Boston High School: John Andreoli

D2 Central: St. John's (S) 56, Marlborough 20

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
6:12
PM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- St. John's senior quarterback Drew Smiley threw for three touchdowns and added a pair on the ground as the Pioneers (7-2) routed visiting Marlborough (7-2) 56-20 in Saturday’s Division 2 Central semifinal.

The Pioneers started things quickly, forcing the Panthers into a three-and-out on their opening drive, before explosive athlete Davon Jones (4 catches, 92 yards; 5 kick returns, 155 yards, TD) returned a punt 45 yards for the game's first score. The Pioneer defense forced another Panther punt moments later, but this time it would be Smiley (12-of-14 passing, 205 yards, 3 TD; 4 carries, 70 yards 2 TD) scoring for St. John's, keeping it himself for a 58-yard touchdown run on the Pioneers’ first play from scrimmage.

Less than two minutes in, St. John's led 14-0. It was a stark contrast to the first time these teams met.

"We've been talking all week about winning the moment," Pioneers coach John Andreoli said. "We came out last time (against Marlboro) and did not have a good first half, and I think we were relaxed today. We were well prepared, and we had confidence in our reads and in our mechanics. Our kids played to their ability, and it was a complete game for us."

The Panthers answered with a Will Cowdrey one-yard touchdown run, but Smiley responded with an 11-play, 90-yard drive that took up just over two minutes of game time before he found junior running back Shane Combs (15 carries, 100 yards, 2 TD; 2 catches, 3 yards, TD) for a 15-yard passing score.

Smiley would punch in a one-yard score on the next St. John's drive before Pioneer linebacker Patrick Ryan intercepted Panther quarterback John Rumney, setting up another Smiley touchdown pass, this one a 44-yard strike to leading receiver Michael McGillicuddy (2 catches, 50 yards). Three plays later, linebacker Anthony Moroski picked off another Rumney pass, running it back inside the Marlborough 20, and setting up Smiley's final touchdown of the day to senior T.J. Kelly.

St. John's led 42-7 at that point.

"Last time we played Marlborough it was pretty windy, so we couldn't really throw it," Smiley said. "So this time we tried to open it up and throw it around a little bit. Then, (on the zone read) it opened up room for Shane, and when they committed to him I just kept it and had space."

Marlborough scored on the following drive, after senior receiver Matt Thall drew back-to-back pass interference calls, and the Panthers threatened to pull within 21. But, with a first and goal at the Pioneer one-yard line, Rumney was stopped for a four-yard loss by senior defensive end Jeff DeMango, then forced into two incompletions by the stingy Pioneer secondary. The half ended with St. John's leading 42-14.

The second half started with a bang for St. John's, as Combs took the first play from scrimmage for a 55-yard rushing touchdown. Rumney answered with a 23-yard passing touchdown to Jose Caquias, but Combs' 15-yard touchdown to start the fourth quarter pushed the score to 56-20 in favor of St. John's, and brought the Pioneer backups into the game.

"I think our offensive line really set the tone," Combs, a recent Notre Dame baseball commit, said. "From the get-go they were coming off the line and pounding (Marlborough) back, and by the end of the game they didn't want to line up against us. All the credit to the O-line for pushing them back all day."

Next up for St. John's is a highly anticipated rematch of their season opener against rival Leominster. The Blue Devils defeated the Pioneers 33-22 at home the first time around, and the Division 2 Central final will also be played at Leominster's Doyle Field.

Coach Andreoli and his team know it won't be easy. After all, the Pioneers have yet to defeat Leominster with head coach Dave Palazzi at the helm, but St. John's is still relishing the second chance it's getting.

"They're the defending champions, they're undefeated," Andreoli said. "We know it's going to be a challenge, but we're just going to try to line up and win every snap. I think it's a great opportunity for us to have a great week and go up there and play our best game.

"This season was my first indoctrination into the Leominster-St. John's rivalry," Combs, a transfer from St. Louis, said. "The first game I was amazed by the energy of this rivalry. Right now it comes down to preparation, and I know we have a chip on our shoulder, and we're going to out-prepare them."

St. John’s will face Leominster in the D2 Central final Friday at 7 p.m., at Doyle Field.

Recap: No. 21 St. John's (S) 35, Marlborough 20

October, 26, 2013
10/26/13
11:22
PM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- Marlborough did everything right in the first half. The Panthers dominated time of possession, and outside of a 73-yard Drew Smiley to Mike McGillicuddy touchdown pass, they were in total control against St. John’s (Shrewsbury), holding a 13-point edge.

But, as we know, it takes two halves to win and Marlborough learned that lesson the hard way. The No. 21 Pioneers reversed roles over the final 22 minutes, scoring 28 unanswered points to post a 35-20 victory this afternoon at windy Pioneer Field.

"The first half we were like 'Dawn of the Dead' out there," St. John's coach John Andreoli said. "But in the second half we played our butts off. The kids never quit and we ran the ball with some authority in the second half. Defensively we dug in and gave our offense a chance to go back to work. Marlborough is a good football team but at times we shot ourselves in the foot in that first half by turning the ball over or having penalties on first down. We had to flush the first half and needed to come out and play hard in the second which we did."

What went so well for the previously undefeated Panthers (6-1) in the opening half turned into a house of horrors following intermission. After managing a paltry 106 yards of offense in the first half, St. John's (5-2) started to find its groove offensively and finished the game with 343 yards.

Unable to successfully move the ball early on, the Pioneers began to gain traction midway through the third quarter. Holes in Marlborough's defense began to widen and Smiley, a senior, was starting to find receivers getting open in the secondary.

The start of St. John's turnaround came midway through the third. On their second possession, the Pioneers drove 81 yards behind hard-charging junior running back Shane Combs (8 carries for 79 yards). That would lead to a 1-yard Smiley dive over the goal line, narrowing the deficit to 20-14 with 1:52 remaining in the quarter.

Marlborough's offense, which conjured up 205 first half yards but only 64 the rest of the way, failed in its attempts to move the ball against a rejuvenated St. John's defense. The Panthers' continuing efforts of keeping the Pioneers offense off the field eventually would backfire.

Early in the fourth quarter, Marlborough managed to reach the Pioneers 37. Facing a fourth-and-5 Marlborough opted to go for it. Quarterback John Rumney was stopped in his tracks for no gain, thus turning the ball back over to St. John's. Rumney, a senior, threw for 106 yards on 12-of-28 passing. He also led his team in rushing, gaining 72 yards on 14 carries.

"We thought we had a play there," Panthers coach Sean Mahoney said. "We didn't want to give their offense the ball back. Offensively, their offense was starting to click at that point.

“Defensively, I felt our kids got worn down a little bit. We threw the ball fairly well in tough, windy conditions but so did they. We weren't able to run the ball and that was a big difference. When we needed to run it we weren't able to. We battled them but we needed to convert on a couple of third and fourth downs in the second half and we didn't."

With the ball back in the hands of the St. John's offense, a 23-yard completion by Smiley to T.J. Kelley set up Smiley's 37-yard scamper down the left side line into the end zone. Jack Coveney's PAT put St. John's ahead to stay 21-20 with 3:38 to go.

"Our coaches told us we needed to come out with more intensity in the second half," said Smiley, who completed 9-of-16 passes for 147 yards, a touchdown, and rushed for 106 yards on 21 attempts, finding the end zone three times. "That first half was the worst half of football this team has played. We came out of halftime and played with a lot more intensity. We knew we could pound the ball and finally got it going in the second half. The way we played in the second half is the way we need to play throughout the entire upcoming playoffs."

While the Panthers, suddenly anemic, offense continuing to struggle, the Pioneers got the ball back on Marlborough's 28. Needing just one play, Smiley darted around left end for the score to put his team up 28-20 with 2:32 left. On the Panthers' next possession, Rumney was blindsided by defensive end Jeff DeMango, which resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Mike Duquette on the Marlborough 1-yard line. Running back Brad Sylvester closed this contest out with an easy plunge over the middle to make it a 15-point contest.

"When our offensive line started to get off the ball we and started to gain some confidence," Andreoli said. "Shane [Combs] was getting some tremendous yards after contact and that really got us going. Then we were able to use the wind in the fourth quarter and started to throw the ball and move the ball down field. I think the field position game really came into play for us in that fourth quarter."

McGillicuddy's early touchdown catch staked St. John's out to a 7-0 lead.

The Panthers answered two series later after Rumney hit receiver Matt Thall for a 9-yard scoring reception. Marlborough had to settle for just the six points after the following PAT sailed wide. With Thall, who also plays linebacker, given the assignment to shadow Smiley, the senior did an outstanding job containing a serious running threat. After its first score, St. John's offense did little the remainder of the half.

Marlborough took advantage of that by grabbing a 13-7 lead at 6:44 of the second quarter on Jose Caquias' 6-yard sprint around left end. Following another Pioneer four-and-out, the Panthers set up shot at their 48. A Caquias option pass to Alec Deveau netting 50 yards set the stage for Rumney's 2-yard run at 4:57, pushing the margin to 20-7. St. John's would have the ball three more times before the half was completed but could do nothing with it.

Recap: No. 8 Leominster 33, No. 12 St. John's (S) 22

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
12:15
AM ET
LEOMINSTER, Mass. -- Over the past two seasons, the St. John's defense has provided no answers in how to stop, or even slow down, Leominster's vaunted dual-threat offense. The Pioneer coaching staff have been often left scratching their heads in trying to develop new concepts to keep the Blue Devils out of the end zone.

After Friday night's 33-22 season-opening defeat at Doyle Field, it appears as though St. John's still hasn't gotten it right and another trip back to the drawing board seems imminent.

Leominster's offensive unit punched the Pioneers square in the mouth, accumulating 397 yards while managing to sustain several drives after converting key first downs. The victory marks the Blue Devils' fifth straight over St. John's dating back to 2011. Included among those triumphs are a pair of Super Bowl titles. The Pioneers, as was the case in the previous meetings, had trouble tackling and in their coverage schemes. Neither worked.

Senior quarterback Neil O'Connor, having not played the position since his freshman season, looked truly at ease. The former wide receiver completed 18 of 24 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. He proved just as effective on ground, scoring three times, finishing with 71 yards on 12 attempts.

"This is a great win because it is always a battle with them," said O'Connor, who like many others was battling cramps in the muggy conditions. "This is the funnest team to play other than (Thanksgiving rival) Fitchburg. We always come out for every game and try to play Leominster-type football. Tonight was a great atmosphere under the lights before a packed house at our own field. This win certainly gets us rolling now. I had never played quarterback in an atmosphere like this so I just tried to block it all out and focus on what we needed to do."

Having lost a couple of key personnel to graduation, nonetheless, the Blue Devils still returned a solid nucleus on both sides of the football. Likewise, St. John's had strong weaponry at key positions, primarily on the offensive side.

The Pioneer defense had issues trying to shut down Leominster's pistol formation. At times, they looked dazed and confused on whether or not to key on the run or the pass. In several cases their decision in choosing what to defend wound up costing them on the scoreboard.

"Overall defensively we had a couple of third down situations where we didn't stop them," Pioneers coach John Andreoli said. "(O'Connor) made a couple of tremendous athletic plays and we missed quite a few tackles and Leominster made us pay for it. In a game like this against a team like that you cannot make mistakes and we did."

After coming up short on their first series, the Blue Devils were given a short field on their next one. St. John's punter Shane Combs mis-handled the snap and was dropped for a 16 yard loss giving Leominster the ball on the Pioneer 21. Four runs by O'Connor set up running back James Gurley's four-yard toss into the end zone giving the Blue Devils a 6-0 lead. St. John's senior quarterback Drew Smiley (18 of 35, 194 yards) answered the score with one of his own, darting into the end zone on a seven-yard carry. Following the PAT, the Pioneers led 7-6 early in the second quarter.

