DANVERS — Before his team played its first Catholic Conference game of the season Saturday, St. John’s Prep football coach Jim O’Leary broke a long-standing tradition when his captains presented the game ball before the game began, as opposed to afterwards.
In this instance, though, it was a perfectly touching gesture.
O’Leary had his captains give the game ball to the two daughters of fallen Peabody firefighter Jim Rice, a former St. John’s Prep athlete who was killed in the line of duty last December. The ball was then used in the game and signed by all the players before being returned to the Rice family.
O’Leary’s team then went out and delivered a big win, 28-6, over Catholic Memorial at Cronin Field. Both Jon Thomas and Alex Moore ran for over 100 yards in the victory, with Thomas rushing for 147 to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. In seven games he now has 1,071 yards; he also caught a pass for a touchdown Saturday.
Moore picked up 108 yards on a dozen carries, including three touchdown runs to bring his season total to 682 rushing yards with 10 TDs.
“The coaches do a good job splitting up the carries between me and Johnny,” Moore said. “Our offensive line did a great job, and Johnny is a big help coming out of the backfield and blocking for me.
“This was a big win for us after the bye. The coaches kept us mentally and physically prepared; we were ready to go today.”
The Eagles (6-1) wasted little time jumping out to a 7-0 lead, going 62 yards in seven plays on the game’s opening drive. The key play was a 30-yard pass from Jack Sharrio to Lucas Bavaro, and Moore crashed in from a yard out six plays later. Steve Camarro tacked on the first of his four extra points.
St. John’s made it 14-0 with two minutes remaining in the half, marching 80 yards behind the running of Thomas and Moore. Sharrio’s bootleg pass to Thomas out of the backfield resulted in a 15-yard touchdown.
Just before the half, Catholic Memorial (2-5) quarterback Pat Shore completed a 22-yard pass to his favorite receiver, Dejion Evans, who was stopped at the 1-yard line. The Eagles came up with a great goal line stand to keep CM out of the end zone despite being whistled for an offside call than moved the ball even closer. On the final play of the half, Darren Wagner tried to leap over the top of the pile but was stopped short.
“That defensive stand right before halftime made the difference,” said O’Leary. “Their kid made an athletic play on the pick, but our defense came up big. Otherwise it was a 14-7 game with a lot of momentum going their way.
“There were some big hits out there. I like to measure the intensity by the noises. The kids were excited and we were tired of hitting each other during (last week’s bye).”
The Eagles took command on the opening drive of the third quarter, going 80 yards with Moore’s 3-yard run capping it off. From there, the Prep defense took command as captain Lucas Bavaro exerted great pressure on Shore. The Knights’ QB was also sacked three times by Anthony Bongiorno, Sean Smerczynski, and Cam O’Meara.
The final Prep touchdown came late in the third quarter when Moore scored his third TD of the game on a 7-yard run.
O’Leary praised assistant coaches Jameson Pelky and Paul Uva for doing a nice job with the play calling. The Eagles gained 378 total yards, 312 of them on the ground.
O’Leary went to his bench after the last Prep touchdown, and Michael Geaslen took over at quarterback. Freshman tailback Ian Kessel looked good running the ball, gained 34 yards on eight carries.
CM’s only score came with just over two minutes remaining when Shore fired a 29-yard strike to Chris Samuel.