By Matt Williams
---- — It’s no secret that St. John’s Prep loves to run the football. The Eagles always have, and since they have arguably the state’s best running back, junior Johnny Thomas, and easily the state’s best No. 2 punch in senior Alex Moore, there’s no reason not to.
Still, as they prepares for their Division 1 Super Bowl match against Brockton Saturday at Bentley University in Waltham (6 p.m.), the Eagles’ passing game deserves a second look.
Senior quarterback Jack Sharrio carries a passer rating of 101.6 into Saturday’s titanic clash, having thrown for 865 yards and 10 touchdowns this fall. The Marblehead native has completed 53 of 89 passes (60 percent) through 11 games.
When the Prep has needed to keep opposing defenses honest this fall, Sharrio has been ready with good reads and accurate throws.
“We have two of the best running backs in the state and we know where our strengths lie,” said senior tight end Anthony Bongiorno, a 6-foot-4 target from Marblehead with two TD receptions this fall. “It’s really nice to have that (passing) option to be balanced when we need to be.”
Sharrio took over as the Eagles’ starting QB early last season when Tommy Gaudet lost his senior season to injury. It was a baptism by fire for Sharrio in 2011, when he threw for 638 yards and three TDs with a respectable passer rating of 80 and four rushing scores.
This season, though, he’s taken his play to an entirely new level.
“I’m 100 percent comfortable. I have a handle on the way I should be approaching things,” said Sharrio. “Even last year before my first start against Central Catholic, I’ve tried to prepare the same way.”
Sharrio is only the third Prep quarterback to toss 10 TDs in a season since Brian St. Pierre set the single season record with 15 in 1997 (the other being Scott Darby’s 11 in 2006).
His favorite receiver has been Moore (17 catches, 381 yards, 4 TDs) while Gerald Kahari (two TDs), Lucas Bavaro, Thomas and Bongiorno have been reliable targets.
The majority of St. John’s skill players were together last season and over the summer, and that time to develop chemistry has been instrumental to this Super season.
“We’re all on the same page. I think the 7-on-7 (passing) stuff we did in the summer helped a ton. Jack knows where we’re going to be (as receivers) when we’re breaking off our routes,” said Bongiorno. “Jack has a ton of confidence this year. He’s always been a very skilled player, but he’s playing with more confidence.”
The Eagles have run for 2,860 total yards this fall and 31 TDs, which amounts to three quarters of their total offense and the majority of their scoring. Thomas (1,744 yards) is so strong that he runs through defenses even if they stack eight or nine defenders in the box.
But in long yardage situations, the Prep’s passing game can hurt opponents.
“We’re in the film room watching stuff every day,” said Sharrio. “We have to be prepared for what lies ahead.”
Saturday’s Super Bowl is a rematch of the 1991 Division 1A Super Bowl won by the Boxers, 13-7.
Earlier that season, the Eagles beat Brockton in overtime, 22-21, in one of the North Shore’s best-ever football games. Brockton came into that game (the first between the programs) at Cronin Stadium in Danvers ranked No. 3 in the nation. One of the Prep’s all-time greats, halfback Kevin Dwan, caught the winning two-point pass in OT.
Head coach Jim O’Leary’s Eagles have faced Brockton every year since those two 1991 meetings, with Brockton holding a 15-7 edge in the series.
It seems dangerous to read too much into St. John’s Prep’s 27-12 win at Marciano Stadium in late September (Week 4).
For one, the game was played in the pouring rain, some of the toughest conditions for football of the fall. Second, Brockton QB Austin Roberts was hurt diving into the end zone in the second quarter. His TD put the Boxers on top, 12-7, but he didn’t return to the game and wound up missing the next several weeks.
The speedy Roberts, a senior, has run for 12 of his 16 touchdowns since returning from the injury. How the Eagles handle him for an entire game will go a long to determining who wins Saturday.
One thing that will be a constant is Thomas, who ran for 221 yards and three scores against Brockton in September. Much like he did against Andover in the Division 1 semifinals Tuesday night, Thomas took over the game at Marciano Stadium. He scored the last three TDs of the game to turn a 12-7 Brockton lead into the Prep’s eventual 15-point victory.
On the season, Thomas has 1,744 rushing yards and 15 TDs, with two more scores receiving and one on defense. He has rushed for 100 yards or more in 10 of the Prep’s 11 games this fall and averages 8.5 yards per carry.
The 5-11, 195-pound Peabody native is already drawing interest from major college football programs, including a scholarship offer from UMass. For his career Thomas has 2,879 total rushing yards; the SJP record holder is Chris Zardas, who ran for 3,982 yards despite missing four games his senior year with an injury.
The Eagles’ single season rushing record is held by Tyler Coppola, who galloped for 2,182 yards in 2010 while leading the Prep to a Super Bowl appearance.
Senior punter Alex Soucy is having an excellent season for the Eagles. He boomed a 48-yard punt late in the first half of the playoff win over Andover that was critical in the flow of the game. With the contest scoreless and the Prep deep in its own territory, Soucy got his kick off from his own 10-yard line. Fellow senior Connor Powers then intercepted Andover’s C.J. Scarpa to ensure the teams went to the break tied, 0-0.
Speaking of interceptions, the Eagles’ defense has 14 picks on the season while allowing just five touchdown passes. The Prep enters the Super Bowl with two consecutive shutouts and lowered their average points allowed per game to 7.3.
The Eagles have conceded just 21 first half points all season, allowing a total of 15 in the first quarter, six in the second, 20 in the third and 40 in the fourth.
Senior placekicker Stephen Cammaro has been just about automatic for the Eagles this year, converting 38 extra points and adding one field goal for 41 points. He is the Prep’s third-highest point-getter behind Thomas (110) and Moore (102).
The Eagles will be playing in their seventh Super Bowl and sixth under O’Leary. The Prep won its first state title under long-time head coach Fred Glatz in 1982 (a 7-0 win over Whitman-Hanson) and also shut out New Bedford in the Division 1 Super Bowl (25-0) in 1997. The Eagles have fallen on Super Saturday four times — to Brockton in 1991, to Peabody in 1993 and to Everett in 2002 (a Sunday night game) and 2010.
Brockton is playing in its 19th Super Bowl, with the Boxers holding an 11-7 mark in those contests. It will be the fifth Super Bowl for head coach Peter Columbo, who took over for his legendary father Armond in 2003. The younger Columbo won Super Bowls in 2004 and 2005 while falling in the finale in 2006 and 2008.