The remainder of the half, however, belonged to Leominster. O'Connor danced his away out of an apparent sack, turning it into a 15 yard scoring run. Jarell Addo's follow-up conversion catch had the Blue Devils back in front 14-7. After getting the ball back, the Pioneers quickly gave it away after Combs fumbled it over to the Blue Devils, putting them in great shape on the Pioneer 48. With just 30 seconds left in the quarter, O'Connor threw an 18 yard strike to receiver Jake Allain (six catches, 78 yards) over the middle to increase the Blue Devils lead to 20-7 going into the half.

Realizing the offense they were using over the first 22 minutes wasn't working, St. John's opted to go with much safer pass patterns for its heralded signal-caller. The Pioneers discovered the screen pass could be an effective weapon to get them back in this tilt. Senior receiver Mike McGillicuddy, who did not catch a pass the entire first half, was St. John's primary receiver of choice throughout the second.

McGillicuddy finished with eight receptions totalling 90 yards. He inched St. John's closer after hauling in a seven-yard pass from Smiley on the team's first drive to begin the third quarter, making it 20-14. But Leominster always had an answer. Marching 80 yards on the ensuing possession, O'Connor finished it off with a 1 yard dive with 3 minutes remaining in the quarter to hoist the Blue Devils lead out to 26-14.

St. John's got the ball back and were starting to find holes in the Leominster defense. Moving the ball to the Blue Devil 13 and facing fourth down, Smiley, who was continuously forced outside the pocket by a hard-charging Leominster front line, lofted a ball into the end zone that was picked off by Allain. Moments later, to start the fourth, the Pioneers again drove deep into Leominster territory but this time they capitalized as Smiley found junior Devon Jones on a 26 yard scoring reception. Smiley then added the conversion run to suddenly bring the Pioneers to within four at 26-22 with 7:44 to go.

But once again the Blue Devils found a way to storm back. Methodically moving the ball down field, and showing great poise, the objective to chew time off the clock and tack on more points to put this out of reach appeared destined. Leominster did just that. Aided by a critical pass interference penalty, the Blue Devils took advantage as O'Connor, upon seeing the Pioneer defense taking away the inside gaps, ran an option-keeper outside the right tackle and rumbled 24 yards untouched into the end zone to seal the deal for Leominster.

"We knew St. John's likes to run spread on offense," said Blue Devils coach Dave Palazzi, his club holding the Pioneers to 246 yards, only 42 in the first half. "We just felt we needed to play our game and focus on the whole field. Our 11 guys did a great job out there on defense. It was a great performance on both sides of the ball. We had a great game plan on both sides. I cannot say enough of the effort they put forth tonight."

Johnson honored: Longtime Leominster baseball coach was honored before Friday night's game. Johnson who accumulated 725 victories, recently stepped down from the position. Johnson was three Division 1 state championships with the Blue Devils in 1986, 1988 and 1996. He is a member of the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, Fitchburg State University Hall of Fame and will be inducted into Leominster's inaugural Hall of Fame class this weekend.

Light remembered: St. John's players wore stickers on its helmets with the initials "DJL" in honor of Daniel Jonathan Light who passed away this past summer from ALS. Light is the father of former Pioneer standout quarterback Dan Light, who is now playing defensive back at Fordham University.

Scrimmage Slants: St. John's (S) at Doherty

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
11:46
PM ET
Some of the best talent in Central Mass was on the field at Foley Stadium in Worcester Thursday, as No. 22 Doherty hosted No. 11 St. John's (Shrewsbury) for a scrimmage.

Each team's varsity starters scored a pair of touchdowns, and the both defenses showed flashes that they may be forces in 2013.

Some notes and observations from Thursday's scrimmage:

Doherty's Dynamic Duo: The Highlanders will have to replace star tight end/linebacker Noah Robinson and, at least on the offensive end, they seem to have found their answer. Alfred Adarkwah is listed as a wide receiver, but the 6-foot-4 senior lined up at tight end frequently, creating mismatches against the St. John's linebackers. On Doherty's first drive of the game, Adarkwah got just behind the linebackers and split the safeties on an out-up-and in, then broke a tackle on his way to a 30 yard score.

Isaac Yiadom, a do-it-all athlete and ESPN Boston Preseason All-State selection, lived up to his star billing. The versatile senior made a fantastic catch on a wheel route up the left sideline for 30 yards, displaying great body control and concentration on a ball that was slightly underthrown. Yiadom also scored Doherty's other varsity touchdown, breaking contain on a receiver sweep, then cutting back against the grain for a 35-yard touchdown run.

Defenses clearly fear Yiadom, and the emergence of Adarkwah at both receiver and tight end should help ease the loss of Robinson. The two were particularly effective when lined up on the same side of the formation, with quarterback Luke Brennan rolling their way.

"They both have strengths," Doherty coach Sean Mulcahy said. "Isaac is obviously a dual-threat as a runner and receiver, and Alfred is a really tough matchup for anyone that's not really tall. We have a quarterback that can get them both the ball, and as we go we'll figure out, team-to-team, how we can use them best."

Pioneer Defense Continues to Improve: They're not there yet. At least, not according to St. John's coach John Andreoli, but the Pioneer defense does look significantly better than last year's group that surrendered nearly 30 points a game. After giving up a quick score to the Highlanders, St. John's tightened things up on the defensive line, thanks largely to sophomore nose tackle Josh Angel. The young tackle is still a work in progress according to his coach, but he sure is hard to move at the point of attack.

A week after facing Brockton's power running game, the Pioneers were given the challenge of adjusting to Doherty's spread formations. Andreoli gave his defense passing marks on that adjustment.

"Early in the game we had three third down situations where we just lost contain," Andreoli said. "That's just about us being disciplined, and we did a better job of that after the first drive. On the other hand, we did a real good job against the run, especially against the inside run game.

But I was encouraged about the first two weeks here, after facing two totally different offenses and the way our defense has adjusted to what we've seen."

Smiley Shaking the Rust Off: Preseason All State quarterback Drew Smiley looked a little rusty in the Pioneers' scrimmage against Brockton last week, but he was back to running the St. John's "Blur Offense" efficiently Thursday. Smiley led the Pioneers on a quick 75-yard touchdown drive on his first series, connecting on three of three passes for 30 yards, and rushing for another five yards. The drive was capped by junior running back Shane Combs taking a read handoff for a 45-yard score off left tackle.

On the next St. John's drive, Smiley threw a perfect fade route for a 22-yard touchdown just over the outstretched arms of Adarkwah who was back playing safety. Smiley did fumble when he was sacked by three different Highlanders on his team's next drive, but it looked like he was trying to do too much when he just should've eaten the ball. Other than that one play, it was a pretty perfect day for Smiley.

"Overall we got enough snaps for Drew and he looked good," Andreoli said. "Next week we'll get him a little more, and we're hoping to get some guys back on that side of the ball next week, so we want to be at full strength and getting to game speed by the time we scrimmage New Bedford next Saturday."

Doherty's Young Talent: The star of the scrimmage after the starters left the field was easily Doherty's Ricky Webster. The younger brother of Doherty's 2012 leading rusher Abdulla Webster, the speedy sophomore scored two touchdowns in the second half of the scrimmage. The first was an uneventful five-yard dive, but the second was a 75-yard highlight reel run where Webster got the corner, broke a tackle, then outran everybody down the left sideline. He also looked good in coverage as a corner on defense. No matter what he was doing, Webster just looked fast.

Mulcahy knows that Webster is a great athlete, but he wants him to become a great football player.

"He's gonna be a very good player, but he needs to get to practice," Mulcahy said. "He's very talented. He's good enough, talent-wise, to probably get in the mix for some carries this year. But we've got to get him here every day getting better."

Jones and Brennan Leave With Minor Injuries: On the injury front, both teams played without key players in the second quarter, but both should be back after the long weekend. St. John's junior receiver/safety Davon Jones didn't reenter the game after the first quarter ended, and Doherty quarterback Luke Brennan sat out the second quarter as well. Both injuries are considered minor and both coaches feel they will have their stars back after Labor Day in preparation for the start of the season.

Before Brennan went out, he delivered several memorable plays, including a Ben Roethlisberger-like scramble were he stepped up into the pocket, pounced back off a would-be tackler, turned around and scrambled to his right before flinging it 30 yards for a first down. He also delivered a big hit while running down the sideline on a busted play during the scrimmage’s first drive, lowering the boom on a St. John's linebacker that was probably expecting him to step out of bounds.

Jones was his usual versatile self, splitting time between receiver and running back on offense. He got around five touches and broke two runs for first downs. On defense, he nearly recorded the scrimmages only interception as he sat deep in coverage, and baited Brennan into throwing the post to Yiadom. Jones broke hard on the ball, undercutting the route perfectly, but just couldn't hold onto it.

No. 11 SJS looking for answers on defense

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
1:00
AM ET


St. John's of Shrewsbury will look to reclaim its spot atop Central Mass., and will lean on one of the state's best quarterbacks to do so.

Andrew Smiley took the region by storm in 2012, setting the Central Mass single-season passing record in his first year as the Pioneers' starter. Now a senior, Smiley will again lead the St. John's "Blur" attack, an offense similar to the no huddle scheme Chip Kelly made famous at the University of Oregon.

With a combination of numerous receiver sets, a zone read style option attack and break neck pacing, the Pioneers should again boast one of the best attacks in state.

But, there is the issue of defense…

Last season, the Pioneers gave up over 29 points per game, and allowed opponents to score 33 points or more each week during a mid-season four game losing streak. The defense did show flashes, and finished the year strong, allowing only a touchdown to rival St. Peter-Marian and 19 points in the first round of the CMass playoffs against Wachusett.

Coach John Andreoli knows his group has a ways to go on that side of the ball, but he's been encouraged by what he's seen so far in camp, and during the Pioneers’ scrimmage with state power Brockton.

"Our one's against (Brockton's) one's, I think it was pretty much a stalemate (Monday)," Andreoli said. "We've had a great week of practice… Particularly, working against our offense every day, it gives us something to work against that's a pretty good test."

One player that should help the Pioneers thrive on both sides is receiver/defensive back Davon Jones. The talented junior is expected to be Smiley's go-to receiver on offense, and close passing lanes in a hurry as a ball-hawking safety on defense.

A two-sport star that excels on the hardwood for the Pioneer basketball team, Jones' physicality and intelligence have caught the eye of his coach.

"First of all, (Jones) is a football player," Andreoli said. "He's always around the ball, and he's a physical kid on both sides of the ball. His yards after catch are yards that he earned by grinding it out and being physical… I think he's just continuing to develop as a player, and there's no doubt he has a real high ceiling, just on his football IQ and ability to play the game physically."

While St. John's always has numerous high profile games, they don't get much bigger than the season opener at rival Leominster. The Blue Devils have bested the Pioneers in the last two Division 1 Central Mass Super Bowls, and won their last four overall against St. John's.

Leominster scored 79 points in two games against St. John's last season, so that improving defense will be tested immediately.

ST. JOHN'S AT A GLANCE
Coach: John Andreoli (8th year, 66-18 overall)
Last Season: 8-5, Lost in Div. 1 Central Super Bowl.
Key Returnees: Andrew Smiley, Sr. QB, Davon Jones, Jr. WR/DB, Pat Ryan, Jr. LB, Jeff DeMango, Jr. DE.
Strengths: Experience at quarterback and speed at the skill positions.
Weaknesses: Inexperience and inconsistency on defense.
Overview: St. John's has, potentially, one of the best QB-WR duos in the state in Smiley and Jones, but will need to replace running back Shadrach Abrokwah and receivers Micah Cummins and John Giacoppe. Having a senior quarterback and a scheme that gives defenses no time to rest should help, but Smiley was hit early and often in a scrimmage against Brockton Monday, and he forced a few throws into coverage. But we'll chalk that up to early season growing pains, and assume an offense that averaged over 38 points per game last season will figure things out. Surprisingly, the defense was the star of the scrimmage, forcing three different “three-and-outs” and a turnover against the Boxers. The Pioneer defensive front isn't huge, but it holds the point of attack and has the speed to string out runs to the outside. If the Pioneer defense continues to improve, it could be a banner year for St. John's in brutal Division 2.

