DANVERS, Mass. –- In a rematch of the 2012 Division 1 Super Bowl, St. John’s Prep and Brockton went head-to-head on Saturday with both teams seeking their first win of the 2013 season.
Just as he did in Prep’s, 48-28, Super Bowl win last season, running back Johnathan Thomas propelled his team to a 36-22 victory on Saturday with three rushing touchdowns.
Thomas was the feature story all day as the Maryland-bound tailback would start and finish the game strong as he rushed for 263 yards on 31 carries.
“This was a statement game,” Thomas said after the game. “We knew what we had to do. This was a do-or-die game. We needed points with the new playoff system so we got that point across, the coaches got that point across, and we came out and did it.”
After dropping their season opener to Bridgewater-Raynham last week Prep Head Coach Jim O’Leary knew his team had to come out of the gate strong against and control the tempo against a Brockton team who was playing their first game of the season.
“We are trying to be a rhythm team, trying to be up-beat,” O’Leary said.
Prep (1-1) would strike first in the opening quarter as Thomas would score the first of his three touchdowns on the day on a 28-yard run with 8:28 on the clock in the first. Thomas exploded though the holes provided by his veteran offensive line and set the tone for what would be a 19-carry, 189-yard first half performance on the ground.
Prep took a 14-6 lead to the half as both teams exchanged touchdowns and battled penalties and field position issues throughout the second quarter.
Brockton (0-1) would take their first and only lead of the game, midway through the third quarter, as running back Aaron Leclair capped off a nine play drive with a 5-yard rushing touchdown to give Brockton a 16-14 lead with 6:33 remaining in the third quarter. The drive began with an excellent kickoff return from Leclair to open the half that advanced the ball all the way to the Prep 29-yard line.
Trailing by two points heading into the fourth quarter the Prep defense rose to the occasion as they forced three consecutive fumbles that all resulted in turnovers. They would execute their offensive possessions and outscore Brockton 20-6 in the final quarter of play to earn their first win of the 2013 campaign.
“That is why we had 36 points,” Thomas said of his defense's effort. “ They made the other team turn the ball over right in their zone so it was easy for us to get in the end zone.”
The mixture of youth and experience on the defensive side of the ball came together in grand fashion for Prep in the final quarter of play Saturday. Prep linebacker / defensive end Jack Lambert led the way in the fourth quarter as the sophomore forced the first fumble in the fourth quarter and recovered the final one to help lead the Prep defense.
“We have sophomore linebackers out there and we are inexperienced,” O’Leary said. “It is game two. We showed some grit in the second half last week and you have to build on that.”
Heavy Workload: Thomas carried the ball 31 times on the day, with 19 of his carries coming in the first half of play. The senior had 189 of his 263 rushing yards at the break and also was in on several defensive plays as he filled the gaps from his linebacker position
“I think 30 carries is probably a little much for him,” O’Leary said of Thomas’ workload. “ But it was a nice cool day, it’s early in the season and the wear and tear is not there yet.”
Thomas showed no signs of slowing down at any point in the game, as he worked with his line and blockers to execute the Prep counter gap play to repeated success all afternoon.
“We could drive a truck through that hole,” Thomas said. “It was easy for me to run through the holes and use my abilities.”
Clifford Impresses: In a battle of strong kicking and return games Brockton sophomore kicker Ryan Clifford stood tall on the afternoon. Clifford calmly connected on a 35-yard field goal at to give Brockton their first points in the game in the second quarter of play.
Clifford also did a great job helping Brockton win the battle of field possession as he used his booming leg to secure multiple touchbacks.