DANVERS, Mass. -– Through the first five weeks of the 2012 season, this much was known about St. John’s Prep and its vaunted rushing attack: the Eagles can play powerful.
And after this afternoon’s 49-8 shellacking of St. John’s of Shrewsbury, before a Homecoming crowd at Cronin Memorial Stadium, we now know this too: the Eagles (5-1) can play fast.
Prep had a field day against the Pioneers’ front seven, piling up over 330 yards in the first 22 minutes with the help of a hurry-up tempo, en route to a 35-0 halftime lead. On the ground, they ran for a total of 355 yards, with almost all of it coming from the two-headed monster of junior Jonathan Thomas (19 carries, 238 yards, 3 TD) and senior Alex Moore (8 carries, 82 yards, 2 TD). Moore also had a 54-yard touchdown catch to put him over the century mark in all-purpose yards yet again.
If you’ve ever watched the Eagles under head coach Jim O’Leary, you know their affinity for the power and the counter trap. But it was the way they did it today that was uniquely appealing, matching the Pioneers’ Oregon-like “Blur” tempo by going equally as fast with no huddle.
“We match up against spread teams. We built our team against spread teams, because we see so many of them now,” O’Leary said. “And the last couple of games, we’ve been going against power teams – and not that we matched up badly, we just didn’t have a whole lot of points. But we’re built this way. We have good athletes.”
The game started off a bit wild, with a Prep three-and-out punt on the game-opening drive getting blocked by the Pioneers’ Kyle Roy. Two plays later, however, Moore came up with a pick, jumping a route in the left flat and leaping at a pass from Pioneers quarterback Andrew Smiley (32-of-47, 280 yards, TD, 3 INT) for running back Shadrach Abrokwah (11 carries, 129 yards).
On the ensuing drive, Gerald Kahari set up the first of three Moore scores with a 57-yard scamper off a short screen to the left flat. Kahari accelerated then cut twice – first northeast, then at a right angle with a short step-back –- to completely reverse direction before getting hauled down out of bounds just short of the right pylon, at the Pioneers two. Moore punched it in on a dive the next play, for a 7-0 score less than four minutes into the game.
From there, seemingly the heavens opened up on the Pioneers’ front seven. Moore made it 14-0 with a 54-yard touchdown reception off a simple pop pass from the left slot, and that was followed by three more scores for the 35-0 score. Thomas reeled off touchdown runs of five and 68, then Moore capped off the explosive first half with a 44-yard counter trey, shrugging off a would-be tackler amidst a scrum to break free down the left sideline.
“I followed my pulling tackle up the hole,” Moore explained. “He made a great block and I made a cut, and someone hit me, but I was able to shed it and get to the outside and get a touchdown.”
(The play, we kid you not, is called “Brockton Left”. Why? Moore didn’t have an answer, saying simply “I don’t know why, but it’s a great play.”)
On the first play of the second half, Lucas Bavaro picked off Smiley for a 33-yard interception return. Thomas finished off the Prep scoring on the next drive with a 75-yard scamper, followed by a six-yard dive into the end zone.
“The offensive line did a great job,” said Thomas, who went over 200 yards rushing for the second time in three weeks. “That’s all I can say. They opened up the holes, and I just went right through them. Alex [Moore] and I had a great day, and we give all the credit to the offensive line.”
Tempo recognize tempo: Shrewsbury is operating at a frenetic pace this season, running a “Blur” offense that is similar to the style Chip Kelly deploys at the University of Oregon, looking to snap the ball within 15 to 20 seconds after the previous play is whistled dead.
With that pace, a sharp inside zone read game with Smiley and Abrokwah, and a number of perimeter receivers sitting in zone holes, it’s not uncommon to see the Pioneers score in bunches – coming into this game, they had surpassed 40 points twice and were averaging 39 points per game.
The Eagles deployed a unique method of preparation this week to get used to the frantic pace of the game, lining up two scout offenses on opposite 40-yard lines during the team defense portion of practice, and having the defensive players sprint back and forth from one scout team to the other each play.
“I really didn’t expect it [the Pioneers’ tempo] that much, we were pretty gassed at some times,” admitted Prep defensive end Anthony Bongiorno, who registered two sacks and a few tackles for loss. “I mean, that was a fast-paced team. We kinda kept it together long enough to make some big plays.”
Said Moore, “It was pretty intense...St. John’s Shrewsbury gets their offense off fast, 15 seconds, it’s like a blur and you don’t really have time to mistakes. You gotta be ready for everything.”
ST. JOHN'S PREP 49, ST. JOHN'S (SHREWSBURY) 8
SJS (4-2) 0 0 0 8 --- 8
SJP (5-1) 14 21 14 0 --- 49
SJP - Alex Moore 2 run (Stephen Camaro kick) 7:07
SJP - Moore 54 pass from Jack Sharrio (Camaro kick) 4:23
SJP - Jonathan Thomas 5 run (Camaro kick) 10:56
SJP - Thomas 68 run (Camaro kick) 7:05
SJP - Moore 44 run (Camaro kick) 1:57
SJP - Lucas Bavaro 33 interception return (Camaro kick) 10:45
SJP - Thomas 6 run (Camaro kick) 6:25
SJS - John Giacoppe 19 pass from Andrew Smiley (Shadrach Abrokwah run) 6:25