By Dan Harrison and Jean DePlacido, Correspondents
The Salem News
---- — WALTHAM — The St. John’s Prep football team huddled together on the 20-yard line in the aftermath of the Eagles’ 48-28 Division 1 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl victory over Brockton at Bentley University on Saturday.
The ocean of white jerseys surrounded by family and friends hoisted each Prep starter individually so everyone could have their moment in the sun with high school football’s most coveted piece of hardware.
The celebration was classy and more than fitting for a tight-knit, senior-heavy group. Especially when you consider the number of Eagles who made big plays in the program’s third Super Bowl win.
“We all put in a monumental effort to get to this point,” senior Alex Moore said. “We did it, this whole program — the fans, coaches and parents.”
And the players, of course. Take senior defensive lineman Chris Newton, who made 4 1/2 first-half tackles, including a huge hit on a kick-return where he upended the Brockton returner to elicite a major reaction from the Prep sideline and fans. Newton also blew up a middle-screen play in the first quarter, swatting down the pass that helped kill an early Boxer drive.
“Every day, we work out, in the weight room, through the winter, spring and summer. We’ve been running and doing the 7-on-7 (tournaments). We’ve been working on this for a long, long time,” Newton said. “So it means a lot to win the way we did.”
Newton is one of 24 seniors on the team that finished 11-1, losing only to Division 1A Super Bowl winner Everett. Every member knew this season had the potential to be special, and after the game, senior Lucas Bavaro reflected on the work everyone did to ensure it was.
“We have been working together since freshman year, and we knew we had a special team,” Bavaro said. “We knew our senior year we could take states, and that’s exactly what we did.”
The Eagles jumped all over Brockton with three first-quarter touchdowns in what was an end-to-end dominant performance against a Boxers team many believed could upset the Prep after they led the regular season meeting when QB Austin Roberts was injured.
Saturday, Brockton wouldn’t even sniff a lead, and the mood in the stadium was that the game was over before halftime thanks to St. John’s Prep’s ability to make big plays in the special teams game.
After Johnny Thomas put the Prep on top with a 33-yard touchdown catch, Bavaro blocked a punt on the Boxers’ ensuing drive and fellow senior Jake Anemoduris corralled the ball and went 22 yards for the touchdown. Brockton botched the snap delaying the punter, and the Prep was there to capitalize.
“At first, I was hesitant because I had the flat and didn’t know if they’d come out and throw. When I saw (the ball hit the ground) I just went in, no turning back after that,” Anemoduris said. “It’s not just offense and defense that wins games, its also special teams. When we are capitalizing, that’s what we have to do and that’s what makes us a whole team.”
After Brockton scored before the end of the first quarter, senior Gerald Kahari returned the kickoff for a touchdown, and it was the first time the Prep had done so all season. It came at a crucial time as the Boxers had taken some of the momentum back after a fast start by the Eagles.
“All year, we have been wanting to take a kick return back. Once that happened, everyone was jumping around. It gave us a lot of momentum,” Kahari said. “It was designed to go to the left so I ran to the left side but I saw a lane to the right. So I just cut to the right and ran as fast as I could.”
Beginning in 1967, St. John’s Prep has won a big title every 15 years. The first state championship came in 1967(9-0-0) and again in 1982 as Division 2 Super Bowl champs (unbeaten with one tie) under coach Fred Glatz. Jim O’Leary succeeded Glatz and won the Super Bowl with an unbeaten 1997 team (11-0) led by captains Brian St. Pierre, Brian Lentz, Wayne Lucier and Zach Magliaro. St. Pierre and Lucier went on to have NFL careers. Now add 2012 to that illustrious list. Thanks for these stats go to John Hendry, Patriots statistician and St. John’s Prep Hall of Famer (Class of 1973).
Senior signal caller Jack Sharrio talked about just how ready the Eagles were for the opening kickoff.
“We were so excited. I think we had an echo going just walking out to the field,” Sharrio said. “In the locker room, we were a little quiet getting prepared. But when we got out here, we were ready to go.”
Sharrio was brilliant with 124 yards passing, two touchdowns, 24-yards rushing and a rushing touchdown. With Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year Moore and a Division 1 talent in Thomas in the backfield, it’s easy for people to forget about Sharrio. But his Eagles teammates never do.
“He is a key part of our offense and he keeps us going,” Moore said of Sharrio, who had 12 TD passes this fall. “He put some good balls on me and I was able to catch them.”
