WEST ROXBURY, Mass. -- "Read the papers!" shouted Brent Williams as he descended the ladder from the roof of the press box at the soon-to-be named O'Connor Stadium, the Catholic Memorial defensive coordinator wearing his emotions emphatically as he exited the box with 26 seconds left in the first half.
Forgive the former New England Patriot if he seemed a little jumpy. His godson, Penn State commit and returning All-Stater Armani Reeves, had just ripped off a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown that swung momentum in what was a tie ball game with Catholic Conference foe St. John's Prep.
That made it 14-7, and after a shutout second half, the Knights (5-1) walked away with their first Catholic Conference victory of the season, a 26-7 decision over the Eagles.
"I knew I had to get past the first guy, and then pretty much from there, I knew I could just outrun everybody to the sideline," said Reeves, who clocks in the 4.4's on his 40-yard dash. "I almost ran out of bounds at the sideline there, but luckily my feet were there. I stayed in, and gave it everything I got in me into the end zone."
Said head coach Alex Campea of Reeves, "Listen, he's a gamebreaker. He makes plays, whether you're throwing the ball or punting the ball to him, he's a heck of a player. He's just a difference maker."
Meanwhile, a defense led by Penn State-bound linebacker Cam Williams and junior defensive end Peter Ngobidi (16 tackles) forced three turnovers, and allowed just 51 yards of offense from the run-heavy Eagles (3-4) over the final two quarters.
"Prep's really known for running the ball all the time," Williams said. "The key is just to stop the run. We have great defensive backs and we always stop the pass, but we're known to let up 200 yards a game rushing every year. We've been doing that [stopping the run] all year, and then this year [with the Eagles] the defensive coordinator, my dad, was talking about getting turnovers, and we got that this week too...we try to be versatile against the run and pass, and we did well on all cylinders."
Armani Exchange: Plain and simple, ESPN Boston Mr. Football candidates repeatedly make plays that change the direction of the game, and Reeves showed why he's on the short list tonight.
His first two carries, toss sweeps to the left then right, went for 33 and 35 yards respectively -- the second one opening up the scoring on the evening. He then brought a sleepy game on Baker Street to life with his electric punt return, shedding a few arm-tackles at midfield and burning by the personal protector at the 30-yard mark on the left sideline.
After going for 68 yards on his first two carries, the Eagles' defense adjusted their responsibilities on the outside holes, blitzing both outside linebackers and forcing a quicker reaction from the player who's arguably the state's most dangerous coming around the end.
"That forced me to cut it up sooner," Reeves said. "It wasn't really much of an adjustment, but just something I had to pay attention to."
But Reeves merely came around and made them pay in multiple ways. First, there was the punt return. Then, early in the third quarter, he went up for jump ball at the left sideline and ripped the ball out of defensive back Gerald Kahari's hands (think Miles Austin vs. Antonio Cromartie). It was done so furtively that half the players on the field had already begun walking back to the huddle as if it were an interception -- instead, it was a 34-yard gain that set up first and 10 at the Prep 19.
In all, Reeves finished with 238 all-purpose yards, including 98 rushing on eight carries.
Thomas a stud in the making: In our midseason report last week, we named Prep sophomore tailback Jonathan Thomas one of the second-half breakouts to watch. He proved it again tonight, with 131 yards on 20 carries and the Eagles' lone score of the night, a 71-yard counter trey up the middle in which he followed a trap block up through to the second level and outran the secondary to paydirt.
"He's going to be a good player," Williams said. "Once he gets some weight on him...he's a pretty quick back. He slips underneath his big old offensive linemen, so he's going to be a good player. I told him 'Keep working' when I shook his hand [after the game]."
Prime Time Peter: Against the run-heavy Prep offense, which toys with looks out of both the traditional I-formation and various Georgia Tech-style triple option looks, angle pursuit is key. Head coach Jim O'Leary isn't afraid to repeat the same sequence of plays should it work, and tonight the Eagles were looking to run up the outside holes with their stable of speedy backers in Thomas, Kahari and Alex Moore.
Enter Peter Ngobidi, a junior from Hyde Park who should continue to climb on the college recruiting radar with performances like tonight. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder might be a more natural fit out of a two-point stance, but with his hand planted in the turf he's proven just as efficient. With a quick first step and long, lean frame, Ngobidi made himself compact while also keeping his shoulders square, totaling 16 tackles on the night.
His biggest stop of the night came with nine minutes and change left, and the Knights holding on to a 20-7 lead. Ngobidi jarred the ball loose from the Eagles running back at the line of scrimmage, and Jon Schneider fell on it for a first and 10 for CM at the Prep 20. The next play, quarterback A.J. Doyle (9 of 19, 159 yards, 2 total TD) hit Brandon Hamel coming across the shallow middle end zone on a post route for a 26-7 score.
"I think I started off rough," Ngobidi said. "I got dropped a couple of times and I messed up on that counter trey (Thomas' touchdown). After that, my teammates picked me back up. I kinda fixed my own head, and kept pushing forward."
CATHOLIC MEMORIAL 26, ST. JOHN'S PREP 7
SJP (3-4) 0 7 0 0 --- 7
CM (5-1) 7 7 6 6 --- 26
C - Armani Reeves 35 run (Michael Keane kick) 4:50
S - Jonathan Thomas 71 run (Connor Shaw kick) 9:18
C - Reeves 72 punt return (Keane kick) 0:23
C - A.J. Doyle 1 run (kick failed) 4:20
C - Brandon Hamel 20 pass from Doyle (8:40)