Scrimmage Slants: St. John's (S) at Brockton

August, 27, 2013
8/27/13
2:02
AM ET
BROCKTON, Mass. -- The No. 8 Brockton Boxers hosted No. 11 St. John's of Shrewsbury in their annual preseason scrimmage late Monday afternoon, at Marciano Stadium.

Since Brockton coach Peter Colombo and St. John's coach John Andreoli -- former teammates at Holy Cross -- began scheduling this yearly, it has become one of the most anticipated scrimmages of the preseason. In three 10-play series each of varsity on varsity, the Boxers scored twice while the Pioneers scored once.

A few notes and observations from Monday's scrimmage:

Ground and Pound: In last year's installment of this annual scrimmage, Brockton debuted a Georgia Tech-style "Flex Bone" scheme, a radical departure from the multiple offense the Boxers had been running for decades. But the look suited the exploits of tough-as-nails quarterback Augie Roberts very comfortably, and they put together one of the state's most fluid rushing attacks en route to the MIAA Division 1 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl.

There had been some light speculation during the offseason as to how much longer they would stick in the scheme, with Roberts graduating, but it looks like the Boxers are staying with it. Good thing, because it looks like they will be sharp once again, with Pat Burke assuming the reigns under center, fleet-footed seniors Aaron LeClair and Jamal Williams at the wingback spots, and promising sophomore Kerry Raymond at fullback.

"People thought we might have to abandon this when Augie left, but Pat's done a pretty good job with it," head coach Peter Colombo said. "He doesn't have to do everything Augie did, but spread it around."

By far, the most effective play was the "rocket toss", sending either LeClair and Williams circling in motion from the backside and pitching to them on the perimeter at full speed. The Boxers called the play three times on the first series, out of two-receiver sets, and gained a total of 52 yards.

Eventually, more ripples will be added as the new backfield pieces get accustomed -- Williams, for one, is already pretty familiar, having run a similar scheme at Taunton High last year.

"We've gotta be able to throw off of it, and do other things off of that," Colombo said. "We're just working on base stuff right now, but we'll add in some [more] throws, and some misdirection, and just keep getting better at it, because no matter how much ... it's hard to defend. It puts stress on them side to side, widen things out, and then we hit you in between. We'll see where it goes, but it's a good start with that."

The Boxers are hoping Raymond can provide a good counterpunch to the shifty LeClair and Williams. Already measuring 6-foot and close to 220 pounds, there are high hopes that he can be tough in between the tackles, and today's returns were encouraging. It's not every day you have a back this size in Brockton, which had Colombo recalling back to some of the most successful Brockton teams of the last few decades.

"He's a throwback to the Junior Penn, Darnell Campbell, Rudy Harris type of back," Colombo said. "Again, just a sophomore, so he's still just learning his plays. We've got him playing some fullback and some tailback, and I think at times he's confused about exactly what the concepts are. But with the ball in his hands, going north and south, he's a load, definitely.

Colombo added with a laugh, "He's not a fun guy to tackle -- not that I've ever tried, I'm just glad I don't have to. He's a big strong kid that we have to take advantage of."

Davon dazzles: One of the most interesting camp questions this preseason was where star athlete Davon Jones would line up on the offense. Jones, a starter at free safety since his freshman season of 2011, is already being hailed as one of the state's best defensive backs, named a Preseason All-State selection last week by ESPN Boston. Offensively, Jones is expected to have a bigger role this fall following the graduation of Shadrach Abrokwah at running back.

Today, Jones played wide receiver exclusively, mostly lining up opposite the strength of the formation in isolation, and he made several highlight-reel plays. On the fifth play of the first series, with his defender playing five yards off the line of scrimmage, Jones took one step forward and turned back to the line of scrimmage, where quarterback Andrew Smiley threw him a ball on the numbers. Jones turned back to his defender, shook his hips, and then juked another defender for good measure.

In the second series, Jones went deep down the left sideline on a go route, and Smiley delivered a deep ball towards his back shoulder. With a safety coming over the top, Jones looked back to the ball, turned mid-air, and acrobatically came down with the ball, his arms outstretched behind his head.

"He's always around the ball," Pioneers head coach John Andreoli said. "On both sides of the ball, he's an impact player that we need to have on the field. Offense, it's good to have him in the slot, open area, and we can get pretty good matchups against him."

Asked if Jones will stick at wide receiver, Andreoli said, "We like him there, because it gives us a matchup in space."

Monteiro shows promise: Right now, this is a young offensive line that is green with talent, breaking in a slew of new blood. But this is also a big line, consisting of tackles Dan Estrella (6-2, 235) and Sebastian Porter (6-2, 240), guards Aaron Monteiro (6-5, 290) and Junior Silva (6-0, 230), and center Terrence Thorpe (6-3, 240).

"The line is a work in progress, and they're working hard. I see definite hope there," Colombo said.

The Brockton coaching staff is especially excited about the potential of Monteiro, who showed flashes of potential in the run game, getting out into the second level, but also in the passing game. On the Boxers' second touchdown, a 40-yard strike from Burke to Watna Cunha, Monteiro initially chipped the nose guard in the gap to his right, then recovered and sealed off the defensive tackle attacking his outside gap.

Monteiro is an aggressive run blocker, but his technique is still raw. Right now, he plays a bit stiff, and has a tendency to over-extend himself. His intangibles, though, have plenty of folks in Brockton excited about what he could become.

"He's athletic for a big, big kid," Colombo said. "He plays basketball, so he's used to moving his feet. When he puts a year of experience under his belt, with another year in the weight room, I think he's a Division 1 prospect. We'll see what the other guys think, but certainly he's got the part you can't coach -- the frame, athleticism and the size to play at the next level."

Big hits: Of all the years St. John's and Brockton have been scrimmaging each other, this was one of the more intense meetings. There were plenty of loud, popping hits delivered on both sides; a brief scuffle also broke out in the end zone following a St. John's score, though no punches were thrown.

In the second series, Williams took a quick pitch on the perimeter and shuffled his feet, attempting to juke Jones. But Jones simply squared his shoulders and lunged at Williams' thighs, undercutting him with a loud pop. The next play, Brockton's Justin Ahanon took a swing pass in the flat, turned upfield and ran over Jones on his way to the sideline, one of the day's biggest hits, which fired up the Brockton sideline.

Then early in the third series, Brockton safety Devin Duarte read Smiley's eyes and picked off his pass over the deep middle. Duarte broke to the left sideline, picked up about 20 yards then lowered his shoulder to flatten a would-be Pioneers tackler.

Early rust, but passing marks for Smiley: First scrimmages never go smoothly, and Smiley -- a 2012 ESPN Boston All-State selection -- threw a bad pick early, his intended target having his back turned. But once he got going, he was accurate, hitting receivers in the flats and deep downfield for a number of positive gains. Smiley -- a Navy lacrosse commit -- is one of the state's most dangerous dual threats, and leads an offense that runs parallel to Oregon's "Blur" attack and last year led the state in offensive yards (442 yards per game). But today's gameplan did not call for him to run much.

"We had five sophomores on the offensive side of the ball today due to a couple guys being dinged up, but overall I thought he made some good decisions, threw some good balls," Andreoli said. "He got the ball to guys in space, and that's our offense. We didn't run it a lot today, but he's progressing right along nicely. Where he was now compared to a year ago at this time, he's a completely different player."

Combs comes through: Andreoli feels comfortable sticking Jones at wide receiver, and that's because the Pioneers have picked up a nice running back in junior transfer Shane Combs, who has moved into the area from St. Louis.

Combs took a vicious hit from Jonathan Deroulas on the second play of the day, stuffed on a dive up the middle after a minimal gain and his back looking like it got the worst of the collision. Looking dazed, Combs struggled to get to his feet, but he returned to the field two plays later and was serviceable the rest of the day.

He also scored the first St. John's touchdown, cutting back on an outside zone to the left and scampering 25 yards to paydirt.

"He sees the field pretty well, is able to run off blocks and change direction without really losing a step," Andreoli said of Combs. "And he can catch out of the backfield too, which is a really nice dimension for us."

Leg Up: Keep an eye on sophomore placekicker Ryan Clifford, who played for Brockton's soccer team last year and has an impressive boot. In the first series, Clifford attempted a 35-yard field goal that sailed wide left, but had plenty of distance.

Clifford is among a small minority of kickers in the MIAA that kick directly off the ground. High school rules allow for the ball to be elevated up to two inches off the ground on field goal attempts, and most kickers use some sort of platform.

"Eventually, I think he's a big strong kid who might play some tight end or some other position for us," Colombo said. "And he kicks off the grass. He's not used to using a tee, and as you saw that was plenty of distance. It's a nice weapon to have."


SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- With the game on the line and seven seconds remaining on the clock, Leominster football head coach Dave Palazzi threw out the playbook and did the unconventional. He asked his quarterback Garrett DelleChiaie and wide receiver Neil O’Connor what they wanted to do.

Like a sandlot game, drawing up patterns with a stick in the dirt, it was O’Connor who dialed up the perfect connection.

“O’Connor looked at me and said, ‘I think I can get him on a hitch,’” Palazzi said.

With Palazzi’s blessing, the No. 18 Blue Devils broke the huddle and executed the play to perfection. When O’Connor fell into the end zone with four seconds remaining Saturday at No. 20 St. John’s of Shrewsbury, Leominster came away with the winning score, capping a frenetic fourth quarter and a 37-34 comeback win.

The brain trust behind the game-winning play deflected praise for its execution, however.

“That was all Garrett,” O’Connor said after his two-touchdown performance. “He threw a great ball, he put it right on my chest, I turned and then I just fell in the end zone.”

O’Connor’s hitch route worked. It also marked the third lead change of the game in its final five minutes. After Shane O’Donnell’s 1-yard touchdown run with 4:49 to play, the Pioneers (4-3) went back into their blitzkrieg offense and reclaimed the lead, 34-29, with 1:59 remaining.

From there, DelleChiaie marched the Blue Devils (5-2) on a 9-play, 75-yard drive.

“Our defense has been carrying us for a year and a half, and they played a great game,” Palazzi said. “St. John’s offense is tough as we all know. It was time for our offense, for once, to get it done when it counted. We’re down, in a two-minute drives, it’s just about guys blocking and making plays.”

BREAK DOWN
So about that game-winning touchdown catch.

The play itself and the trusting nature of Palazzi to put the game – literally – into the hands of his offensive playmakers was something to admire.

The 6-yard pass from DelleChiaie (17 of 29, 212 yards) to O’Connor came on a second-and goal play. The Blue Devils tried a similar play on their first-down try, but saw DelleChiaie throw the ball out the back of the end zone.

“[Palazzi] said to be smart and take care of the ball really,” DelleChiaie said of his coach’s advice embarking on the two-minute drill, “if nobody’s there, throw it away.”

With O’Connor bracketed on the play, DelleChiaie made the right decision, giving himself another crack at it. The second time around, it fired on all cylinders. The pass blocking was there, DelleChiaie made the throw, O’Connor ran the route.

Just as they drew it up.

“We lined up Neil by himself and ran him a quick 90-hitch route,” DelleChiaie said. “We knew [the cornerback] was off and Neil was going to make the play.”

