SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Sports

November 27, 2012

Powerful defense has been backbone for SJP

Rabid defensive football teams are sometimes called ball-hawks.

If you were going to substitute a different bird, however, you would have to use the Eagle.

That’s because the St. John’s Prep defense has proven to be one of the most fearsome in Massachusetts in 2012. The Eagles (9-1) jump off the page in every department — points allowed (8.1 per game), yards allowed (207 per game) and turnovers (12 interceptions on the season).

“There’s definitely a personal sense of pride in our work,” said senior end Tucker Mathers. “We’re always going out there looking for the shutout and looking to take the ball away.”

The Prep faces high-powered Andover tonight at Lowell’s Cawley Stadium in the Division 1 Eastern Mass. semifinals. It’s St. John’s eighth postseason appearance under head coach Jim O’Leary, who enters the game with 199 career wins. The Eagles can claim their area-best seventh Super Bowl appearance, sixth under O’Leary, with a win tonight.

It would also be the Eagles’ first Super Bowl since 2010, a loss to Everett that had many of this year’s senior playing prominent roles.

“After that game, an assistant coach pulled the sophomores into a room and told us to remember that taste, and to focus on getting that game,” Mathers said of the 2010 loss. “The majority of us played then and we all remember that taste.”

The key for the Eagles all season has been the defense. It’s a layered, smash mouth unit that thrives on the talent and trust at all three levels — line, linebackers and in the secondary.

It starts up front, where ends Mathers and Anthony Bongiorno and tackles Corey Jean-Jacques and Chris Newton have been tough against the run. As a team, the Prep has only allowed 200 rushing yards once (in a win over Brockton), held opponents under 100 five times and hasn’t allowed 100 rushing yards in six weeks.

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