DANVERS, Mass. – They say if you give a man an inch, he’ll take a mile.
If you give John DiBiaso a bye week, well, that doesn’t bode well for the opposing football team.
Following a lackluster 20-8 loss to Xaverian at home two weekends ago, No. 4 Everett got back to basics in its one-week reprieve. The Crimson Tide’s week spent tidying up their messy performance in the former week showed in Saturday’s matinee duel against another Catholic Conference power in No. 3 St. John’s Prep.
First order of business? Shutting down, or at least, slowing down, the state’s most feared rusher in Johnny Thomas.
Second? Getting in a time machine and going back to the future with a refigured offense, shunning the spread, which found success in recent years, in favor of a vintage Everett staple — the flexbone.
It all was there in the Crimson Tide’s emphatic 35-14 win.
So did their head coach spend the week off pouring over old game plans and film, trying to unearth old gems?
“It wouldn’t say it was homework so much as it was a lot of practice,” DiBiaso said. “We practiced very hard.”
DiBiaso was less than amused with his team’s level of execution following the loss to Xaverian, so one can imagine the vigorous tenor of the Crimson Tide’s practices in the week since we saw them last.
Also, Everett (2-1) received an addition shot in the arm in the form of a new addition – senior running back/linebacker Isaiah Davis.
Davis, who previously suited up for Lynn English, was granted a waiver last week allowing the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder to see his first game action of the season with the Crimson Tide. He had an immediate impact, first scoring on a 15-yard run for a 7-0 first-quarter lead. Then, after Everett recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Davis ran for his second score from 2 yards out.
“I can’t be more happy for him, he’s been waiting patiently for his opportunity,” DiBiaso said. “He got it and he came up very big. He played fantastic and I think he put himself on the map among the elite players in the state.”
The Crimson Tide amassed a three-score lead by early in the second quarter, after Joe D’Onofrio’s 2-yard touchdown run.
But Prep (2-2) countered, making it a two-possession again before the half was out.
Running their two-minute drill, the Eagles drove 74 yards in two minutes even to set up Mike Geaslen’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Owen Rockett on the final play of the half. The game clock had nearly expired before Prep got the snap off, with Geaslen lofting a fade over the head of the defense on a schoolyard-ball type play.
The Eagles whittled the lead down to a touchdown in the fourth, with backup running back Cody Harwood running for a 4-yard touchdown with 9:32 to play.
Harwood entered the game after Thomas, a preseason All-Stater and early season Mr. Football favorite, left the game to a right knee injury.
But Everett would not be denied. Following Harwood’s score, the Crimson Tide chewed up 64 yards on three plays with quarterback Raheem Wingard selling the option and zooming up the left sideline 25 yards for a 28-14 lead with less than eight minutes remaining.
The Eagles’ final two drives ended in a Crimson Tide fumble recovery and turnover downs, respectively, before D’Onofrio iced it with his second rushing touchdown of the game.
“We just can’t spot them points, I don’t care how good you are – not against them,” Prep head coach Jim O’Leary said. “It was very similar to the [Bridgewater-Raynham] game. The second half, we made mistakes and the ball didn’t bounce our way.
“There was no magic involved. They played well, they had a bye week and they coached them up.”
Greater cause for concern: Thomas, a Maryland commit, left the game after a late third-quarter carry.
While attempting to cut to the sideline, the senior was met by duo of Everett tacklers and driven to the turf. After being attended to by trainers, Thomas walked off the field under his own power, but with staff members flanking him under each arm. He did not return.
Postgame, O’Leary said Thomas was examined by the doctor on hand, but didn’t want to speculate to the injury’s long-term severity, pending an MRI.
“We’re not going to play with 10 guys,” O’Leary added. “We’re going to play with 11 next week and, hopefully, we get him back.”
The concern over Thomas’ injury wasn’t exclusive to Prep’s sideline.
“He’s a great back,” DiBiaso said. “He got a lot of good yards and our prayers are with him. We hope it’s nothing serious.”
Grounding the Eagles: As was after Thomas’ injury, great attention was paid to the Prep back, who accounted for 86 yards on 17 carries in the first half alone, in the lead up to Saturday’s game.
With two weeks to game plan against the Eagles’ ground game, DiBiaso again mixed things up.
Josh Palmer, a 5-foot-9, 205-pound defensive tackle, was moved back to linebacker, joining an already stout corps. The move allowed the Crimson Tide to play a 3-5 base, at times stacking all 11 players in the box, in hopes of neutralizing the state’s top running talent.
“We recognize [Thomas is] the best player in the state and we were going to try to mold our defense to try to force them into doing other things to beat us,” DiBiaso said. “We put Josh [Palmer] back at linebacker with Angel [Duarte], C.J. [Parvelus] and Lubern [Figaro] and Isaiah [Davis] shadowing [Thomas] the whole game.
Of course, a plan is just that. Without players versatile enough to plug into the system, it falls flat.
“He’s just an athlete, he can play anywhere,” Duarte said of Palmer joining the ranks of the LBs. “He’s got the speed, he’s big. We put him out there anywhere and he did a great job for us.”
The Times They Are A-Changin’: After watching his son, Jonathan, break multiple state passing records during his career with the Crimson Tide, Everett’s offensive groupings have steadily morphed in the last two years.
It’s not anything new, but Saturday might have marked an unofficial return to the good ole days. DiBiaso reflected on his new-look, old-feel offense.
“You’re a stupid coach if you do something that your personnel isn’t equipped to execute. We’ve run the spread successfully for about four years, but our personnel is more fit for this.
“We have three good running backs and an option-style quarterback, so shame on me for not doing it earlier.”
With Davis, D’Onofrio and fullback Marquis Holman holding it down in the backfield, the Crimson Tide has tried to strike balance on offense.
Wingard made two big connections to Lukas Denis (2 passes defended on defense, as well), helping to set up two touchdown drives.
“He made two good catches on play-action passes, and if you’re going to run that offense, you have to hit on play-actions,” DiBiaso said of Denis.
Of course, there’s still room for improvement though: “I think we did a decent job. We’ve only been running it for two weeks, so hopefully we’ll get even better as weeks go on.”