STRIVING FOR IMPROVEMENT
After surrendering more than 100 points in their last two outings, the Pioneers defense had an opportunity to acquit themselves by making a making a fourth-quarter stand. While St. John’s was improved on the bulk, it went down as another missed opportunity to make a statement.

Pioneers head coach John Andreoli preached to his group this week about getting off the field quickly, limiting opponents’ ability to get chunks of yardage on first and second down.

For the most part, St. John’s was effective on the early downs, but instead struggled to get off the field consistently on third down. The Blue Devils converted 7 of 13 third-down situations, including two touchdown plays.

“We want to make it second-and-nine and we can then dictate the call,” Andreoli said. “We did that a couple times today, but then we’d let them out and give them a big play when they had their backs against the wall. We can’t do that. That’s an opportunity for us to win a football game when you’re able to make a defensive stop in a certain situation.

“We’re not doing that. We’re not making the plays we have to at the times when you need to make them.”

Again, the Pioneers offense was on-point. Quarterback Andrew Smiley completed 16 of 22 pass attempts for 167 yards and one touchdown. Senior running back Shadrach Abrokwah ran for 103 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns.

“We just need to get back to having that defensive personality of getting off the field after third down.”

That would mean a world of improvement for the Pioneers.

Recap: No. 18 St. John's (S) 35, No. 6 'Meadow 14

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
8:11
PM ET


SHREWSBURY, Mass. -– St. John’s quarterback Andrew Smiley noticed receiver Micah Cummins putting on a red basketball-like compression sleeve on his left arm before this afternoon’s visit from Longmeadow, and kept things real –- “You drop a pass, I’m gonna be all over you about it,” Smiley cracked to him.

Done and done.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Smiley, Micah Cummings
Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comQuarterback Andrew Smiley (12) and receiver Micah Cummins (88) connected for two touchdowns to lead St. John's to a 35-14 win over Longmeadow.
Not only did Cummins refrain from a drop, but the 5-foot-11 wideout came up with two pivotal touchdown catches in the first half that put the No. 18 Pioneers ahead for good. The defense did the rest in the second half, forcing the No. 6 Lancers into three straight turnovers on downs en route to a 35-14 win at Pioneer Field.

After a dazzling debut in his first varsity start last week against Holy Name (353 yards, 4 TD), Smiley once again went over the 300-yard mark in total offense. He was 16-of-18 passing for 246 yards, and carried the ball 15 times for 96 yards, with four touchdowns total.

Meanwhile Cummins finished with four catches for 74 yards for St. John’s (2-0), but earned most of his yardage after the catch with some slippery moves. At 160 pounds, Cummins is not the biggest or most intimidating target for the Pioneers – but he may have the best body control.

That was perhaps best explicated on Cummins’ second touchdown catch, a 30-yard snag at the two-minute warning of the first half that put the Pioneers ahead 21-14. The play called for Cummins to run a “jerk” route to the left sideline, in which the receiver fakes like he will sit in a zone hole before continuing his shallow crossing route. He hauled in Smiley’s short dart with a few feet of real estate left, then planted upfield, spun through one defender, juked to the right of another, and marched the final 25 yards untouched.

That was preceded by a 47-yard strike to Cummins towards the end of the first quarter that put the Pioneers up 14-7. Cummins ran a post route up the left sideline, facing man coverage with a safety shaded to his side, and was sprung free by a pick from John Giacoppe (5 catches, 62 yards) to make the grab behind the safety and glide into the end zone.

“He’s so shifty, hard to tackle,” Smiley said. “He’s not the strongest kid out there, but he’s quick. He’s just hard to tackle.”

Smiley came up with two more scores in the third quarter to put this one away, first calling his number for a seven-yard scamper, then finding Davon Jones on a seam deep downfield for a 30-yard pass.

Improved defense: The Pioneers came away with the win last week against Holy Name, but were not satisfied with the run defense, giving up 463 yards and five scores on the ground to the Naps’ vaunted Double Wing scheme (282 coming from Quron Wright). This week, they split that number in half, allowing 233 yards and two scores against the Lancers’ modified Wing-T scheme (which today also showed elements of the “Flexbone” formation, with heavy personnel groupings).

Give credit to the front four for that marked improvement. Against a Longmeadow’s senior-laden offensive line that is considered one of the state’s best -- averaging over 260 pounds across, and led by road graders Rob McClure and Lou Calabrese -- the Pioneers held their own. Led by juniors Jeff DeMango and Connor Gatto, and sophomore Sam Norton, they were able to stuff the interior gaps ably.

The hallmark of today’s defensive effort was the aforementioned second-half effort, in which the Lancers ended three straight drives with a turnover on downs in Pioneer territory.

“They’ve gotten some confidence every week, and they’re getting better,” St. John’s head coach John Andreoli said. “We’ve played some tough teams all along – Brockton, New Bedford, Shepherd Hill [all three were scrimmages], Holy Name, I mean those are great teams. And our kids stepped up and played disciplined.

“We stayed in a lot of base fronts today, they trusted their reads, and ran to the football. That’s what they did, and that’s what they’ve been doing all year.”

Longmeadow quarterback Frankie Elder led the Lancers with 86 yards and a score on 16 carries, but a had a forgettable day through the air with 74 yards on 5-of-17 passing, with two picks. Fullback Austin Sierra also had 14 carries for 68 yards.

Dejection, but praise: Some Lancers felt their hearts sink to their knees in the moments following the game. Elder, for one, sat on the grass, helmet still buckled and lay motionless with a thousand-yard stare.

With legendary former head coach Alex Rotsko leaving behind arguably one of the Lancers’ most talented senior classes in a while, there have been high hopes for this year’s squad, with a No. 6 preseason ranking in ESPNBoston.com’s statewide MIAA poll. A win today would have satisfied Longmeadow’s wishes to be taken seriously as one of the state’s elite programs.

But in the eyes of many, they already are, and have been for some time.

“It’s a respectable win [today], because Longmeadow is a very good program,” Cummins said. “I think in a couple articles, they said they wanted to get themselves into the elite of Massachusetts football, and I think they already are elite. I look back at the stats, and they’re one of the top programs in the state year in and year out.

“They’re well-coached, and I have all the respect in the world for them.”

One aspect of the Lancers’ gameplan that worked particularly well today was their defense of St. John’s running back Shadrach Abrokwah. Coming off a 205-yard, three-touchdown performance last week over Holy Name, the Worcester resident was held to 36 yards on seven carries, but did have a nice 40-yard reception off a swing pass.

But as the stats indicate from today’s game. Keying Abrokwah on the zone read opened the field once again for Smiley and the air attack.

“They’re just athletic,” Longmeadow head coach Nick St. George said. “They’re good athletes, they have good receivers, they get the ball out to their guys in space and they force you to make tackles. We missed a lot of tackles today.”

Flash cards? One of the most interesting nuggets from today’s post-game interviews was the suggestion from Smiley that the Pioneers may begin to utilize flash cards from the sideline to speed up what has already been a turbo-charged playcalling system.

But not just any ol’ flash cards. One of the main storylines with the Pioneers’ early season is how they have adopted the “Blur offense” tempo popularized by the University of Oregon under coach Chip Kelly. In recent years, Kelly’s assistants have used posterboard-sized placards consisting of four panels with seemingly any sort of picture on it –- a number, a color, a school logo, a mascot, characters from Caddyshack, hosts from ESPN College Gameday, and so forth.

Even among the increasingly-innovative college coaching ranks, Oregon’s method of calling in plays is considered radical. The only thing that’s come close so far in the MIAA in recent years might be Duxbury, which dresses five JV players in bright orange hats (nicknamed “The Amigos”) and gives them color-coded cards to hold up.

“Oh, we might be bringing those out,” Smiley said when a reporter asked about replicating the “Blur” tempo and referenced the Ducks’ flash cards.

Have they been working on it?

“Yeah, a little bit,” Smiley said.

It could be an innocent comment, and ultimately nothing could come of this. But given the progression of this offense, it could also be the next natural step.

ST. JOHN’S 35, LONGMEADOW 14

LHS 7 7 0 0 --- 14
SJS 14 7 14 0 --- 35


First Quarter
L – Frankie Elder 3 run (Eric Barsalou kick) 6:36
S – Andrew Smiley 8 run (Pat Lehane kick) 6:16
S – Micah Cummins 47 pass from Smiley (Lehane kick) 1:50

Second Quarter
L - Joe Lee 1 run (Barsalou kick) 6:51
S – Cummins 30 pass from Smiley (Lehane kick) 2:00

Third Quarter
S – Smiley 7 run (Lehane kick) 8:02
S – Davon Jones 30 pass from Smiley (Lehane kick) 1:52

Recap: No. 17 St. John's (S) 47, No. 24 Holy Name 40

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
10:04
PM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- Mike Pucko sat on the bench next to one of his linebackers, who was sobbing softly with his left knee heavily wrapped in ice, and watched as the paramedics lifted him onto a stretcher.

By this point, Pioneer Field had cleared out, and the Holy Name coach was once again left with nothing but a long, deflated sigh that shouted, Just what do I have to do to beat these guys?

[+] EnlargeQuron Wright
Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comHoly Name's Quron Wright gave the St. John's defense fits, rushing for four touchdowns and a career-best 282 yards.
Under Pucko, the Naps have become something of folklore with their less-is-more modus operandi, playing a Division 1 schedule with essentially a Division 4 student body. They've rolled into this annual season-opener with rival St. John's of Shrewsbury carrying a little over two dozen of the toughest kids in Worcester, and have come at them with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink.

For all of the Super Bowl championship success under Pucko, the Naps haven't been able to get an elusive victory over St. John's under John Andreoli. In recent years, the Naps have lost 9-8 and 22-21 to the Pioneers. Today, it was a recovered fumble by St. John's Sam Norton with under four minutes left that did the Naps in, as the Pioneers eked out a 47-40 shootout victory in which neither defense was able to contain the other's running back.

Of his own Lilliputian scatback, Quron Wright, Pucko was asked about the career day of the waterbug generously listed at 5-foot-7, and without initiation fired one of his trademark shots from the hip.

"Anybody that thinks he's too short to play college football can kiss my a--," Pucko said of Wright, who finished the day with a career-best 282 yards on 28 carries for four touchdowns. “He showed what he can do against any competition, any time."

When he was done talking, for good measure, Pucko brisked by Wright and slammed his open palm on the senior's right shoulder pad.

Between Wright and St. John's senior tailback Shadrach Abrokwah (24 carries, 205 yards, 3 TD), this was a must-see clinic for rushing, albeit in styles at opposite ends of the spectrum -- Wright the patient breaks behind sweeping convoys in the Double Wing, Abrokwah the darting cutbacks in an uptempo Inside Zone Read scheme.

The best story of the day, however, might have on the other side of the ball, where Andrew Smiley stepped in for the injured Connor Kurtz in his first varsity start and promptly accumulated 353 yards of offense (226 passing, 127 rushing) and four touchdowns (three passing). The 6-foot-3 junior connected with wideout Micah Cummins for two of his passing touchdowns, the second a soft goal line fade to the back pylon early in the fourth quarter that rounded out the wild scoring.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Smiley
Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comMaking his first varsity start, St. John's QB Andrew Smiley accounted for 353 yards of offense and 4 TDs.
"I was rolling out, and I saw the corner jump the under route," Smiley said of his second scoring strike to Cummins. “I saw a little window, tried to fit it in, and Micah made a nice play.”

After pounding the ball in between the tackles all afternoon, routinely drawing nine Pioneer defenders into the box, Naps quarterback Shamus Malley caught the secondary sleeping for a wide-open 41-yard scoring strike to tight end Robert Baker. The pass, a play-action post with Baker slipping behind the safeties, was his only completion of the day, and cut the Pioneers’ lead to 41-40 with 8:06 to go.

