacker Pride Favors also had a nice day buzzing the flat and taking away Bucciaglia's short passes to the strong side.
Brown had the Boxers' lone turnover, a deep interception, but he also broke up another long pass, and covered a ton of ground in the secondary. The kid's speed was apparent all day for Brockton.
On the St. John's side, senior linebacker John Fields was everywhere. Normally a strong side linebacker, Fields played in the middle as the Pioneers await the return of junior Isaiah Keegan, who is out a few weeks with an injury. Junior outside linebacker Liam Doran also made a few nice stops, but the St. John's defensive line stole the show.
Senior defensive ends Tom Feraco, who missed the 2015 season with a knee injury, and Flynn McGilvray each did a nice job of setting the edge and stringing running plays out, while junior defensive tackles Ryan Kelley and Aidan Flaherty each had big days clogging up the middle.
The lone Brockton turnover came when Fields flew in on a blitz, hitting Brockton junior quarterback Tommy O'Brien as he released the ball. Junior safety Owen Ryan came across the field to pick off the hanging pass.
"The defense looked pretty good today, our front seven was really flying around," Fields said. “We were just trying to get the physicality going, and work sideline-to-sideline, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that today.
On the Brockton side, Ejiogu-Dike came away impressed with his team’s resolve in the red zone, twice stopping the Pioneers short of the goal line after long drives.
"I thought we had a good day, but we’ve still got a lot to work on," Ejiogu-Dike said. “A lot of us are seniors, so we’ve been playing together for a three years now, and we know not to give up on defense. We just keep on fighting, and good things happen.”
While neither team scored, both put together multiple long drives, largely because of their deep backfields. For Brockton, it was seniors Dominic Simpson and Joel Monteiro making hay in Brockton's Flex Bone attack. Each managed to break multiple runs for first downs, showing good balance, and burst around the edge.
Surprisingly, it was the Boxers pushing the pace, often working without a huddle, while St. John's huddled after nearly every play, using its patented "Blur" no-huddle offense on only a handful of occasions.
"We’re doing sort of a Navy or Georgia Tech kind of thing with our run game, and we’re trying to work without a huddle a little bit more," Brockton coach Peter Columbo said. “We’ve got a lot of guys with speed in our backfield, so we’re trying to take advantage of that.”
The Pioneers, meanwhile have a trio of junior backs who will all see carries. Peter Oliver, Danny Byers and Michael Bernard each got the chance to run with the starters, and all showed strength, running through arm tackles and pushing the pile up the middle.
Brockton's Quarterback Question
The Boxers began the day with senior Sean King under center. King completed a deep pass to convert a fourth and 10, but fell victim to a pair of drops on his one drive at the helm. O'Brien stepped in for King, who is also a talented receiver, and immediately completed a 10-yard pass off a broken play.
O'Brien's first drive ended poorly, however, as St. John's junior defensive end Hunter Gorgas sacked him on third down, then he threw the aforementioned interception under heavy pressure. O'Brien was given the reigns again, and nearly completed a bomb to King, but the ball was just a bit too long, ending the drive.
While both quarterbacks will continue to get work throughout the preseason, coach Columbo would like to settle on a full-time starter. He knows both are talented, but believes that King's abilities as a receiver may ultimately give Brockton the chance to have two of its best players on the field at the same time.
St. John's Big Up Front
While the Pioneers did graduate All-State lineman and current Boston College freshman Sean Ragan, they still have plenty of size up front. Led by 300 lb junior right guard Federico Ernst, the Pioneers line is one of the biggest around, and looked to be nimble enough to execute pull blocks in the team's counter game.
Senior center Matt Petry packed a punch all morning, and left tackle Neal Nasuti looks like one to watch as well. The 6-foot-3, 270 lb junior got his feet under him as the day went along in pass protection, and is as physical as the come in the run game.
There's still much work to be done for an offense that loses nine starters from last year, but this big offensive line is certainly a nice centerpiece to build around.