LAWRENCE — After a first half shootout when both teams traded points, an air-tight St. John’s Prep defense and a whole lot of Johnny Thomas made all the difference in the world for the visitors over the final 22 minutes last night.
Host Central Catholic didn’t score a point over the final two quarters while the Eagles put up 19 points to prevail in a battle of two of the top teams in Eastern Mass., 40-21, before a large crowd at Lawrence Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Thomas had another banner night for the Eagles, rushing for 240 yards and three touchdowns. But it was a huge defensive play by the Maryland-bound standout that drove the nail in Central’s coffin as he had a sensational 107-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the contest. He picked off Raiders quarterback Mike Milano in his own end zone and took off down the left sideline; after appearing to be stopped around the 50, he broke out of tackles and sprinted to the end zone.
“I’ve never seen anything like that — and I’ve been around a long time,” said St. John’s Prep (2-1) head coach Jim O’Leary. “That was something else. We’ve just to keep him healthy.”
A Peabody native, Thomas said he didn’t realize he was in the end zone when he made the pick; he thought he corralled it at the 1-yard line.
“When I realized I was in the end zone, I had to bring it out,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t sure where I was on the field at first.
“This was a great win for us; now we have to get ready for Everett (next week at home). I know we’re going to have a hard week of practice. We’ve got to stay humble.”