St. John’s fired right back with a seven-play, 62-yard scoring drive marching through the middle of the Naps’ defense with a series of zone read plays. Smiley finished the drive with his rollout floater to Cummins.

Five plays into the ensuing Holy Name drive, the ball was fumbled near the line of scrimmage, and sophomore defensive tackle Sam Norton was there to fall on it and give the Pioneers the ball back with under four minutes to go. St. John’s effectively ran out the clock with steady inside zone plays to Abrokwah.

“We thought we could have won 48-47,” Pucko said. “We were starting to drive again, the kids were sucking it up even though they all had cramps, they were giving everything to stay out there…But hey, what are you going to do?”

The Pioneers totaled 558 yards of offense, while Holy Name amassed 504 yards –- 463 of it coming on the ground –- giving the teams over 1,050 yards for the day.

Read to Achieve: Pucko plays scout team quarterback each week in practice – “I can look into kids’ eyes and know where our problems are,” he explained – and this week he felt they were able to defend it sufficiently.

Clearly, that was easier said than done. The Pioneers are going with an Oregon-like “blur” tempo this year, a spread-based option look aimed at snapping the ball in less than 20 seconds, and the most effective staple of Andreoli’s game plan today was the inside zone read.

Abrokwah chose his cutbacks wisely and used his superior lower-body strength to brush through the second level. But they were at their most effective when a Holy Name defensive end crashed, forcing Smiley to call his own number. That’s because the middle of the field was usually wide open.

Not bad for his first varsity start under center. It was evident this afternoon how much time Smiley and Abrokwah have put into selling the fake.

“We stay on them all the time about it,” Andreoli said. “Every drill we do about carrying out the fakes, because what happens is it’s like a block, really. Even if you don’t pull the ball as a quarterback, but you carry out the fake, you might freeze a high safety, and that’s the difference between a guy making the play on the backside and not.

“If you can get them to carry out their fakes, and then they pull it, they [the defense] have to respect that. And he [Smiley] has the kind of speed that when he pulls it, he’s got a one-on-one, and he runs pretty good. So, that helped us today.”

The Wright Stuff: At this point, Pucko is clearly ticked at the lack of attention from college coaches towards Wright, who is now roughly 1,000 yards from breaking the school’s all-time rushing yardage record held by former UMass tight end Emil Igwenagu (who himself was one of the Philadelphia Eagles’ final cuts this preseason).

Generously listed at 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, there are obvious questions about whether his frame would be able to take on the level of physicality demonstrated in Division 1.

To put his frustration in perspective, Pucko brought up one of the greatest running backs to ever come through Massachusetts. He coached Joe Morris as an assistant at Ayer High in the late 70’s, and recalls how tough it was to get the 5-foot-7 fire hydrant his due diligence, even from Pucko's alma mater UConn. Morris went on to endure an All-American career at Syracuse, before winning a Super Bowl with the New York Giants and appearing in two Pro Bowls.

“He gives 100 percent all the time, and if they think height is an issue, watch our game films and watch him tear people up all the time,” Pucko said of Wright. “[He’s been doing this] all his career, and I can’t get anybody to chase me down.

“We’ll get it, we’ll get it. Somebody’s finally gonna realize they’re an idiot and make a move on him, like with Joe Morris. I lost that fight with UConn, my alma mater wouldn’t take him, he ends up doing all that and his whole career. I guarantee that’s going to happen with Quron.”


ST. JOHN’S (SHREWSBURY) 47, HOLY NAME 40

HN (0-1) 6 14 12 8 --- 40
SJ (1-0) 14 6 14 13 --- 47

First Quarter
S – Shadrach Abrokwah 57 run (Micah Cummins pass from Andrew Smiley) 10:39
H – Quron Wright 10 run (rush failed) 4:39
S – Abrokwah 16 run (rush failed) 2:51

Second Quarter
H – Wright 5 run (rush failed) 7:07
S – Cummins 75 pass from Smiley (rush failed) 6:07
H – Jeff Holland 4 run (Holland rush) 1:25

Third Quarter
S – Smiley 23 run (Abrokwah rush) 7:38
H – Wright 65 run (pass failed) 7:21
S – T.J. Kelley 7 pass from Smiley (kick failed)
H – Wright 9 run (rush failed) :30

Fourth Quarter
S – Abrokwah 6 run (Pat Lehane kick) 10:48
H – Robert Baker 41 pass from Shamus Malley (Wright rush) 8:06
S – Cummins 11 pass from Smiley (kick failed) 6:17
This season, we're trotting a new feature for football season that we started back in the spring. Each Wednesday, we'll pool the minds of our ESPN Boston staff and contributors to debate several hot button topics across the state in our Roundtable.

Without further ado, let's kick off the new season with these takes:

1. BC HIGH RECEIVED SOME BAD NEWS LAST WEEK WHEN RETURNING ESPN BOSTON ALL-STATE LINEBACKER LUKE CATARIUS SUFFERED A HAIRLINE FRACTURE ON HIS ANKLE. HOW WILL THE EAGLES COPE?

Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor: Over the last decade, BC High has proven to be a program with enough sufficient depth to compensate when star players miss a significant time with injury. However, it’s different when you lose the quarterback of your defense, especially when it’s a player as special a talent as the Eagles’ Luke Catarius.

In the scrimmage against Mansfield, after Catarius went out with the ankle injury, the Hornets went to the underneath game and exploited the flats for big gains. There was also one big miscommunication in the secondary that allowed Kevin Maki to wheel right through the middle of the deep field for a 45-yard completion. Not that this won’t be shored up before Friday’s big tilt with Brockton, but it is worth pointing out.

The good news, obviously, is that the Eagles’ Catholic Conference season doesn’t start until late October – but with Xaverian and St. John’s Prep looking sharp, it will be obvious if this team isn’t in proper shape. With that in mind, I expect Brandon Owens’ role at outside linebacker to have an even bigger significance than before. The pressure will also be on the front four, led by Jaleel Johnson, to buy the back seven time.

Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools editor: In terms of talent, I think the Eagles can get along. My greatest concern for BC High’s defense without Catarius relates to communication. The linebacker has been the leader of the defensive huddle, with messages from the sideline passed along to the inside linebacker. On field, Catarius was the quarterback of the defense as well, not only knowing his own responsibilities, but that of his teammates. That comes from knowledge of the system and cannot be replicated; it only comes through game-condition experience. The Eagles have a bevy of returning starters on the defensive line and secondary to shoulder the load but this one hurts. Will they rely on Brandon Owens to not only be the feature back, but take on more Catarius’ two-way role? We saw what happened last year when Preston Cooper went down at running back and how Deontae Ramey-Doe filled those shoes. So perhaps this will be more of the same for a deep Eagles’ squad. But a player of Catarius’ ilk cannot simply be replaced.

Adam Kurkjian, ESPN Boston correspondent: Without question, losing one of the top two-way players in the state will have a negative impact on BC High. The Eagles will not be able to replace his production easily and there may be an extra loss or two that comes down their way early on because of it. That said, if he is back by the time Catholic Conference play rolls around, BC High will still be one of the favorites to make it back to the playoffs. But still his loss cannot be understated.

Bruce Lerch, ESPN Boston correspondent: Believe it or not, I think the Eagles will be fine defensively. Obviously, Catarius is a one-of-a-kind talent with the ability to singlehandedly change opposing offensive gameplans. BC High will simply lean more on the unit as a whole rather than an individual to bail them out, as Catarius often did with his read and react style of play. Linebackers Danny Collins and Brandon Owens are leaders, defensive linemen like Billy Breen and Jaleel Johnson will take up blockers and make a few plays on their own, and the secondary will have to be more active in supporting.

Oddly enough, I think it's on offense where the Eagles may miss Catarius the most. A bruising fullback, Catarius helped pave the way for Preston Cooper and Deontay Ramey-Doe to pile up yardage last season. New backs Owens and Skyler Evans, along with a mostly inexperienced line, would have benefitted greatly from having Catarius leading the charge.

John Botelho, Editor-in-Chief, South Shore Sports Journal: I'm not even sure this Luke Catarius injury will have any real impact on BC. And I don't mean that as a slight to Catarius - in fact, I think he's the best linebacker in the state. My point of view though is this is a non-issue for the Eagles for two reasons.

First of all, replacing Catarius obviously wouldn't be easy, but aren't teams in the Catholic Conference best suited to replace someone they lose to an injury? Those teams are so loaded and so deep that it seems they have significant depth at every position. Or at least it seemed that way when Preston Cooper - who was arguably the best running back in the state in the first half of last year - went down with a broken ankle. All BC did was go on to win the Super Bowl as Deontae Ramey-Doe stepped in and the Eagles never missed a beat.

Secondly, and most important, is that BC doesn't open up league play until October 26 when they host Malden Catholic. I think even without Catarius, it'd be considered an upset if the Eagles lost that match-up. If it really comes to it, they don't need Catarius back until November 4th, week eight of the season, when they travel to Xaverian. It's reasonable to think that a hairline fracture would be healed up and they'd have him back by then.

2. WHICH REGION OF THE STATE HAS THE BEST UP-AND-COMING TALENT?

Hall: The emergence of Springfield-area talent over the last few years is one of the best stories developing this fall. But in terms of pure talent, for me it’s got to be the Cape & Islands region.

Every year, there seems to be a Cape player that seemingly washes ashore to earn a Division 1 scholarship. Two years ago, it was Randall Jette from Martha’s Vineyard going to UMass. Last year, Nauset’s Brendan Battles-Santos surprising everyone at UConn’s prospect camp to earn a scholarship practically on the spot. This past summer, UMass dug back into the region to pluck 6-foot-7 tight end Terrel Correia out of Nantucket, with intentions of making him an offensive tackle.

We’ll obviously be watching Correia closely this fall, but he isn’t even the best player from the region. Barnstable quarterback Nick Peabody is among the state’s best, with Ivy League interest. Mashpee has three athletes with Division 1 potential in tackle Nate Chrzanowski, running back Jared Taylor (he of the 300-yard epic last year at Gillette Stadium) and his new backfield mate Malik Lee, a Cape Cod Tech transfer with plenty of upside at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds.

Also keep an eye on Dennis-Yarmouth’s Joe Tyo, who still has to fill out but is projectable with a long 6-foot-5 frame and some active footwork. Falmouth sophomore Craig Green will be an intriguing prospect to monitor, after running a 10.6-second 100-meter dash last spring at the New England Track and Field Championships. And as good as Darien Fernandez was on the basketball court for Wareham last winter, some believe he’s an even better running back.

Barboza: I’m looking no further than our statewide preseason Top 25 poll to find two Springfield squads (Central at No. 14 and Putnum at No. 23) and another (Springfield Commerce) knocking on the door. Central is retooled for another run at Longmeadow in Div. 1 West with some key returnees from last year’s squad that made it to Gillette Stadium. Quarterback Cody Williams could be a breakout performer this year and Shawn Lockett is a legitimate force to deal with on the lines. Melquawn Pinkney might be gone, but the cupboard’s not bare for Putnam with Wayne Lowery, shouldering more of the running load while playing lock-down corner. Sha’ki Holines (UConn) and Hassan Graham (not to be confused with the Patriots receiver of yesteryear) grade out at their positions against anybody across the state.

Kurkjian: This is a tough question because the season has not started yet, so it is hard to assess which region has the top players. As it stands now, though, the North Shore looks to have an overflow of top players if you consider Everett part of that region. Also, don't forget BC High's Brandon Owens hails from Salem.

Botelho: Last fall made it hard to argue with any region being more up-and-coming than the Cape. Four of the nine Eastern Mass. Super Bowl champs were from the Cape and Islands (Dennis-Yarmouth Div. 2A, Bourne Div. 3A, Mashpee Div. 4 and Nantucket Div. 5). Not only did those teams each win Super Bowls last season, but the Cape teams outscored opponents 120-29 in those games. Only Bourne had a competitive game, beating defending Super Bowl champ Hamilton-Wenham, 16-14.

