, Salem, MA

December 2, 2012

Matt Williams column: After dominant win, history must make room for these Eagles

On Football
Matt Williams

---- — WALTHAM — No one expected the Eastern Mass. Division 1 Super Bowl to be over by halftime.

No one, that is, besides the St. John’s Prep defense.

The Eagles put an exclamation point on their EMass D1 state title, scoring via a blocked punt, kickoff return and fumble return on their way to a 48-28 romp over Brockton in front of 5,000 fans at Bentley Unversity.

Asked what winning the rematch several publications picked the Boxers to take — by a margin no one expected — said about his team, longtime Eagles head coach Jim O’Leary pointed towards the sea of celebration.

“They expected it. They expected to shut them out, and they told us they wanted the defense to outscore Brockton’s offense. That was their plan.”

Mission accomplished, in more ways than one.

Thanks to Jake Anemoduris’ blocked punt return, Gerald Kahari’s patient, speedy kick return and a heady fumble return by Gatorade Massachuetts Player of the Year Alex Moore, the Eagles’ defense had three TDs. Brockton had two against the Prep’s first team before O’Leary began freely substituting at the end of the third quarter.

“This is unreal. We did want to outscore their offense, and since we did I think the coaches owe us dinner,” said grinning senior Tucker Mathers.

The stated objective of the 2012 St. John’s Prep football team was to join the 1982 and 1997 Eagles as Super Bowl champions. So many players on the frosty field at Bentley Saturday played in the 2010 Super Bowl, a loss to Everett. That game, and last Thanksgiving’s loss to Xaverian, were on their minds every time they gathered as a team to lift in the early morning hours.

“I cried after that loss. I was not going to have that feeling today,” said Moore.

The Eagles were a confident bunch, but they never crossed the fine line into arrogance. They knew they had talent and they knew that this could be a special year. But, unlike so many teams, they took nothing for granted and were bent on taking care of business.

The result of that determination was on display Saturday. This wasn’t Malden Catholic that St. John’s manhandled — this was Brockton, the Boxers from the City of Champions, with 11 Super Bowl titles. No body beats Brockton with ease, yet these Eagles did exactly that.

“We knew this could be our year, but I did not think it would be like this,” said Johnny Thomas. “We’re Division 1 Super Bowl champs. What’s better than that?”

The answer is not much. By mauling Brockton, the Prep made a compelling case to the ranked No. 1 in the state. Their lone blemish came against Everett, the D1A Super Bowl champs who are also 11-1.

Several Eagles players wouldn’t bite when asked if they wanted another shot at Everett. With the way St. John’s looked on Saturday, it would be tough to pick against them.

The thing that puts St. John’s in the pantheon of great teams — not just in the state this year, but of all-time on the North Shore — isn’t the win, but rather the way they did it.

The 48 points the Eagles hung on Brockton were the most scored by a single team in a Division 1 Super Bowl. Ever.

In the post-2001, playoff era, the Division 1 Super Bowl averaged 31.9 points for both teams combined. The Eagles scored 48 in just 30 minutes.

By the time the third quarter ended, the moment the Eagles had pictured in their heads a million times was a foregone conclusion.

When they finally got the trophy, how did it compare to the dream?

“It was 100 times better. No, it was 1,000 times better,” said Moore. “We put our foot on the pedal today and we didn’t stop. We wanted to finish.”

The Prep became the fourth team from the area to win a D1 Super Bowl. They outscored opponents 351-109, allowing just 33 points in the first half all season. They tied a school record for wins in a season, and they’re the best team from around these parts in ten years.

They did it together, with both uncommon talent and a rare team bond. You could see it in the postgame celebration, when Kahari was the first one lifted on this teammates’ shoulders with the Super Bowl trophy held high.

Every player, from Moore, Thomas and Lucas Bavaro to unsung heroes like Chris Newton, played a role in the championship.

“They worked as hard as any team I’ve ever had,” said O’Leary, one of five area coaches to win multiple Super Bowl titles. “I’m so pleased for these guys. We’ve had a lot of great teams and they’ll be right up there.”

After the Super Bowl, Eagles were going to be asking themselves one of two questions for the rest of their lives.

With a loss, it would have been, “What happened? What else could I have done?”

Instead, the question that will follow them to every St. John’s Prep alumni event they attend forever will be the joyous, “Who wins if you guys play the 1997 team?”

“Just to be mentioned with those guys, I can’t explain it,” said Moore.

Wondering which all-time team is best is a luxury left only to champions. So many great Eagles teams have been to the Super Bowl and fell, but something set the 2012 group apart. Thomas, whose number will be on speed dial for the best college football coaches in America soon, got the ball rolling with a touchdown just 65 seconds into Saturday’s game. After that, the Eagles never stopped.

The reward for their relentless determination is a banner, and smiles that will last through Christmas and beyond.

As for who the best Prep team ever is, well, they earned the rest of their lives to worry about that.


Matt Williams is the assistant sports editor of The Salem News. You can contact him at 978-338-2669, and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.