By Jean DePlacido
---- — DANVERS — You simply can’t spot a good team too many points, then hope to come back and win.
St. John’s Prep allowed visiting Bridgewater-Raynham to score 20 first half points, and the hosts’ second half comeback fell short in a 20-14 setback on opening day at Cronin Stadium.
The game featured two of the best running backs in the state in the Prep’s Johnathan Thomas, who scored both touchdowns and gained 161 yards; and Bridgewater-Raynham’s Brandon Gallagher, who gained 115 yards and had a touchdown.
Bridgewater-Raynham went 80 yards on its opening drive, with Gallagher shredding the Eagles’ defense up the middle for 58 yards and a TD. The Trojans went to the air to score on their second possession when quarterback Matt Clement hit Ryan Martin with a 44-yard touchdown pass, but the killer came right before halftime when they converted on fourth down to go up, 20-0.
“I’m not displeased with the effort,” said Prep coach Jim O’Leary, whose defending Super Bowl champions were the consensus No. 1 team in Eastern Mass. coming in to Saturday’s opener. “We played a good team, and they didn’t make mistakes. We have a young defense with only one starter back. I liked the way we came back ... we made some mistakes, but we’ll learn from them.
“Our offense had a little something going a few times, but a penalty here and not getting a first down there didn’t help.”
Trojans coach Dan Buron felt the key to the game was getting that third touchdown right before halftime, especially since the Eagles shut them out the rest of the way.
“It was huge because they had the ball starting the third quarter and scored, so it would have been an entirely different story at 14-7 instead of 20-7,” said Buron.
“I thought our first drive set the tone; we were able to run the ball. Our offensive line was the key; O-lines are going to win or lose games. We were lucky to hang onto the lead because we didn’t tackle well in the second half, but more credit for that goes to Thomas. One time five guys hit him, but he’s so strong he just kept going. Instead of it being a loss, he ran right down the sideline on us for big yards.”
Thomas, a Peabody resident who has verbally committed to the University of Maryland, put on a show for the hometown fans in the second half by scoring touchdown runs of 6 and 24 yards to get his team back in the game. The Eagles had a big 24-yard second half kickoff return by Owen Rockett, who also caught five passes including two on that scoring drive.
Thomas broke tackles and put on a burst of speed to close the gap to 20-14 with 2:21 remaining. “Johnny showed flashes of what he can do,” said O’Leary. “Our game is running the ball and throwing short passes.”
The Eagles’ young defense had their best stand on the final B-R possession, forcing a punt with two minutes remaining, but a Prep player ran into the punter. That penalty, one of a few costly ones by the Eagles, allowed the Trojans to run out the clock and have a happy bus ride home.