3. WHICH RUNNING BACK WILL HAVE THE BIGGEST BREAKOUT?

Hall: There’s a lot of directions you can go with this one. The addition of Malik Lee, and his soft hands, to Mashpee’s already-dangerous backfield has to feel like a high school offensive coordinator’s dream. Out west, Springfield folks are excited about two potential breakout candidates in Putnam’s Wayne Lowery and Central’s Aaron Owens. St. John's of Shrewsbury's Shadrach Abrokwah is bound for a breakout in John Andreoli's new Oregon-style "blur" offense.

However, I’m going with BC High’s Brandon Owens. That he is already committed to a Division 1 FCS school (Bryant) despite only seeing part-time duty one way last season speaks to his upside. As a runner, there is no wangle to his makeup – he’s a north-south, one-cut guy with a powerful frame that accelerates quickly to hit the hole at full speed.

Losing fullback Luke Catarius for the first six weeks of the season means the Eagles may have to get more creative with their offensive sets. But after seeing him take the corner on toss plays out of “Ace” formations, in the Mansfield scrimmage, I think he’s up for any task the coaching staff throws at him.

Barboza: I think we’re all hedging that Malik Lee of Mashpee will have a monster season in his first year with the Falcons, but I’m going to buck the trend here and go with another runner inside the South Shore League. Abington’s Babila Fonkem tallied seven touchdowns (five of those came in one game against backyard rival Archbishop Williams) and ran for over 1,000 yards last season. I think the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder has the potential to more than double last year’s tally as a feature back during Jim Kelleher’s swan song as head coach.

Kurkjian: From the looks of it, Brandon Owens has had a spectacular preseason and he will be the feature back in what expects to be another punishing ground attack for BC High. It appears as if the Eagles have just reloaded there.

Lerch: Everett's Kenny Calaj is already something of a household name, having been an impact weapon in Everett's offense the past two seasons. The majority of that. however, came as a pass catcher. With a pair of untested quarterbacks still battling to replace record-setting Jonathan DiBiaso, not to mention a mammoth group of offensive linemen, it would only make sense for the Tide to return to the ground game and Calaj should benefit as the main ball-carrier. I'm not sure what the record for all-purpose yardage in Massachusetts history, but Calaj is in a position to do some historic things as a senior.

Botelho: Arcel Armstead is primed to have an elite year at running back for Bridgewater-Raynham this season. It's no secret that Dan Buron-coached teams run the ball as well as anyone, and with both Nick Schlatz and Brandon Morin gone, Armstead will be the featured back for the Trojans. His athleticism alone would be enough for him to have a big year in that system, but B-R returns their entire offensive line from a season ago, led by 6-foot-4, 260-pound Joey MacInnis, meaning the sky is the limit for Armstead.

Don't sleep on guys like Jon Hurvitz at Duxbury, who is the best athlete returning to the Dragons who will need to remake their identity a bit without Matt O'Keefe under center. Hurvitz runs hard and has a chance to be the first running back Duxbury has built their offense around in recent memory.

Also, the South Shore League seems littered with potential breakout candidates. Jared Taylor is probably the best well-known running back who was a back-up last season. He flashed his electric running ability in the Super Bowl to the tune of more than 300 yards. But he won't be the only guy terrorizing defense in the league.

Babila Fonkem returns to Abington for a senior year with added size from his 1,000-yard campaign a year ago. Brian Kilmain, a junior for the Green Wave, could give them the most dangerous two-headed backfield in the league.

Andrew Benson, who looks like he'll officially be a quarterback, is ready to break out at East Bridgewater. He could end up running for more yards than ESPN All-Stater Casey DeAndrade a year ago, for more than one reason. Last year, DeAndrade split carries with Tim O'Brien. While Benson will share the backfield duties with Kevin Lynch, he'll see a higher percentage of touches than DeAndrade last year. Also, E-B's offense was so explosive last year that DeAndrade (and O'Brien) had their numbers cut down because the Vikings had big enough leads that the starters weren't on the field a lot in the fourth quarter. Only when they played Abington and Mashpee did starters stay in the entire game. This year's team will rank among the best in the SSL, but I don't think they'll put teams away so quickly this time around.

4. TAKE A LOOK AT THE FIRST MONTH OF BROCKTON’S SCHEDULE, AND PREDICT A RECORD.

Hall: This is going to upset some of our readers in the City of Champions, but there’s a realistic possibility of the Boxers coming out of the gate 0-4. Of those first four opponents – BC High, Reading, St. John’s Prep, Xaverian – nobody’s gotten worse from 2011, while I feel Brockton is still sitting in second gear after last year’s disappointing end.

That said, it sounds like Bryant-bound running back/defensive back Micah Morel will be ready for Friday’s opener against BC High after injuring his shoulder in the preseason, so that’s a positive sign. As for record, I think the Boxers will steal a game, either against Prep or Reading, to start off 1-3.

Barboza: Well, let’s go the tape … And hold me to this. I’m going:

Week 1, vs. BC High – Loss

Week 2, at Reading – Win

Week 3, vs. Xaverian – Loss

Week 4, vs. St. John’s Prep – Loss

That would make the Boxers 1-3 rolling into October. Then I think they rebound with three straight wins and finish out the season at 6-5 and represent the Big Three in the Division 1 playoffs as a very dangerous team after enduring a trying first month.

Kurkjian: With so many question marks surrounding this offense, it is hard to project exactly how the Boxers will fare. That said, this is a brutal start to the season. The feeling here is that Brockton manages to steal one and get off to a 1-3 start.

Lerch: It's a very real possibility that Brockton goes 0-4, and I think best case scenario is that they salvage a 2-2 mark. Any better than that and I wonder if the Catholic Conference would have an issue with adding a "league game" between Brockton and Everett to play for its championship.

Botelho: Brockton has the best program in state history. Literally. Their 751 all-time wins ranks first in the state by a wide margin (no one else even has 600 wins). They've also captured 11 Super Bowl titles in 40 years. That said, the last few years haven't been what Boxer fans are used to. They missed the playoffs two years in a row, and last season slumped to a disappointing 5-6.

All those struggles did was ignite something in the Boxers, who look primed to return to the postseason this season. I'm going to say Brockton gets through that portion of the schedule (one Peter Colombo said might rank as the toughest in New England) with a winning record. I'm a believer in Brockton this year, and they'll knock off at least one Catholic Conference opponent, as well as take care of business with Reading and Fitchburg. My guess is the Boxers end up 3-2 in this stretch (including a loss to BC High week one, which they'll avenge in the Super Bowl in December).

5. WHAT GAME WILL BE THE MOST THRILLING OF WEEK 1?

Hall: On a state-wide level, Everett’s trip to Leominster is certainly garnering the most interest, and deservedly so. The atmosphere there is going to be electric, with projections of anywhere up to 7-8,000 for expected attendance at Doyle Field. But, at the risk of being the wet blanket here, find me a pundit that doesn’t expect Everett to win.

Putnam-Central will be an intriguing battle out west, but I’m going with an underrated Saturday afternoon showdown in Shrewsbury, where St. John’s will host Holy Name in their customary season-opener. For all of Holy Name’s success under Mike Pucko, the Naps have never beaten St. John’s under John Andreoli. Last year’s contest, a 22-21 St. John’s thriller, was just epic on all fronts. And if there’s any year for Holy Name to get that elusive win over the Pioneers, it’s this one.

Barboza: This might not be the most high profile game on the docket, but I’m looking at the good ole fashioned brawl in the backyard between Dighton-Rehoboth and Somerset. The Falcons, coached by Somerset alum Dave Driscoll, are looking to rebound a bit in the South Coast Conference this season behind physical tackle Chuddy Nwachukwu and the Raiders could bounce back from a rebuilding year last year to finish atop the Eastern Athletic Conference this year. This has always been an underrated rivalry game in Southeastern Mass. and it's a great way to kick off the season for both squads.

Kurkjian: When in doubt, go with the No. 1 team opening up on the road against a program and community brimming with optimism over a Super Bowl win. No matter what happens, the atmosphere for Friday night's Everett at Leominster game will be electric.

Lerch: With apologies to several other high profile (BC High/Brockton) and not-so-high-profile (East Boston/Blue Hills will be a barnburner) matchups certainly deserving attention, the game at the top of my marquee is Duxbury at Bridgewater-Raynham (Saturday, 4 p.m.). Two programs very similar in the foundations programmed by a pair of tremendous head coaches, and both with an eye on getting a jump start on the "reload" process should be ready to go toe-to-toe for 44 minutes (or more).

Botelho: My favorite week one match-up is always Bridgewater-Raynham and Duxbury (especially this year, where these two teams grabbed the top two spots in our pre-season poll over at SportsJournal.co). Both perennial Super Bowl contenders, if either team doesn't bring their 'A' game from the get-go, they start the season with a loss. Dave Maimaron and Dan Buron always have their kids supremely prepared, so this one has a playoff atmosphere in September.

Scrimmage Slants: Brockton vs. St. John's (S)

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
4:36
PM ET
St. John's defenseBrendan Hall/ESPNBoston.com St. John's defense showed plenty of pop this morning in its annual preseason scrimmage with Brockton.
SHREWSBURY –- Thoughts and observations from this morning’s annual preseason scrimmage between Brockton and St. John’s of Shrewsbury, on the grass at Pioneer Field:

Blurring the lines: In three series of starters against starters, each team scored once. But overall, I would say St. John’s was the aggressor for most of the morning, given the efficiency of their “Blur” offense, a very uptempo no-huddle look with spread principles, and the way they exploited the perimeters for multiple first downs.

One particular sequence that stands out is in the Pioneers’ first offensive series. Tailback Shadrach Abrokwah took an inside dive handoff and just before he hit the hole, cut back to his left and followed a big seam 15 yards down the left side. The Pioneers, with the ball now at the 10, went straight into the hurry-up. Before Brockton’s defense could get settled, Andrew Smiley hit Davon Jones in the right flat on a flare route, and the sophomore did the rest, diving over the pylon for the Pioneers’ only score.

“It really comes down to conditioning, staying focused, and making sure that we can execute our assignments,” head coach John Andreoli said. “It’s ball security and it’s playing penalty-free, because you really cannot stop that offense for reasons that you cause yourself. You’ve gotta make the defense make a mistake.

“You can’t make a mistake to stop that offense, you have to make sure it’s moving and you’re executing. That’s why I thought it was a good day for us today.”

Key injuries: Scary moment for the Pioneers on their second play from scrimmage, when incumbent starting quarterback Connor Kurtz went down with an injury to his left knee after getting his leg tangled in the pile while getting dropped for a loss. A diagnosis on the severity of the injury, or to what extent, was unknown after the scrimmage ended. Kurtz had to be helped off the field, and was seen on crutches on the sideline.

Kurtz’s backup, Smiley, took over duties for the rest of the afternoon. The 6-foot-4 junior looked sharp at times, tossing a 40-yard fade to Jones in the third offensive series, and making a few plays with his feet after getting flushed out of the pocket.

Meanwhile Brockton lost defensive back Micah Morel, a preseason ESPN Boston All-State selection, in the third series with an injury to his left shoulder. Morel will be re-evaluated on Monday, but having him out for an extended period of time could be a bad blow to the Boxers’ defense.

Shadrach reads and reacts: When you hear the term “blur offense”, it’s usually in reference to the no-huddle spread scheme run by Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks, who often try to snap the ball in 15 to 20 seconds. After evaluating his skill personnel, Andreoli felt his offense was up to the task, and as previously mentioned they looked crisp at times.

