LAWRENCE — It’s a pleasant problem to have: being the defending Super Bowl champions, yet still somehow being overlooked.
That’s all right by St. John’s Prep head coach Brian St. Pierre, though, as long as his Eagles keep improving ... and winning.
A strong second half allowed St. John’s to snap a halftime tie with host Central Catholic Saturday afternoon, with the visitors finding the end zone twice more to claim a 28-14 victory at Lawrence Memorial Stadium.
Sophomore tailback James Guy ran for two scores and rushed for 113 yards while senior captain and quarterback Matt Crowley threw a touchdown pass and ran for another as the Eagles improved to 3-0.
“That’s a veteran Central Catholic team and they’re a really good program,” said St. Pierre. “For some reason not a lot of people are talking about us; we’ll keep showing up and getting better. This is a fun group to coach.
“People were dropping like flies because of the heat and our defense was on the field a lot,” he added. “We knew the kind of game we were in for; Central Catholic teams always challenge you.”
St. John’s got on the board in the first quarter when Crowley found Matt Duchemin for a 68-yard touchdown pass and Nolan Philpott booted the first of his four PATs.
The score, coming after the first of two field goal misses by Central’s Nick Mazzie, was keyed by Crowley’s QB sneak on fourth down to keep the drive alive.
“We work on quarterback sneaks,” said St. Pierre. “(Former New York Giants QB) Phil Simms taught me about it. There’s a way to do it right by going low and keeping your legs moving.”
Central Catholic responded with a drive to the Prep 23-yard line, but came up short on fourth down when quarterback Ayden Pereira was sacked by Eagles’ linebacker Nick Baldini. Five plays later, Guy crashed in from two yards out to put his team ahead 14-0.
The home team went to the air to get on the board, capped by a 32-yard TD catch by J. J. Mercuri with just over a minute left in the half. The Raiders tied it on the opening drive of the third quarter on another long TD pass to Mark Ciccarelli.
The Eagles, though, wasted no time getting back on top, going 66 yards in 10 plays to take the lead for good. Guy put on a burst of speed for a 13-yard touchdown run, capping a drive that saw Crowley (10-for-13, 163 yards) complete a 17-yard pass to Gus McGee and convert another key 4th-and-1.
“Both James and Pat Nistl had really good days carrying the ball,” said Crowley. “I just tried to help them out a bit, but the real credit has to go to our offensive line for doing such a great job opening holes.
“We didn’t get nervous when they tied it up; it comes down to mental toughness. Our guys don’t get shook easily.”
The Eagles dominated the second half. They’d had an interception by Matt Mitchell nullified by a questionable roughing the passer call in the first half, and another dubious offensive pass interference on Jackson Delaney (who made a great catch to set his team up at the Central 15). Instead, they were pushed back deep in their own territory, but after a three-and-out by the Raiders the Eagles added an insurance score when Crowley scored on a 2-yard run with just over eight minutes remaining.
That score was set up by two nice catches of 24 and 16 yards by Delaney.
Baldini and Anthony Fagan combined to sack Pereira for a big loss on the Raiders’ next possession, forcing a punt and ending any chances for a comeback.
The Eagles kept the ball on the ground and ate up the clock, ending the game with Crowley taking a knee twice.
“We had so many guys play well,” said St. Pierre, who cited Delaney, Guy, Duchemin (4 catches, 92 yards), McGee, Nistl, Mitchell and the offensive line, among others.
The Eagles are back home on Friday at Glatz Field to host Somerville (7 p.m.) before getting into the Catholic Conference portion of their schedule.