By Jean DePlacido
---- — St. John’s Prep coach Jim O’Leary compares the annual Thanksgiving tilt with Xaverian to the battle between Michigan and Ohio State. There isn’t much either team doesn’t know about the other because they scout each other every game.
It is a totally different story when it comes to Division 1 playoff opponent Andover. O’Leary hasn’t seen them play, and both beat common opponents Xaverian and Central Catholic. The Golden Warriors edged Central on Thanksgiving, 22-19 in a game that wasn’t decided until late. They also squeaked by the Hawks, 15-13 the fourth week of the season. The Eagles handled Central, 31-7 and blanked Xaverian, 9-0.
Coach E. J. Perry’s team comes into the contest with a 10-1 record and puts up a lot of points. Andover averages 37.1 points per game and allows 20. The only loss was to Lowell, 42-35 in the ninth week of the season.
“We don’t know a whole lot about them,” said O’Leary. “Perry’s father (Christopher, class of 1962) is in the Hall of Fame here, and E. J. used to coach at Malden Catholic. I know him and his brothers. One of our coaches, Ryan Bird, was the offensive coordinator with him for a couple of years.
“We haven’t seen them live, but we’ll look at some film. I know they want to throw the ball down the field, and that will create a little matchup problem for us. St. John’s Shrewsbury, Dracut, and Catholic Memorial use the spread so it’s not something we haven’t seen before, but Andover is very productive with it. They score a lot of points, and they get them fast.”
Andover senior quarterback C. J. Scarpa is the leading passer in Division 1 throwing for 32 TD’s, and senior Cam Farnham has 13 rushing touchdowns. Farnham also has 11 receptions for touchdowns while senior Will Heikkinen has 9. Against Central Catholic Scarpa completed 15 of 30 passes for 235 yards. He threw for two touchdowns ran for another.
“We like to spread it out and have a lot of weapons,” said Perry. “Scarpa has mastered the offense. He’s a smart kid, who is going to play at Elon College. “Heikkinen is his favorite target with 66 receptions for over 1,100 yards. Farnham had a 78-yard reception for a touchdown on Thanksgiving. He’s fast, and when he makes the catch he usually goes to the house.
“We’ve also got a 1,000 yard junior running back in Jack Sylvester, who plays linebacker on defense. We like to use the whole field vertically and horizontally; exploit what we see. Every game is different. I know St. John’s has some very good athletes at the perimeter like we do. It’s going to be a nice challenge for both teams. One young guy, who keys our defense is 6-foot, 305 pound sophomore nose guard Ommel Bonilla. He’s big with quick feet.”
Perry was the offensive coordinator under head coach Rich Cullen at Malden Catholic when his brother James was an outstanding quarterback, who set all kinds of passing records for the Lancers. He went on to star at Brown and is now the offensive coordinator at Princeton.
The Eagles have two of the leading scorers in Division 1 in Alex Moore, who has 15 rushing TD’s, and Johnathan Thomas with 12. Thomas has rushed for over 100 yards in all but one game and has gained over 1,500 yards for the 9-1 Prep.
St. John’s has scored an average 28.2 points per game, and behind an outstanding defense allowed only 8.1 with two shutouts.
“It will be our defense against their offense,” said O’Leary. “We will try to control the line of scrimmage and the clock (10 minute quarters). “Andover is very athletic, and this is the first time we have ever played them. We’re coming off a very physical game, and have a few bumps and bruises but everybody seems pretty healthy.
“I did see film of their game against Xaverian, but it was so early in the season when Charlie’s team (Xaverian) wasn’t playing well so it’s hard to tell much. In the past when we used to play Chelmsford or Billerica we would see Andover, but the last two years we haven’t. I know they’ll be well prepared, and from top to bottom the Merrimack Valley Conference is highly balanced.”
O’Leary said he won’t make any changes in the scheme, but will go with what got them here which is a strong running game with the occasional pass thrown in. Both Thomas and Moore are always breakaway threats with outstanding speed.
Quarterback Jack Sharrio has thrown for 818 yards and 10 touchdown passes. The leading receiver is Moore with 368 yards on 16 receptions and four TD’s. Gerald Kahari, Lucas Bavaro, Anthony Bongiorno, and Thomas are all targets for Sharrio.
“Our defense played so well and with such emotion on Thanksgiving,” O’Leary said. “We are playing with confidence, and no one has been able to run the ball against us. They’ll try to attack us in the flats with a quick passing game. It’s a little big of mystery for us concerning this opponent.
“Our kids are excited. It’s a nice group of boys, who are honest, outright, and happy kids. They get along great. This is one of those special teams. They remind me of the 1979 (unbeaten Super Bowl champs led by Brian St. Pierre), and the 2001 team (Lost to Everett, 13-7 in the Super Bowl). Maybe this team isn’t quite as talented, but they are the same kind of kids. They play very hard, and I really like this team.”