LAWRENCE, Mass. -- St. John's Prep head coach Jim O'Leary was asked about going for two instead of kicking an extra point in the first overtime of last night's 7-6 overtime loss to Central Catholic. And in trademark Jim O'Leary fashion, the long-time Eagles coach shot back a look that screamed, Are you kidding me?
Say what you want about the Eagles' conservative game plan tonight on offense, but in the crunch time O'Leary isn't afraid to roll the dice. Unfortunately for them, the Eagles (0-2) came up short, as Jack Sharrio was stopped short of the goal line by a gang of Raiders defenders, as Central (1-1) went on to score a big non-conference win, under the lights at Lawrence Veterans Memorial Stadium.
"There was no decision. We were going for two," said O'Leary, who opted to play defense first in the overtime. "You have an opportunity to win the game, on the road, win the game at home, you go for the win. Because if you go back to the 25 [yard line], anything can happen. It's not like we were ripping it up, moving the ball all over the field, you know?
"I've done that forever. We were gonna go for two. That's why you defer and go on defense, so you have that opportunity to win the game. Why stretch it out?"
On the other sideline, the Raiders scored a momentum swing for their program headed into Merrimack Valley Conference play next week, after dropping a 9-7 decision to an underrated Marlborough squad in the opening week.
"We weren't happy with how we played last week," Raiders head coach Chuck Adamopoulos said. "Marlborough beat us. We're not gonna say we played bad and that's why they won -- Marlborough beat us. We needed to bounce back with the game we had. Two years ago, we go down there and Marlborough spanked us pretty good, then we upset St. John's [Prep] and Dracut back to back, and kinda got on a roll. Hopefully this game kinda does the same thing."
Some key points from the game:
Play of the game, Pt. I: Central's game-winning touchdown on the second play of their first overtime series was called "Trips Left 79 Snare". Lining up with three receivers to the left, split end Henry Rodriguez ran eight yards upfield towards the left hash mark, and sat. After corralling in Matt McDermott's pass and charging towards the left pylon, Rodriguez was sprung loose by a block near the goal line.
"He got the ball to the right guy," said offensive coordinator John Sexton.
McDermott said Rodriguez "ran it exactly as he was supposed to" and "really did all the work", but for Rodriguez, it was the least the 5-foot-11 senior could do after dropping a pass earlier in the game.
"To be honest, I just...I dropped that first pass, and I'm usually a guy that struggles with confidence, so I kept my head up and got in, because I got benched for that [earlier]. I just kept my head up, ran my route right and scored."
McDermott said that play was "open all night" and confessed he was actually looking backside, because there was no safety over the top.
"I shoulda thrown it earlier," he said. "But it worked out as it did, and I'm not going to take anything back. It was awesome."
Play of the game, Pt. II: The Eagles' most threatening scoring drive of the night was thwarted by an unusual heads-up play from the unlikeliest of players. Senior nose guard Pat Hammond is your classic one-gap, speed-rush nose guard at 5-foot-7 and 195 pounds; and on third and goal from the Raiders' four yard line with 4:45 to go in the game, Hammond slipped through the playside A-gap immediately and stole Sharrio's handoff.
"He plays like his personality, because he's a pain in the butt," Adamopoulos laughed. "He's very disruptive. He's small, but he's quick and he gets in the backfield. That was a huge play that he made for us at that point. We forced the turnovers when we had to."
Getting loose: Was it a solid defensive game or just two offenses still breaking in new parts? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between. The two teams combined for just six first downs in the first half, with Central's Ryan Barry, Christian Nunez and Hammond giving the Eagles a game in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Adamopoulos admitted after the game that in his 15 years at the helm "we're about as inexperienced as we've been since I've been head coach".
Meanwhile, the Eagles have been adjusting to a "flex" scheme similar to what Paul Johnson runs at Georgia Tech, complete with wide splits, wingbacks flanking outside the tackles and an excellent dive back in sophomore Jonathan Thomas (21 carries, 81 yards).
The gates started to open up in the third quarter, with the teams combining for 130 yards rushing (Central had 67, including Santino Brancato's 43-yard scamper that was the longest play from scrimmage). Each team also had two turnovers.
CENTRAL CATHOLIC 7, ST. JOHN'S PREP 6
SJ (0-2) 0 0 0 0 6 --- 6
CC (1-1) 0 0 0 0 7 --- 7
C - Henry Rodriguez 25 pass from Matt McDermott (Tommy Jenoski kick)
S - Jack Sharrio 10 run (rush failed)