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Scrimmage Slants: No. 9 Brockton at No. 5 St. John's

SHREWSBURY, Mass. -– It’s always a treat when Brockton and St. John’s of Shrewsbury get together for their annual scrimmage. In this year’s installment between No. 9 Brockton and the No. 5 Pioneers, there was some rust to be shaken off, but plenty of physicality and feats of athleticism to go around.

For the first time in a long time, neither team managed to reach the end zone, despite several good chances. Here are my takeaways from this afternoon’s battle at Pioneer Field:

Start your engines: Based on today’s run, both teams’ defenses appear to be ahead of their respective offenses right now.

Watching St. John’s offense today, you have the feeling things will inevitably click into gear. Since offensive coordinator Chris Moriarty installed the Oregon-esque “Blur” offense back in 2012, the Pioneers have routinely been among the state’s leaders in yards per game. Today we saw many of the same staples that have made the Pioneers one of the most entertaining brands of offense the last few years – middle screens, sweep reads, inverted veers, and a sprinkling of smash, screen-wheel and follow concepts.

After finding great success in 2012 with a “Flex Bone” offense orchestrated by quarterback Augie Roberts, the Boxers struggled with the scheme last fall, which brought them back to their tried-and-true I-Formation today (we’ll all be driving flying cars before the Boxers ever abandon the I). Boxers head coach Peter Colombo said that they haven’t done away with the old scheme, and hinted that we might still see some of it this fall.

“I wanted specifically to keep things pretty simple this first week,” Colombo said. “I think [quarterback] Aaron [Williams] can run the option, so we’ll be doing some of that as well.”

But defense thoroughly ruled the day. Brockton’s front seven made running the ball difficult at times, led by Jayden Cellucci, Kingsley Dike and Aaron Monteiro in the trenches. Downfield, the Pioneer quarterbacking platoon of Tim Cassidy and Shane Combs were picked off a combined three times by senior free safety Davon Duarte, including one spectacular tip-toe grab breaking towards the sideline.

Twice the Boxers’ offense broke through for a long gain, both long strikes from Williams to Carl Darling then Darien Keefe, and both time the receivers were chased down by Boston College-bound free safety Davon Jones inside the 10 yard line. Then, the Pioneer front seven held tight, led by linebacker Sam Norton, stalling the Boxers in both of their red zone trips. In their first defensive series alone, the Pioneers' front four registered a sack and a pass deflection, then Norton came up with an interception over the middle.

QB duel: Since the graduation of record-setting two-time All-State quarterback Andrew Smiley, there has been much discussion about the succession plan. One of the most common theories assumes that Combs, a Notre Dame baseball commit armed with an upper-80’s fastball, would slide from running back into the driver’s seat under center. But Cassidy, a junior lefty, has a rifle that’s been making waves in camp as well.

The two split an even amount of snaps with the varsity starters. Unofficially, Combs finished 8 for 11 with 100 yards, while Cassidy went 4 for 9 for 36 yards, though several of his passes were dropped.

Head coach John Andreoli said he won’t be ready to name a starter until Week 1, which for the Pioneers is still two weeks away (they open against Leominster on Sept. 13). But considering how effective Combs was at tailback in the second half of last season’s run to the Division 2 State Final, his familiarity with the read option on top of his scrambling ability, it’s not out of the question to think the Pioneers could roll out some packages that utilize both players on the field at once.

Mount Monteiro: At 6-foot-6 and nearly 310 pounds, the Boston College-bound Monteiro remains one of the most Bay State’s most intriguing prospects. ESPN currently ranks Monteiro the No. 2 overall recruit in Massachusetts and top lineman, ahead of stalwart D1-bound linemen such as Shepherd Hill’s Chris Lindstrom Jr. (Boston College) and Xaverian’s Joe Gaziano (Northwestern).

He’s not a completely polished product yet but -– as was the case in his first year of varsity last fall -– there were some “wow” moments. In one series, at defensive tackle, he blew through a double team with ease, forcing a tackle in the backfield. On one offensive series, he buried a player in the grass on a kick-out block. On the next series of offense, he bulldozed the pile to a first down on third-and-short, then later drove a linebacker 10 yards downfield to spring loose tailback Isaiah Ortiz.

“Aaron is just a force. It’s nice running behind him on that power stuff,” Colombo said. “I think he’s in the best shape he’s ever been. He made himself stronger in the offseason. He’s even bigger and quicker than he was.”

Last year, Monteiro swung back and forth between guard and tackle on the left side of the line. Colombo said he’ll likely be locked into the left guard spot for now.

“We like him there, because he moves well and can pull,” Colombo said. “We might move him around, might do some things with him, but right now he’s settled in at left guard.”

Extra Points: Two key cogs for Brockton’s offense were nursing injuries today: fullback Kerry Raymond (hamstring) and receiver/safety Jon Derolus (groin). ... Junior offensive guard Sean Ragan draws a lot of attention for St. John’s with his huge frame (6-5, 280) and building D1 interest (Miami, Holy Cross), but one other lineman to keep an eye on is senior Anthony Franzoso, who has transitioned from linebacker to left guard and is quickly making an impact ... Brockton’s Williams shows a knack for buying himself time with his scrambling ability, and also shows some toughness. On one scramble up the middle, he absorbed all of a Davon Jones hit that could be heard up in the stands, and simply popped back up. ... Jones, a Boston College commit, was up to his old tricks as the “X” receiver today. On one bubble screen, he hurdled a Brockton defender. On another, he shook a cornerback with a toe drag and ball fake for arguably the prettiest juke of the day. But opposite Jones, junior Cam Lucey could be a nice revelation this fall. On a five-yard out route to the right sideline, he slipped around an arm tackle and sprung himself free for an extra 25 yards.