One of the foundations of this offense is the “Inside Zone Read”, a dive play out of shotgun that typically involves zone blocking principles up front, and a sharp cutback from the tailback. The play made a Heisman candidate out of LaMichael James last year; here in Shrewsbury, the play could lead to a breakout senior season for Abrokwah.

At 5-foot-7 and 205 pounds, and blessed with both speed and a powerful lower body, Abrokwah is essentially a sprinter in a hockey player’s body. His low center of gravity makes it difficult to get a clean shot, and today he used that to his advantage, repeatedly cutting back to the weak side on these zone plays to run off multiple gains of 10 yards or more.

“It’s all in the zone play,” Abrokwah said. “Once the offense flows one way, most likely the cutback is going to be on the other side, so I read my blockers, was patient, and just hit the hole.”

How quickly does he decide where he’s going to go on a zone play?

“It’s all instinct,” he smiled. “You have to feel the offense, and that’s what I did.”

New-look backfield: Devoid of a pure fullback, Brockton didn’t run its trademark Pro formation today, instead opting for a modified spread triple option popularized by college programs such as Georgia Tech and Navy.

The change was made to better utilize senior quarterback Augie Roberts’ dual-threat capabilities, and things started well in the first series. Roberts is a runner first, and on the second play from scrimmage he demonstrated his running ability, slipping outside a crack back block from Jeff Celeste for a 25-yard gain. But he also has a quality arm, connecting with Lorenzo Lovesy on a fly route for a 50-yard touchdown pass that was negated by a block in the back (an excessive celebration penalty was tacked on for good measure, too).

The Boxers rotated Morel and Aaron LeClair at one wingback position, Louis Jimenez and Moise Edouard at the other, and senior Ricardo Calixte at the fullback spot. Pat Healy is also in the mix at wingback, a baseball outfielder who is back in football after taking the year off.

“I just think it takes advantage of Austin’s skills,” head coach Peter Colombo said. “You didn’t see the whole package obviously today, and he’s not limited to that, but I just think it gives us a good opportunity for him to take advantage of his skills. We’ll see, we’ll adjust as it needs.”

The Boxers were good at times, but some of the problems that plagued them in last year’s disappointing 5-6 campaign –- namely, red zone struggles –- reared their heads. Jimenez did score from 10 yards out on the Boxers’ second drive, but on the first drive they were halted at the Pioneers’ five yard line. First, Matt Murphy made a stuff of the ballcarrier at the line of scrimmage. Then on the next play, fourth and goal from the five, Roberts was sacked by Andrew Sullivan.

It was a cycle that flashed in and out all afternoon, with the Pioneers bringing the heat in the front seven behind Connor Gatto, Sam Norton and Barron Dandridge.

Jones brings the wood, and the flash: I’m going to try my best to avoid the hyperbole highway this season with Davon Jones –- he is just a sophomore, after all, and he did fumble a ball away -– but it’s hard not to be impressed every time he comes to play.

Roaming around at free safety, Jones covers a lot of ground in the secondary, and played the bump well in the slot when the Pioneers went to a man press in the red zone. He showed off his live hips on offense, plugging himself into the slot and making defenders miss with multiple jukes.

But the trait that probably sticks out most at this point is his physicality. As the last line of defense against the run, Jones brings considerable pop for someone that’s 6-foot and 180 pounds, and it is certainly loud.

Earlier in the week, Andreoli told ESPNBoston.com of Jones, “If he continues to develop the way he develops, the way he’s playing now, he’s got the ability to play at the highest level” of college football.

“He’s a football player,” Andreoli said. “He doesn’t want to come off the field, he doesn’t care how tired he is, he’ll take a sip and get back on the field. He loves to play the game. And he plays hard, and he plays it the right way. He’s just got to continue to feel comfortable in our scheme, get good at reading receivers.”

Referring to Jones’ success so far as a guard for the Pioneers’ state semifinalist basketball team, Andreoli continued, “The thing too about him is, he’s played in a lot of big games –- basketball-wise, and in football. So he’s used to competing on the big stage here at the varsity level, so he can just basically play the game and get in the flow of the game.”

Jones says he’s learned a lot in the last 12 months, and has become more vocal in the secondary, calling out checks. Asked about those progressions he’s made in the mental side, Jones chalked it up to “muscle memory”.

“The coaches just pound it into my head – pass first, run second,” he said. “So I see it, and I just come up running fast.”

Intriguing prospects, possibilities for No. 17 SJS

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
2:00
PM ET
SHREWSBURY -– The Leominster Blue Devils’ Super Bowl championship over rival St. John’s of Shrewsbury last December at Gillette Stadium has kicked off a sort of football revival in the Pioneer Plastics City.

Long considered one of the state’s richest traditions, the Blue Devils had gone a decade without a Super Bowl title before first-year coach Dave Palazzi breathed some new life into the program last fall. Once again, Blue Devil football is all the rage.

Just ask St. John’s wide receiver John Giacoppe, a Leominster resident who has to listen to it every day.

“Leominster is a football town, no doubt about it,” said Giacoppe, a senior co-captain. “But it just makes me want to work harder. I haven’t beaten them yet, freshman, JV, varsity, so I just want to beat them.”

Or ask his buddy, quarterback Connor Kurtz, a resident of neighboring Lunenburg. In addition to passing leagues and various camps this summer, often the two would call each other up and go throw on the FieldTurf at Lunenburg High.

“We just sneak on, I guess,” Kurtz chuckled.

The difference in last year’s fateful ending at Gillette was speed, with the Blue Devils exploiting the perimeters and stretching the field. This year, the Pioneers seem to have a good amount of speed returning, conditioned enough that head coach John Andreoli is opting for a no-huddle “blur” offense, similar to the style you see in college programs such as Oregon.

In evaluating the fitness level of his skill players, Andreoli was pleased with the 40-yard dash times of some of this most integral returning varsity -– including running back Shadrach Abrokwah, who reportedly has run a 4.5 hand-timed 40 -– prompting his decision.

“I think it’s familiarity with the offense, the ability to use multiple personnel groups, and just being able to run this offense on the fly,” Andreoli said. “It’s keeping it simple, but being able to execute it, hoping you catch the defense tired, one or two guys that miss a play. If we can take advantage of that, hopefully we can score.”

We’ll have a better idea of the offense after tomorrow morning’s annual scrimmage with Brockton, but the possibilities of this offense are intriguing, In the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Abrokwah –- who is expected to take the lead role after spelling Sean Wilson a year ago –- the Pioneers have a unique blend of speed, above-average leg strength, body lean and a low center of gravity that could be difficult to wrap up cleanly.

“He turns the corner and he’s just got powerful legs,” Andreoli said. “He is a kid who’s just going to be very exciting this year in the running game, because he’s just a powerful runner that has a great instinct for where the holes are going to be. In our zone scheme, we give him leeway to run the ball where he gets an opening, and when he hits the opening and gets those shoulders upfield, he just has an explosive step that just kinda of puts him into another gear.

“If he has contact, it’s going to have to be a pretty good shot, because he’s got that low center of gravity and powerful legs that just keep going.”

At quarterback, the 5-foot-11 Kurtz is the assumed incumbent, but could get a challenge this preseason from Andrew Smiley, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound junior with some quick feet. The two are splitting snaps under center, a competition not unlike the one in 2009 when Griffin Murphy and future Fordham quarterback Dan Light were dueling it out.

One of the most intriguing developments, at least in the long-term will be that of sophomore Davon Jones. He got a load of time at free safety last season as a freshman; both he and fellow 2015 Taquar Stewart (who has since moved to Georgia) are the only freshmen to ever get time with the varsity under Andreoli.

“I can’t wait to see how he turns out as a senior,” Kurtz said.

Jones, also one of the MIAA’s top young combo guards in basketball, will see additional duty as a slot receiver this year. The ceiling is set high for him, with Andreoli going so far as to say “If he continues to develop the way he develops, the way he’s playing now, he’s got the ability to play at the highest level” of college football.

“If you look at where he was a year ago, when we plugged him into the Brockton scrimmage as a 14-year-old freshman…you could tell he was a 14-year-old kid playing against some pretty strong kids,” Andreoli said. “But now, when you look at where he’s come in the last 12 months, he’s as mature a player and as physical a guy as anyone that’s been playing for four years.

“He’s made tremendous strides, he’s a special kid, he’s a great athlete, he’s physical, he’s got a good nose for the ball and he’s a competitor. He’s going to be an impact player this year.”

ST. JOHN’S AT A GLANCE
2011: 8-5, Lost in Division 1 Central Super Bowl
Coach: John Andreoli (9th year, 74-23)
Key Returnees: Shadrach Abrokwah, Sr. RB/LB, 5-8, 205 lbs.; Connor Kurtz, Sr. QB, 5-11, 180 lbs.; John Giacoppe, Sr. WR, 6-2, 190 lbs.; Barron Dandridge, Sr. LB, 6-1, 195 lbs.; Davon Jones, Soph. WR/S, 6-0, 180 lbs.; Jim Andreoli, Sr. WR/LB, 6-1, 196 lbs.; Kyle Roy, Sr. OLB, 5-11, 185 lbs.; Andrew Sullivan Sr. DT/DE, 6-2, 235 lbs.; Micah Cummins, Sr. WR, 5-11, 170 lbs.; Mike Griffin, Sr. C, 6-2, 200 lbs.; Andrew Smiley, Jr. QB, 6-4, 195 lbs.
Strengths: Conditioning, team speed, skill positions, depth at quarterback.
Weaknesses: Inexperience.
Outlook: In evaluating his personnel at the skill positions, Andreoli determined the best way to utilize his talent is with a no-huddle “Blur” offense, most famously used by Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks. The Pioneers went with some no-huddle in their 2010 Super Bowl championship year, but nothing like this. “As a defensive coach, I know it presents problems for you,” Andreoli said. “We want to take advantage of that, with the kids that we have and the shape that we think we need to be in to play the schedule we play.” Taking over for Sean Wilson as the feature back will be Abrokwah, a unique blend of speed and lower-body strength who could be difficult to square up on. There is an interesting battle at quarterback right now, with the incumbent Kurtz getting competition from Smiley, and the guess here is one of them could move to the slot. Buzz is beginning to build around Jones, who started at free safety as a freshman and will be another able slot receiver, with Andreoli saying he has potential to play "at the highest level" of college ball. Defensively, the 4-3 mentality remains unchanged, but they must replace key pieces in the front seven. The secondary, as usual, should be among the best out west of I-495.

Recap: No. 18 CM 28, No. 6 SJS 20

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
12:21
AM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- Catholic Memorial came out hungry in search for their first win of the season as they took on a St. John’s Shrewsbury (2-1) team that had won their first two games to begin their season.

No. 18 CM (1-1) controlled the game in the first half as their defense denied multiple St. John’s drives and the visitors held a 14-0 halftime lead.

Despite a back-and-forth game and an aggressive St. John’s comeback in the second half CM held on to win their first game of the 2011 campaign, 28-20.

“At the end of the game my four captains [Donovan Henry, Armani Reeves, A.J. Doyle and Camren Williams], who are terrific football players, made plays for us,” CM head coach Alex Campea said. “They stepped up when we needed them.”

Reeves stole the show on the day as the Penn State bound wide receiver and running back scored two touchdowns on the ground and rushed for 98 yards while hauling in a touchdown reception on the day.

“We played very well” Reeves said. “A couple times when they scored in the second half we bounced back and made the plays we needed to. That is how we are going to have to play every week to be successful.”

The third quarter was a back and forth chess match with both teams vying for field position as their defenses held strong.

The fourth quarter featured alternating touchdowns as St. John’s got their offense going with CM answering on consecutive big scoring runs by Reeves.