As the Super Bowl wore down to the final seconds and Michael Geaslen took a knee three times, O’Leary received the traditional Gatorade dunking by his happy team. The first attempt to get the coach failed, so some of the starters, who had left the game early, came around with a sneak attack from the other side led by junior linebacker Sean Smerczynski. This time, they hit the target right on the mark with a splash seen clear across the field.
The offense was firing on all cylinders but it was the Eagles defense, as it had done all year, that set the tone. Defensive ends Tucker Mathers (two tackles and 1 1/2 sacks) and Anthony Bongiorno (two tackles and a QB hurry) did an excellent job of containing the strong side while crashing backside to keep Roberts from breaking loose. The defensive line of senior Corey Jean-Jacques (4 1/2 tackles) and Newton helped shut down any runs up the middle, while backers Smerczynski (six tackles), Bavaro (5 1/2 tackles) and senior RJ Pizzano (two tackles) remained disciplined against a tough, triple option offense.
“That was the whole plan, catch him (Roberts) backside and make him feel really uncomfortable,” Mathers said. “Scare him.”
Peabody Raiders Youth Football player James Taylor was delighted to be water boy for the championship game. He was right in the thick of things watching his favorite team win. Taylor also played a big role in his youth team winning the Super Bowl a few weeks ago.
Not only was it a bad night for Brockton with St. John’s dominating play right from the start, but the Boxers lost junior running back/linebacker Zach Kessler just over four minutes before halftime when he was gang-tackled by three Prep players as he fielded an onside kick. Kessler had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.
Just how bad the night was going to be for Boxer players and fans came during the halftime show when a band member suffered a leg injury and had to be helped off the field during the performance. The halftime show put on by the large Brockton band is always a highlight for fans, and didn’t disappoint on a cold, icy December night on the turf field at Bentley.
For Thomas, who capped off his tremendous junior season with a rushing touchdown and a TD-catch, the win was all about the senior class.
“This game was for them (the seniors). They were the ones that motivated everybody in the weight room and in the offseason. We follow their examples and they showed great examples,” said Thomas, who finished with 1,812 yards and the area rushing title.
St. John’s is one big family and never forgets players from past years, so it wasn’t at all surprising to see coach O’Leary wearing a baseball cap with a Rice 35 patch. That’s in memory of former football player Jim Rice, who wore number 35 (O’Leary’s old number). The Peabody firefighter lost his life in the line of duty a couple of days before Christmas last year. Earlier this season, the entire football team lined up for the memorial dedication outside the Eagles baseball and lacrosse fields. Rice will always be remembered, and in a moving moment, senior defensive end Tucker Mathers took off his No. 35 game shirt and presented it to Rice’s family.
For the senior class, the Super Bowl win meant even more because a certain alumni was on the sideline Saturday. During the post-game celebration, Sharrio, Moore, Kahari and Mathers made their way over to celebrate and take a photo with Jared Coppola, who has been a source of inspiration for the team since breaking the fifth vertebrae in his neck in a scrimmage in 2009.
Mathers and company, who were freshmen when Coppola was injured, can recall Thanksgiving in 2010 when Coppola came out for the coin toss before the game against Xaverian. That year, the Eagles reached the Super Bowl before falling to Everett. This year, the team wasn’t going to be denied.
“It’s unbelievable, he is such a big figure for us and a true, tremendous leader in everything he does,” Mathers said. “I look up to that kid every day. He’s the most relentless kid I have ever met in my life.”
That’s how the 2012 St. John’s Prep football team played from the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl. Relentless. Down to the last man.
ST. JOHN'S PREP (11-1, Division 1 Super Bowl champions) RUSHING Player Att. Yards TDs Jon Thomas 220 1,812 16 Alex Moore 111 842 13 Ian Kessel 26 152 2 Jack Sharrio 34 103 1 Greg Kobelski 4 23 0 Brandon Kahari 8 23 0 Devin Carnevale 5 16 0 Sean Smerczynski 2 5 1 Sean Fallon 2 5 0 Jared Rothwell 3 4 0 Jake Burt 1 1 0 Corey Jean-Jacques 1 1 0 Kyle MacGilvray 1 0 0 Gerald Kahari 2 0 0 A.J. Carrigan 2 0 0 PASSING Player Comp. Att. Yards TDs INTs Jack Sharrio 58 97 989 12 6 Michael Gealson 0 1 0 0 0 RECEIVING Player Rec. Yards TD Alex Moore 20 455 5 Jon Thomas 10 163 3 Lucas Bavaro 11 152 0 Gerald Kahari 12 147 2 Anthony Bongiorno 5 67 2