DANVERS — As it has been several times over the past two-plus seasons, it was once again the Johnny Thomas Show Saturday at Cronin Stadium.
The senior running back from Peabody was unstoppable in gaining 263 yards on 31 carries and scoring three touchdowns, leading St. John’s Prep to a 36-22 victory over visiting Brockton.
Thomas found the end zone on runs of 29, 1, and 4 yards to terrorize Brockton for the third straight time; he did so against the Boxers during both the regular season and the Super Bowl in 2012.
“I’m in good shape and can go both ways. I’m prepared for that,” said Thomas. “I saw little holes between the tackles and went through them.
“This (game) was do or die; we had to win. We all had to dig deep.”
Senior fullback Greg Kobelski also had a big day for the hosts, catching a 22-yard touchdown pass from Michael Geaslen and barreling into the end zone from a yard out on the Eagles’ final score.
St. John’s Prep (1-1) had a 14-10 lead at intermission, but the Boxers went ahead, 16-14 midway through the third quarter on a 5-yard run by Aaron Leclair. But for the second straight week St. John’s blocked an extra point kick and Sam Sutera came up with the ball.
That’s when the Eagles’ defense took over to guarantee their first win of the season.
Brockton junior quarterback Patrick Burke, who was starting for the first time, fumbled on his team’s next three possessions. St. John’s recovered all three times and converted the opportunities into 22 points to put the game away.
“Mistakes were killing us earlier,” said Prep head coach Jim O’Leary. “We practice these things, then don’t do what we should; basic things like kickoffs. But our defense played much better. Our defensive ends were coming, and Sutera is a bear on the edge.”
After Burke was sacked by Eagles’ sophomore defensive end Jack Lambert, he fumbled and Kent Blaeser recovered to set up a Thomas touchdown, regaining the lead for the Prep. Geaslen’s pass to Jake Burt was successful for the two-point conversion and a 22-14 lead they would never relinquish.
“We had some penalties (including a holding call that wiped out a 25-touchdown run by Thomas), but came back and put points on the board,” said Thomas. “Burt did a great job (3 catches for 28 yards), and Geaslen put it right on him.”
Thomas did a lot of the work himself to gain extra yards, breaking tackles and finding running room. Three plays after his third TD Burke coughed it up again, and Prep outside linebacker Dave Caputo recovered at the Boxers’ 25-yard line. Thomas carried the ball five straight times, culminating in a 4-yard TD, and Geaslen’s pass to Owen Rockett made it 30-16.
The Prep’s young defense hit hard, and once again Lambert caused Burke to fumble for the third time. Sutera pounced on the loose ball to set up the final Prep score.
“I saw the ball come loose when he got hit, and it was right in my hands,” said Caputo. “Those fumble recoveries were huge for our defense. All week long we talked about causing turnovers and we got a few (Saturday).”
O’Leary praised the improvement made by some of the underclassmen playing on defense. “Lambert and Alex Cormier are both sophomore defensive ends while Sean Fallon is a sophomore inside linebacker. “All of them are maturing before our eyes,” he said.
“This one was ugly at times, but I saw some good things, too. Johnny is Johnny, and Geaslen threw the ball better (9-for-15 for 93 yards and no interceptions). “He managed the clock well and made good decisions.”