A 55-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Connor Kurtz to freshman wide receiver Taquar Stewart would get the Pioneers back to within eight points (28-20) with 3:02 remaining in the game.

St. John’s kicker Sean Gavin executed a successful onside kick that bounced off a CM front line player and back in the hands of Gavin. Despite the midfield opportunity the CM defense held and stopped the potential game tying drive to win the game.

Doyle, who had a touchdown run and pass on the day, also ate up crucial yards in the second half on the ground and sealed the game with a kneel down.

“We knew we were going to have our hands full,” Campea said. “St. John’s is a terrific football team. They are well coached and well disciplined. We knew we were in for a hard game and we expected that. It was great to get this win today.

MOMENTUM KILLER
Reeves scored both of his touchdown runs on possessions that followed St. John’s scores in the fourth quarter.

“He is a difference maker,” said Campea. “He is as exciting of a player as I have ever had, maybe that I have ever seen.”

Both of his runs were identical jet sweeps that came right to left as he beat the Pioneer’s defense to the edge and out ran the defense to the end zone.

“They got me to the outside and it was all about seeing who could catch up to me,” said Reeves. “I need to make big plays for this team and that is pretty much what I did today.”

KEY HOLDS
The CM defense gave up chunks of yard s at times but came up with some key third and fourth down stops to keep the Pioneers from gaining momentum and scoring. No drive was more important in the game as the winning stop when St. John’s had the ball in CM territory driving for the game tying score.

“They are a good team,” said Campea. “We knew they were going to make some plays but we were fortunate enough to make some plays on fourth down, especially at the end.”

OFFENSIVE DIFFICULTIES
Despite the tough inside running from St. John’s senior running back Sean Wilson (32 carries for 117 yards) the Pioneers could not get their down field passing game going.

“They were zeroing in on Sean today,” said St. John’s head coach John Andreoli.” They were also taking away some of the throws that we had been making in the first two games. We want to make the high percentage throws that we really could not seem to get today. They did a nice job in man coverage and took away a lot of the underneath throws that we typically use to open up our running game.”

CM (1-1) --- 6 8 0 14 - 28
SJS (2-1) --- 0 0 0 20 - 20

First Quarter
CM – Armani Reeves 6-yard pass from A.J Doyle (kick failed)

Second Quarter
CM – A.J. Doyle 1-yard run (2-point conversion pass from Doyle to Donovan Henry)

Fourth Quarter
SJS – Connor Kurtz 1-yard run (kick failed)
CM – Reeves 41-yard run (Michael Keene kick)
SJS – Sean Wilson 1-run (Sean Gavin kick)
CM – Reeves 49-yard run (Keene kick)
SJS – Taquar Stewart 55-yard pass from Kurtz (Gavin kick)

Recap: No. 6 SJS 26, No. 8 Longmeadow 21

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
12:23
AM ET
LONGMEADOW, Mass. -- Make it three consecutive years that Longmeadow has gone into a game against St. John’s of Shrewsbury with hopes of defeating the Pioneers, and three consecutive years it has come up empty.

The latest was a 26-21 triumph by the Pioneers on Friday night.

The No. 8 Lancers (1-1) thought they had it this season as No. 6 St. John’s (2-0) graduated two of the top players in the state in Richard Rodgers and Dan Light following last season, and it barely survived a close game a week ago against Holy Name.

Leading by one-point with less than three minutes to play, the Lancers thought they had finally cornered the Pioneers. Then, when they forced St. John's to punt on fourth down with just over two minutes to go, Longmeadow was sure of it.

But, for a third-straight season, they were mistaken.

The Pioneers forced Longmeadow into a three-and-out and, after a short punt, regained possession just shy of midfield with 1:45 left on the clock and 55-yards from victory.

St. John’s quarterback Connor Kurtz took it from there. Kurtz dropped back in the pocket, avoided the oncoming rush, and heaved the ball deep into double-coverage down the middle of the field. Somehow, his target, Drew Ortone, was perfectly positioned between the defenders, made an acrobatic catch and sprinted the rest of the way to pay dirt, putting the Pioneers ahead to stay.

The ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed, but the touchdown proved to be all St. John’s needed.

Longmeadow quarterback Frankie Elder’s last-ditch effort ended in an interception, and sealed the game for the Pioneers.

While it was a lot closer this time than in the last two seasons, in the end, Longmeadow couldn’t quite conjure up enough magic for one last comeback.

“It makes us feel good, even though we lost,” Lancer tailback T.J. Norris said. “It’s 26-21 and we just proved that [against] one of the top teams in [Central] Mass, we hung with them, and we could’ve beat them.”

Norris carried his team in the loss, powering through defenders for 206 rushing yards on 25 carries and finding the endzone twice.

St. John’s head coach John Andreoli gave Norris credit for his performance, calling him, “a tough kid and an impressive football player.”

“He always keeps his feet moving and his yards after contact are always big yards,” Andreoli said. “A couple times here we had five or six guys [lined up in the box] and he was just moving the pile. He’s impressive and he’s a tough football player.”

On the Pioneer side, running back Sean Wilson ran for 110 yards on 13 carries including a touchdown, Efrain Montalvo caught three balls for 45 yards, and John Giacoppe hooked up with Kurtz four times for two touchdowns and a two-point conversion.

Kurtz finished the game 9-of-22 for 162 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He also scrambled out of the pocket 11 times for 31 yards.

“He’s gotten better every day since we started, and that’s what you look for,” Andreoli said. “The way he was throwing the ball [tonight] with confidence, getting on top of it, he was throwing a nice ball. And then that last throw [to Ortone] was just a gutsy throw. He had a good matchup, [Ortone] right down the seam, and he was able to get the ball right in the right spot.”

Despite Longmeadow’s heroic comeback efforts throughout the game, a close loss like this one is tough to swallow.

“If we had stuck it out and won the game we would have just showed everybody that we’re back on top and that this is a totally different team [than in past seasons],” an emotional Norris said. “It was a good game this year, and I think we still sent the memo, it’s just that we fell a little short at the end.

“It would’ve been great if we had won this game.”

Football recap: No. 9 SJS 22, Holy Name 21

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
8:25
PM ET


WORCESTER, Mass. -- David went down this time versus Goliath.

Anthony Hodges couldn't bear to talk about the game with a straight face. Doused in sweat, the Holy Name wide receiver fought back tears from underneath his helmet, his gaze directed at his feet.

The scoreboard read 22-21 with time expired, the Naps' rival No. 9 St. John's of Shrewsbury had once again gotten the best of them. It was the same result as it's always been during the last quarter century of the one-sided rivalry, but none of the near capacity crowd at Assumption College will soon forget the gut exhibited by the Holy Name sideline.

"We're a smaller team, but we can play against anybody," said Hodges, a senior. "They can have as many players as they want, but we have players that have heart."

The Naps (0-1) list 26 players on their varsity roster, two of which are freshmen. Compared to the 49 the Pioneers (1-0) carry, many of whom play on just one side of the ball, the mere numbers game handedly favors St. John's. When considering Holy Name lost three of its top players to dehydration during the course of Saturday's game, the Naps had no business being in the game until the last minute of the fourth quarter against a bigger, skilled opponent of St. John's ilk.

Still, there they were, one two-point conversion away from stealing the biggest upset of the young high school football season.

"It was a 44-minute game, that's what you get when you play Holy Name," Pioneers head coach John Andreoli said. "They're a solid, physical team. They have a lot of guys going both ways, but they hung in there for a long time. I give our guys a lot of credit because there were a lot of opportunities in that game to let it get away from us."

The Naps moved to within a point of St. John's with 3:26 to play after Hodges hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Seamus O'Sullivan.

After the touchdown, Holy Name head coach Mike Pucko was playing for the win with a two-point conversion. Running back Quron Wright reached the end zone unscathed, however, a holding penalty wiped out the successful try and pushed the Naps back 10 yards. Holy Name's second attempt at two points was denied with a pass from O'Sullivan falling incomplete at the goal line.

"After the first half, the kids were beat," Pucko said. "We tried icing them down and we knew we were in for a rough second half. But they hung together. They hung together and they played well. They helped each other out. The young kids filling in were learning new positions on the fly, coaches have been doing their jobs through the first three weeks because these kids who haven't played high school football before were playing the No. 1 team in the area and they did their jobs."

St. John's ran out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to two rushing touchdowns by senior running back Sean Wilson.

The Naps cut the deficit to six by halftime after Wright's rushing score and successful two-point attempt.

Holy Name quickly took the lead to start the second half. Hodges took the opening kickoff back 82 yards for a touchdown, blazing down the left-hand sideline uncontested. The point after try had the Naps up 15-14.

However, the Naps couldn't keep the momentum going, as a couple of costly fumbles and a safety undid the offense late.

A Holy Name fumble recovered by Brendan Melanson set up Wilson's third rushing touchdown of the game for a 20-15 St. John's lead. Melanson left another mark on the Pioneers' victory, dragging down Wright on a carry from the end zone for a safety with 5:32 to play.

The safety proved to be the deciding points of the game.

"I was proud of our defense for digging their heels in the way that they did." Andreoli said.

The Naps had one last chance to tie the score after forcing St. John's three-and-out on its possession following Hodges' receiving touchdown.

Holy Name had the ball back with 31 seconds to play, but Jimmy Andreoli intercepted O'Sullivan's pass over the middle to ice it.

Meanwhile, Hodges tried to compose himself and look toward the brighter side of the loss.

"I feel bad for the next team that has to play us," he said, cracking a smile.

EXTRA POINTS
-- Big defensive stops and, in particular, turnovers sparked several of the Pioneers' touchdowns. St. John's defense helped set up the first score of the game when Barron Dandridge intercepted O'Sullivan on a screen pass. "We were certainly expecting a run to his side there," Andreoli said, "so we sent pressure off that edge, but then he read pass, went up and batted the ball. He's just athletic and was able to catch it and get the ball back for us."

-- Pioneers running back Sean Wilson could emerge as a dark horse for ESPN Boston's Mr. Football award. While the St. John's offense might be without D1 talents like Dan Light and Richard Rodgers of last year, Wilson looked as though he'll take on a greater role as a feature back with his 178-yard performance on 26 carries in the win. Running behind a hulking offensive line anchored by left guard Ryan Anger will help his cause. "I told him before the start of the game that I was excited to watch him get his senior year started," Andreoli said. "He's worked awful hard in the offseason He's become a terrific two-way player for us. He's a football player. He loves to be on the field, he doesn't want to come off the field. And, when he's on the field, he makes plays."

-- About that Pioneers running game. Part of what makes it hard to defend is St. John's spread attack. Even with junior quarterback Connor Kurtz under center, the Pioneers can air it out (even with Efrain Montalvo out with an injury on Saturday). However, with Wilson possessing the toughness to run between tackles and the speed to cut it to the outside, St. John's trap blocking schemes present problems for opposing defenses. "We were more concerned about all the play-action passes and the quick screens," Pucko said. "We thought our four down linemen would be able to handle it, but they couldn't They were trapping them and doing some different things. Our linebackers got test and by the second half, they'd figured it out, made some adjustments and played much better in the second half."

-- And back to those fallen Naps. Three Holy Name players were taken to UMass Medical Center with dehydration, including a severe case with Sean Zuromsky, who was lifted off the field into an ambulance after a 20-minute delay in the fourth quarter. As the Naps' ranks thinned, however, Pucko was able to find new-found depth. "We had a freshman at corner in the second half that did a great job. We moved some kids in the [defensive] backfield, [including] our quarterback, They were a little big and physical for us, so we had to throw the ball a little more than we normally do, but we had a lot of kids step up and show that they can play football." How's that for modesty? Credit is also due to Pucko's staff (which is small in its own right) for having the youngsters ready and able to fill in at a moment's notice. No small task this early in the season.

SPONSORED HEADLINES